Artsy Stuff and Learning Curves

Hello lovely writers!  Today’s post includes fanart, a poorly-drawn graph, and some rambling about learning to be a writer.  Hope you enjoy!

Long before I was a writer, I was an artist.  (Not necessarily a good one lol.)  I’ve been making things since I was a really little kid.  I’ve been drawing horses and dogs for as long as I can remember, and I’ve taken art classes since I was in middle school.  I’ve always enjoyed the feeling of accomplishment when I finish something I’m proud of.  I’ve always enjoyed art for the escape it provides: when I’m working on a piece of art, the rest of the world is entirely gone.

I’ll sometimes still get out the ol’ pencil box and do some fanart or whatever.  (Some examples below because why not?)

And just recently, I picked up the guitar!  My brother has had a guitar just sitting in his closet for the past few years, and I earlier this summer, I had the sudden idea to ask to borrow it.  So for the past several weeks, I’ve been teaching myself guitar!  (This is why I love the internet, guys: YouTube tutorials, online tuners, free guitar chords, and pretty much anything else you need.)  And it’s been so much fun.  I love the learning curve that exists for when I first learn something new.  It seems like every day I practice, I learn something new.  I’m constantly making big strides; I’m growing exponentially.

For example, the first day of playing guitar I could barely play a few chords.  On the third day, I could play a simple song really slowly.  By day 5, my fingerstips no longer felt like I was slicing them open.  Within just a few weeks, I’ve learned how to use a capo, I can play chords in quick succession, and I’m able to pick up new chords really quickly.  I’m starting to learn strumming patterns and put everything together to play songs at regular tempo.

I fondly remember my early days of writing, when I’d just started out.  Every chapter I completed was uncharted territory; every blog post I read taught me something new.  I was like a sponge as I discovered found craft books and online blogs.  And then about halfway through my first novel, I found the website Critique Circle.  I used to get so excited when my chapters would come up for critique, because I was always learning.  New terms, new ideas, new things to think about.  Characters, tension, showing vs telling, passive vs active voice, dialogue, setting.  So much to learn about.  Writing was so exciting.  It was new and special and a bit scary.  It was also so exciting, because it was so easy to find resources that broadened my knowledge.

Sometimes, now, I find it difficult to be in love with writing.  I’ve grown so much as a writer.  I know so much more; I have a lot more experience; I know what I’m doing.  Not that I’m an expert or anything LOL – obviously I’m always learning and honing my craft.  I’m just… not a beginner anymore.  And because I’m no longer a beginner, I’m not learning new things about writing at the same rate as I was when I first started writing.  For reference, I’ve made this nifty graph:

skill vs time.png

If you’re thinking that it looks like I made this graph if MS Paint, then you’re correct.  🙂

I’m at the point in my writing journey where the speed at which I’m learning has started to level off a bit.  So it’s easier to get discouraged, because I don’t see my skill improving at the same rate it used to be.

That’s why it was so refreshing for me to start learning guitar.  I’m still in the “beginner” phases, where I’m learning so quickly that it’s exciting and enticing.

So here’s a question for all you experienced writers: how do you keep perusing your dreams and your art when the learning gets slow?

I actually do want your answers (leave a comment below!) but I’d also like to add my own answer.  I do it by reminding myself how far I’ve come.  I don’t take for granted the things I’ve learned.  And I remind myself why I learned them.  I didn’t just learn about writing so I could keep all that knowledge in my head.  I learned about writing so I could be a better writer.  

And I’m in love with writing.  Not with being a writer, or knowing about writing, or being a published author, or anything else.  With the actual writing.  With taking an idea and making it come alive.  With editing a mess of a story into a coherent book.  With making magic happen with words and fingertips on keys.  That’s what I love.  The knowledge is just a tool to help me do that better.  So who cares about learning curves?  Let’s go write stories.

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The Six Stages of Writing a Query Letter

At first I thought about writing an in-depth explanation of what makes a good query letter.  But I soon realized that this was a terrible idea because 1) it would be exceptionally boring, 2) all of that info is already on the web about a million times over, and 3) I am not an expert at all, so why should I tell you how to do it?

Instead, here’s the process, the steps of writing a query letter.

Step One – Panic. 

Spend at least a week procrastinating everything related to querying and agents out of sheer fear and trepidation.  Writing a query letter is [hopefully] that first baby step into the world of being published, so the thought of starting is… well, scary.

Step Two – Research.  Like Crazy. 

