Saturday, May 31, 2014

All about my (very long) TBR pile

Lately, I’ve seen a few other authors talking about their TBR (To Be Read) lists so I thought that might be a good topic to write about as well. I have a HUGE TBR pile—it’s kind of crazy actually. Some of the books have been sitting around on my shelves for years, just waiting for me to pick them up.  They remind me a bit of the unused toys in Toy Story that get sad when they’re never played with.  It’s not because they’re uninteresting or poorly written—in fact, many of the books are classics—but I always have to prioritize what I’m reading based on what I’m writing at the time.  For example, a few years back, I was writing a MG novel so I went out and bought a bunch of similar books so I’d know what was being published. I read many of them, but not all, and now that I’ve shifted over to YA I just don’t have enough time to read MG.  I actually really love a lot of MG novels though so it makes me sad.  One of my favorite MG authors is Jessica Day George.  She writes such fun novels full of princesses, dragons, castles, and all kinds of fantasy mischief.  I wish her books had been out when I was young because I would have eaten them up.  I buy everything she writes, but I’ve just gotten a bit behind in reading it all.

I’ve also had The Casual Vacancy from JK Rowling on my book shelves since Christmas at least.  I love JK Rowling (of course, since everyone in the world loves her), but again it’s hard to find time to read anything but YA. Speaking of YA, man oh man, do I have a lot of that to read.  I can never keep up despite the fact that it’s all I read. I’m still working on Allegiant even though it’s been out for months and I’m listening to Linger (the second book in Maggie Stiefvater’s series)…which has also been out forever.  And don’t even get me started on John Green.  I’m so behind on his novels it’s embarrassing.  I love his writing, but maybe I’m so behind because every time I start reading one of his novels I can’t help but compare my writing to his.  As you can imagine, that’s not a good comparison for my writing ego! 

Not only do I have this big stack of old-fashioned paper books sitting on my shelves, I also have a huge (and completely different) list of books to read on my e-reader and another list for audio.  I have a weird hang-up where once I start a series in one medium, I’m very reluctant to read the subsequent books in a different one.  For instance, I could have easily read a hardcopy version of Reached by Allie Condie years ago, but I’d listened to the first two as audiobooks so I had to stubbornly wait until I could find the third book on tape as well.  Don’t get me wrong, I love living in a time when I have the ability to read books in different mediums (particularly now that I can also read on my phone!) but sometimes all of these conveniences can be a hassle too. 

My goal is to make at least a tiny bit of headway over the summer. I’m behind my usual quota of finishing a book every 2 weeks (which isn’t particularly impressive for a wanna-be writer to begin with) so I better crack the whip.  No more blogging for tonight—time to go read.  J

Monday, May 26, 2014

Never enough time...except for right now

Given the holiday weekend, I gave myself some time to relax and am only now getting around to writing this blog.  Whoops.  I do have a good excuse though, which is that I’ve actually been using my time for writing!  How novel of me.  Ha, ha--get it?

 Every book, blog and writer who has ever given advice says that if you want to be a writer then you need to WRITE. Every day.  That’s definitely easier said than done for me.  Usually my days either consist of being with my son (which is awesome but doesn’t allow for much “me time”) or teaching/grading/emailing.  Sometimes I can carve out a little time during naps or in the evening, but that’s always at the expense of something else I’d like to be doing (i.e. watching TV, reading, or sleeping).  Now, I’m not complaining about all this.  I’m very lucky to have a schedule that allows me to get any writing time in, given that I work and have a young family.  But still, sometimes during the school year I get a little sad about how little time I really have to devote to writing.

So, you can imagine how excited I am that I’m currently in the middle of a 6 week vacation between spring and summer semesters.  I’ve been waiting for this since, well, last year when I was on break!  I’m really trying to take advantage of it this year. In fact, one day last week I had my son at the babysitters and I had an entire day to write. An ENTIRE day…wha?? No laundry, no cleaning, no gardening, no school work.  Just a whole day to write to my heart’s content.  That was exhilarating—and crazy daunting. At least with my usual schedule I have an excuse when I’m unproductive: Oh, I just don’t have enough time to really get into the mood for writing.  It’s a lot harder to rationalize things when the hours are stretching in front of me. So far, I’ve been doing pretty well in that arena though and hopefully I can finish strong.  So, if I run a little behind in my blogging in the next couple of weeks, at least I have a good excuse.
I’m writing. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

An Exercise in Visualization (Revising Edition)

So, last month I blogged about creating a collage of pictures to help visualize two of my main characters.  In addition to that, I’ve also recently created a visual representation of the rough draft for my current WIP.  I first got the idea after listening to Jody Casella (a fellow writer, friend, and author of the awesome book Thin Space) talk about the revising process.  She showed pictures of how various writers visualize their books and I thought that might be a great idea for me.  When you write over 300 pages and 90,000 words, it’s really difficult to keep it all straight in your head, particularly when you’ve been working on the same draft for almost 9 months (ugh…that looks even more depressing when I read it in black and white).