Google.  A lot.  Read about twenty different articles telling you “how to” and “how not to” write a query letter.  What to include and leave out.  What to say and how to say it.  Next, read some sample queries, get a feel for the flavor and tone of them.  This step usually leads to a bit more panic, but that’s normal.

Step Three – Write the Darn Thing.

Take a deep breath, and bleed onto the page.  Not literally.  But it feels a bit like death, trying to condense a 68,000-word novel (that contains a piece of your soul) into an 200-word query.  Once it’s finally done, and you’ve eaten too much chocolate and shed some tears (again, not literally), then you are ready to share it.  But not with agents yet.  Oh no.

Step Four – Get it Critiqued.

This is why I love Critique Circle — there is a forum dedicated to query- and synopsis- critquing.  So, you finally get up the courage to post your freshly-written query onto the forum, and then you nervously await responses.  Emphasis on the nervous part.  If you’re not part of CC, you [hopefully] get it critiqued by other people elsewhere.  Your friends, parents, writer buddies, that lady who works at your college writing center… you get the idea.

Step Five – Re-write it.

You asked them to tear it to pieces, and they did.  So you go back to the drawing board — er, keyboard — and totally start over.  You see it improve, and it’s better, and oh look it’s actually not horrible now.

Repeat Steps Four and Five Indefinitely.  In the meantime, continue to research query letters, and also give critiques of other people’s queries!  It’s a sure way to help you get better at writing your own.

Step Six – Send it Out.

That list of agents you’ve piled up?  Start submitting.

And then turn on Netflix, have a Lord of the Rings marathon, watch all of Classic Doctor Who, or, uh, start editing your next novel, because there’s a long wait after step six.  A long wait with a lot of tears (actual tears are possible with this stage), and usually lots and lots of rejection.  But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel!  A long, dark, smelly tunnel dripping with water, but a bright light at the end.  In the meantime, you’re writing the next novel, dreaming the next dream, furiously typing away at your keyboard, pouring your soul into another story.  Because you’re a writer, and that’s what you do.

Let me know in the comments what your experience is with query letters.  Or your thoughts on the new Star Wars movie.  Or on Classic Doctor Who.  Or whatever.

Am I an Anomaly?

I am a teenage writer.  Pretty normal.

With a completed a novel.  A little less normal.

Who has poured time and energy into improving her craft.  Pretty unusual.

Whose writing might be publishable sometime soon.  Anomaly?

I’m just curious – how many other teenager writers out there are serious about writing?  I feel like the answer is not that many.  For example, if I Google “teenager writing tips,” I get a bunch of articles full of stuff I already know.  It feels as if everyone assumes that teenage writer = beginner writer.  Maybe that’s true to some extent, but I don’t feel like a beginner anymore.  Definitely not an expert, but not a beginner.

It seems as though there just aren’t many teens who are committed to writing.

In fact, on Critique Circle, there’s an entire forum committed to “teenage writers.”  But it’s almost never used.  Maybe most teenage writers simply never bother to get outside feedback on their writing.

I feel like I have this conversation every few weeks:

Me: I enjoy writing.

Friend: Oh.  That’s cool.  I’ve written a couple stories, but I’ve never let anyone read them.

Me: Nice!  Ever thought about writing a novel?

Friend: Haha, no.  You?

Me: Oh.  Well… yeah. I wrote a book.

Friend: …

Me: …

Friend: …you wrote

Friend: …you wrote a book?

Me: Yeah.

Friend: What?  That’s… wow.  Can I read it?

They’re always so surprised.  Taken aback, even.  It was a bit frightening at first, but now I’m more used to it.  I have a better idea of what questions they are going to ask, and how to answer them.

But seriously – how many other teenagers have written a novel?  I’ve heard of the few-and-far-between stories, like Christopher Paolini, who wrote Eragon when he was fifteen or something.

But I haven’t really bumped into a lot of other serious teen writers.  Most of my critique exchanges on CC have been with adults.  Most of the writing blogs I follow are by adults.  Most of the followers on my blog are adults.  (Nothing against adults!  I love you all!)

Most of the people that get their books published are adults.

So am I an anomaly?  And if so, am I okay with that?  Am I okay with one day telling my friends that I’ve gotten a book published?

Maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe you’ve met some teen writers who know what they’re doing and have a semi-coherent plan for getting published.

But honestly, I haven’t.

That’s alright.  I’ll be an adult in a few years anyway.  And until then, I’ll just be what I am: a writer.  If I’m an anomaly at the same time, then so be it.