When I started this process, I tried to remember how I’d revised my last novel and I honestly couldn’t remember what I’d done.  That’s probably because I didn’t do a heck of a lot. When I finished that rough draft, I just scrolled to the top of the document and started rereading and tweaked anything that didn’t seem to work.  I never printed out the book and read it start to finish.  I never looked at the overall plot structure or asked questions about how my characters were developing.  In short, I never truly revised that novel—I just fixed grammatical problems and fine-tuned the existing scenes.  That obviously didn’t work out so well the first time around, so with this second novel I’ve really tried to do things right.

I liked the method Laurie Halse Anderson (of Speak fame) uses when laying out her drafts and decided to follow the instructions she gives on her blog. I bought an oversized roll of craft paper at Ikea and then listed (from left to right): the location, day, and time of each scene; the chapter #; a short description of each individual scene within that chapter; the “type” of scene it was (mostly dialogue vs. internal vs. action, etc); and any notes/problems I saw with the scene. It took a surprisingly long time to create this, but here’s how it turned out:

As you can see, I needed 3+ large sheets to outline the rough draft completely.  It was definitely a learning process and I think even my visualization needs some more visualization before I try this again.  The three pages are a little cumbersome (they’re taking over one whole corner of my office right now) so I think it would be better if I could write a shorter summary of the chapters.  It might also be good to add the page length of each chapter to see how much that varies.  Having said that, I’m definitely really glad that I took the time to do this. A few things I learned from the process were:

1) I’m horrible at keeping track of the day and time of my scenes. 

It was a little embarrassing how quickly I would forget this and need to reread a previous chapter to find out.  Given how crucial it is to know if its morning or night, Monday or Saturday, I’m definitely glad I have this to orient me.  This also taught me to just write all of this at the beginning of each chapter from now on.

2) Ditto with location.

It’s not so much that I didn’t know the location of my characters, but instead that I didn’t realize how many scenes took place in the main character’s house (or someone else’s house) until I wrote it all out.  In my head it seemed natural, but this allowed me to see that it was getting monotonous.

3) I love dialogue.  LOVE it.

Again, I didn’t notice how many chapters were entirely scenes of two people talking to each other until I had to write out that scene again and again…and again.  Unfortunately, this is a harder one to fix and I’m still dealing with it on my second draft.  Perhaps I’ll have another blog post in the future about my addiction. J

4) I have about as many notes/problems written down as I have plot summary.

Hmm, not the greatest sign, but I guess that makes sense for a first draft.  I highlighted those to keep them separate visually, and it is pretty depressing to see so much yellow all over the pages.  The one upside is that all of my criticisms are in one place so I can easily read over the notes and make sure I’m fixing things.

There are certainly other things I learned through this process (like the fact that I needed to rewrite the first half of the book from scratch given the horrid beginning), but probably the biggest thing I learned was that I need to start revising by looking at the book as a whole and deciding whether the main story arc and character development makes sense. This seems supremely obvious now, but it doesn’t always feel that way when you’re in the trenches. I think this technique is one way to help start that process so I’ll be doing this again whenever I finish draft #2.  I think it’s still going to be awhile.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Perseverance and the Ohioana Book Festival

Okay, after taking a week off for some much needed downtime, I’m back to blogging and excited to talk about the 2014 Ohioana Book Festival.  This was my first time going to the festival and I have to say that it exceeded my expectations (even though they were really high to begin with).  My only regret is that I didn’t start attending this festival years earlier!

The Ohioana festival brings together Ohio writers of all genres and allows attendees to peruse books, chat with the authors and attend panel discussions with many of the writers.  When I first looked at the schedule, I couldn’t believe how many YA writers there were from Ohio (and of course there are many more who couldn’t make the festival).  I remember that when I first started writing, I felt like all the “real” writers must live in NY or Los Angeles and I wondered how a normal girl from central Ohio could ever break into the business.  Well, I haven’t exactly broken in yet, but it was so inspiring to see all of the YA writers who have been published and are doing enormously well!  There are multiple authors living right here in Columbus and for some reason I just find it so cool to think that the same people who go to my library and shop at my grocery store could also be writing YA just like me.  If they can do it, then maybe there’s hope!

I was lucky enough to be able to sit in on all 4 (!) YA panel discussions and I found each of them so fascinating.  I could easily sit and listen to other writers discuss their writing process all day long.  (In fact, I did that exact thing today.)  Everyone has a different story about how they write and how they became published, but one of the themes I heard was perseverance.  Although a few authors were able to get published relatively early in their careers, the vast majority spoke about all of the books they wrote that never saw the light of day, all of the query letters they wrote that received form rejections, and the years that they spent writing before ever getting a publishing deal.  Some people may find that depressing or daunting (and maybe it is), but I actually love hearing these stories.  It reminds me that I’m not the only one going through these issues and that perseverance is truly one of the most important parts of this business.

Although listening to the book panels was great, probably my favorite part of the day was the chance to speak one-on-one with many of the authors.  I wasn’t able to get to all of them, but I did speak with many and they were all so welcoming and encouraging.  Many of them gave me great advice, including a comp title for the book I’m currently working on and info about blogs and websites that I might use in the future.  It was also great to put a face with a book and see them as real people with families and jobs, just like the rest of us. 

Now I can’t wait to read all of their books!!