Five Things That Made Me a Better Writer

The other day, I was thinking about my writing journey.  What got me from beginner to where I am now.  So, without further ado, here’s Five Things That Made Me a Better Writer.

1) Writing.  The first step to being a good writer is to just be a writer.  The simple act of writing, playing around with stories and characters – it’s taught me a lot.  I’ve learned by doing.  However, my progress would have been a ton slower if not for outside help.  Which brings me to my next point.

2) Getting Critiqued.  One of the best writing-related decisions I’ve ever made was to join Critique Circle, an amazing online writing group.  I learned so much by people telling me – in a constructive way – the things that I needed to fix.  But also, the things that I was doing well.  The boost of encouragement that I got every time someone said “hang in there” helped me to keep writing.

Now, if you think that’s the only benefit of something like CC, you are sadly mistaken.  Take a look at my next point:

3) Giving Critiques.  On CC, you have to give at least 3 critiques in order to submit a story for review.  Which means I spent lots of time critiquing.  Lots of time spent staring at words, figuring out what made me stumble over words.  Observing what makes a sentence work and what kills it.  The act of getting my hands dirty in other people’s work really helped me to see the issues in my own.  It taught me to be a better proof-reader of my own work, and it taught me to write better and avoid certain mistakes altogether.

Each time I give a critique on CC, I also look to see what other people have said about the piece of work.  I love seeing the things that other people caught that I missed, hearing other people’s opinions about how to fix something, and smiling at the typos I caught that no one else did.  🙂

4) Reading Books on the Craft of Writing.  One in particular really helped me early on: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.  It has everything you need to turn your WIP into an amazing work of art.  I’m sure there are tons of other writing books out there that are just as good.  The main point is: get some professional help from a book on the craft of writing. (I’ve also heard tons of good things about Steven King’s On Writing.)

5) The Online Presence.  Probably top of this list is a blog called Crackin The WIP – it’s a blog by seven different writers, and it’s glorious.  There have been so many posts that have changed the way I thought about something (dialogue, characters, plot, etc) – and often times, just reading a post on that blog gives me the push of motivation to dive into my own writing once again.

But there are other blogs, too, that have helped me.  And forums on CC are a great place for information.  And sometimes, just Googling a question leads to a great article that helps my writing.

And that concludes my list!

What are some things that got you where you are today?  Have you used all of these resources?  Are there any important ones that I left out?  Drop me a comment and let me know.  Happy writing!

Six Mixed Critiques and Two Weeks Away

Just in case y’all are wondering, I wasn’t eaten by sharks.  Or attacked by hippos.  Or chased by an armed gunman.

The reason for my long absence (of TWO WEEKS!) is one word: school.

Summer is almost here.

But I haven’t been entirely futile these weeks away.  I kept writing in Camp Nano (reaching a grand total of 15,000 words) and I’ve posted chapter 1 & 2 of my re-write on CC.

Chapter 1 has gotten six reviews.  There has been much crying and celebrating.  (Well, no actual tears.)

Here’s some of the feedback I got:

I like the atmosphere you create with your opening paragraph.

Thank you!  That’s what I was going for.

There are a lot of adverbs in just these few paragraphs. Eliminate the adverbs.

Thanks, I’ll keep an eye out for un-needed adverbs that creep into my writing.  LATER – okay, that adverb was needed… huh, so was that one.  And this one.  Umm… most of my adverbs are fine.  Thanks though?

Beware overusing exclamation marks. It can blunt them.

True!  Right you are!  Thanks for pointing that out!!!!!!

Star immediately felt bad for her accusation.

Oh, it’s the adverb police again.  Run quickly away.  Quietly!  Less loudly!

Thankyou Thank you.

Okay, typo.  But… is that all you have to say?  (That was literally all he had to say.  Almost.) So THANKYOU for your time, but didn’t you notice anything else about my story?

You write well. I’m very impressed. Especially considering your age.

Thank you!  That means a lot!

I don’t know if you need without a trace.

Eh, you’re right.  I can take that out.  I’ll make it vanish without a trace.

Great. Conflict.

*pats self on back*

Closing Comments:

Wow, Beth. You are good.

Thank (space) you!  That means more than you know.

I like Irsong and Emmella’s development as well. Irsong is brusk. Emmella gentle.

HAHA!  SUCCESS!  JUST WHAT I WAS GOING FOR!

Yes, I do want to read what’s going to happen next. I wouldn’t want to say the story is well polished.

Well, I’m working on it, okay?!  I mean, uh, yeah, I agree.  It needs a little work.

I do want to read the next chapter and I hope this doesn’t fall into another cliche Tolkien plot.

Um, no worries.  I love LOTR, but it’s nothing like that.  Kay?

And last but not least,

Stop posting here and submit to a publisher.

Does this leave you wanting to read the next chapter?

Hell, yes!

That one right there made my day.  Possibly my week.  Possibly my life.

Well, that’s all for now.  See you in less than two weeks, hopefully!  Unless I get chased by dinosaurs… attacked by whales… (or hunted by the adverb police).

Critiquing the Pros? Oh yeah.

This week, I gave a critique on CC for the first time in close to a month.  It was the greatest moment of my day.

This author handled themselves with confidence and grace, balancing action and emotion, suspense and humor (lots of humor), and overall clean, crisp writing.  Sure, there were a few errors – typos, minor craft problems – but overall, this story was a pure joy to read.

As I concluded my critique, I made a point of saying, “I’ve critiqued close to 50 stories here on CC – and yours is one of the best I’ve seen.”

Of course, then I was curious.  How many critiques had I actually given since I started on CC?  I went back and counted.  One, two, three… forty-nine, fifty, fifty-one… sixty-nine, seventy.  I’ve given seventy critiques.  Wowzer.  Perhaps that’s why I’m now suffering from CSCS.  What’s that, you ask?

Critiqing the Pros

Well, check out this Poll that was on CC recently.  I found it fascinating because it addresses a phenomenon I’d discovered a few months ago.

I’m calling it Can’t Stop Crit-ing Syndrome. That’s CSCS for short.  If you are actively writing, editing, or critiquing, you are in danger of getting this.  Unfortunately, there is no known cure, but there are things you can do to address the symptoms.  First, let’s look at what some of the symptoms are:

* Flinching when you catch a typo in a published book

* Groaning when a published author breaks a “rule” for no reason (ie, when they info-dump, use passive voice, or forget a comma)

* Automatically correcting your friends’ and family’s grammar, despite the fact that your own grammar isn’t always perfect

* Not being able to read articles in the Washington Post Magazine anymore without wanting to yell at the author, because OH MY GOSH, DONT YOU KNOW WHAT A RUN-ON SENTENCE IS?

* Looking at a sign in a store that says “Get You’re Flowers Here” and asking to speak to the manager

While there is no official cure for CSCS, there are some suggestions for those suffering from it.  These include:

* Zoning out when around people who frequently misuse grammar

* Focusing on what magazine writers did well, not what they messed up on

* Not forcing yourself to labor through books with so many issues that you get yourself worked up

* Telling yourself that not everyone can be as good at English as you

Despite these negative symptoms that can sometimes inhibit your reading (and living) enjoyment, it can be helpful to look at the few positives that come with CSCS:

* Editing your own work is easier – I mean harder – I mean you catch more of your own mistakes

* If you suffer from long-term CSCS, you may even get to the point where you make less mistakes in your rough-drafts, because the thought of seeing those mistakes in your own writing is enough to make you poke your eyes out

* You become a better critique-er for other peoples’ stories – at least I hope

Do you, too, suffer from CSCS?  Leave me a comment and let me know I’m not the only one.

Toothbrush Rewrites

You’ve heard me rave about Critique Circle.  I was on the website today and this caught my eye:

Toothbrush Editing

That sums up my life right now.  My novel is written — finished.  And now it looms before me like a filthy basement floor.  That the cats have puked on and the dog has tracked mud on (at least I hope it’s mud) and is that a dead spider?  Here sits this inexperienced author feeling like she’s armed with nothing but a toothbrush.  Kinda like this:armed with a screwdriverI mean, come on!  Some bleach would be nice!  Or at least a pair of latex gloves?

What?  OH!  That’s right!  CAMP NANOWRIMO is just around the corner!!!  YAY!!!

tom smiling gifSo today I compiled my Camp NaNo Survival Kit.

Laptop (with Scrivener)

Itunes (with all the LOTR music)

Notebook with a mess of notes about my story (maybe I should straighten out those notes)

The Emotion Thesarus

Slippers

Fuzzy Tardis blanket

Coffee

A stash of apples (to gnaw on when I hit plot holes)

A (bigger) stash of chocolate (to devour when I can’t get out of plot holes)

Favorite gel pens and a bunch of colored pencils… cause, hey, sometimes you need to put ideas down on actual paper

This April, armed with my determination, my inexperience, and a toothbrush/screwdriver, I will finally begin thorough re-writes.  Basement floor, here we come.

ahhhhhh!