41: Who gave you your love of reading?
Probably my parents, though I think part of it is genetic, too. We didn't have a TV until I was 7, and even then, being overseas, we didn't have many channels and some of the ones we had weren't in English. But mom and dad always had books--they'd pay extra for movers to move us when they had so many books. Mom used to read to us before bed. Dad would give me the comics from his newspaper before work when I was really really young--like, two and three. By the time I went to school to learn to read, I could already read.
42: What book is next on your list to read?
Probably Insurgent, or maybe one of the books about London I just picked up. Maybe a science book.
43: When did you start to read chapter books?
First grade, when the others were reading stupid boring things as a class. I don't remember which ones, but I'd borrow them from the teacher or read them in the library or the bookstore. By third grade, I was reading longer ones like Charlotte's Web.
44: Who is your favorite children's book author?
I don't really have one author who I read all their stuff like that. I loved the Narnia books but have no interest in any of his other stuff. I adore The Snow Spider, Tottie, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and all the fairytales I could get my hands on, but I didn't read anything else from those authors, either.
45: Which author would you like to interview the most?
Oh, man, I'd love to just talk to any number of favorite authors. Interviews make me nervous; it's better if someone else interviews me!
This is a fantastic essay about representation in narrative. It's specifically about women, but I feel like you could apply it to any non-visible anything in the stories we tell each other. And it's something writers need to think about when constructing stories.
36: Are you a fast reader?
I don't feel like I am, but I guess in comparison to average I am? I can read a whole, typical novel, in a day if there's nothing else going on; usually I take about three days to read a novel. Back in the day, I'd read them all together, but now that I'm adult and have things to do, I'm usually reading one or two books a week, with space between reading sessions.
37: Are you a slow reader?
I don't feel slow. I feel slower than I used to be (about 30 books a year slower!). And slower than I want to be. When I was in elementary school, though, I started reading on my own because the books we were reading together were taking forever to go nowhere, and I was so bored.
38: Where is your favorite place to read?
Wherever there's a book (or ebook), somewhere comfy to sit, and good light. I'm not picky about places, I'll read anywhere, much like how I'll sleep anywhere. If I'm choosing an ideal day / situation to hunker down and read, though, I'd say it's that classic / cliched rainy day + tea + cat + comfy chair by a bay window overlooking a garden or the woods. Incidentally, that's also a good day for napping, so I'd probably alternate. I love napping almost as much as I love reading.
39: Is it hard for you to concentrate while you read?
Nope. It's harder to concentrate when I'm not reading, most days. Real life is frequently stupid and lacks plot development. I can block out most things, but I hate when someone is sitting next to me making dumb, meaningless noises when I'm trying to read.
40: Do you need a room to be silent while you read?
These questions overlap a whole lot.
Silence is not required for almost anything I do. It's nice if there's not a TV yammering, or kids making silly noises, or elephant-neighbors bowling again like they always are, but if I waited until there was a perfectly silent room, I'd never get to read.
I'm having one of those months. I'm doing what I can, but stress is high, health is wobbly, weather is wonky, and things just don't ever seem to be geling or taking off the way they should. So I thought I'd talk a little about the whole living-as-a-writer thing. First:
It surely is. Well, putting words on paper isn't that hard, but keeping to a plot, making sure things make sense and the book is cohesive, then editing and revising and selling it afterward? That's definitely hard. Probably almost anyone could just write stuff and hide it away and never let anyone else see it, ever, but actually trying to get it out there, in the hands of readers, in places that will pay you enough to make a living off it? That's hard. It's like throwing yourself at a wall, sometimes.
So when the rest of your life gets complicated, or exhausting, or stressful, and something's got to give, it's often writing that gives. We live in a society that seems to like breeding up kids that value jobs everyone hates over creative endeavors we love to do; it especially likes to breed up girls to have this ingrained and hard-to-beat attitude that their own creative work is less important than taking care of every single other thing from someone else, first.
It makes writing harder.
And it means that there's lots of talented writers that never get published, or that show up and then fade out, and I'm just like:
I don't want to be a flash in the pan. One well-published story is better than none, but fifty is better than one. The problem is all the work that goes into actually writing and selling the story to be well-published, and how much stress can affect me and just steal my power-through.
Writing as a career is different than writing for fun. When no one was going to read it, it didn't matter how I wrote, what I wrote, or whether I finished it. Now, it does, and that can get intimidating. I think, to be a writer, you have to have this strange split where you honestly believe that what you have to say is worth saying, but you also have to have a "fuck it" attitude, because once it's out of your hand, you can't control it. And that attitude also applies to even just getting it out of your own hands and into theirs. And it applies to knowing when you've shopped it enough and need to rework it, file it, or publish it yourself.
And maintaining that spit it also hard.
Right now, I'm feeling how hard it is. I know that I need to push though, but the pushing isn't helping and I'm starting to feel like maybe I need to rest. I know that I need to maintain balance and consistency, but I also know that I'm too tired, too stressed and too unstable to keep worrying about something that isn't a very basic need--remembering to eat, and to eat the things I should be eating to fix my health; making sure we can pay the power bill or the water bill, or buy food; making sure I have the strength of body to support the strength of mind I need.
I think it's okay to pull back once in a while. I also feel bad when I do, like I'm cheating my creations. I also feel that forcing something that isn't coming is doing a disservice to my creations, myself, and my ability to even finish the thing. I also think that stuff needs to feed into a brain to get stuff out--stuff like enough sleep, the right food, good books and TV and movies, experiences other than worrying. Because worrying shrinks the world and makes everything else too hard.
So I've decided to cut my daily wordcounts. I usually aim for about 1000 wds / 4 pages a day; for the nonce, while I'm feeling stressed and overwhelmed and scattered, I'm going to aim for 1.5 pages, about 350 words. That should be as close to easy as anything will be when I'm like this. So I can keep going without feeling the pressure of haveing to keep going.
Personally, I like to know which authors other authors read, how they do what they do, and what they think about the whole Writing Thing, and their blogs are a good way to get to know that sort of thing. So in case you're wondering who I read, here's my favorite ones:
I love so many of this woman's books. They're infused into my psyche, and I clamor for more whenever she says one's coming out. And I love her blog. She doesn't talk about writing much, but she talks about all these little absurdities and wonderful moments in a writer's life--and about crazy dogs, and roses, and weather, and singing, and ringing churchbells, and the oddities of living in old English towns. She's just so neat. And her blog is why mine is full of itallics and footnotes.
Neil Gaiman(also on Tumblr here)
Another one who's books often chart at the top of my favorites lists. And sort of a rockstar among writers, which means there's always something good going on either on his blog or his tumblr. And he's always really open with his readers, answering questions and giving advice, which is something that I'd love to encourage among my readers!
I got to meet this man for one blushing minute while he signed a book for me, and I still love him.
John Green(also on YouTube here)
This is a weird thing, because I've actually read not much of this wonderful man's work. I liked what I have read, and I have more sitting on my Kindle waiting, but I haven't gotten to it yet (sorry!). But I've been following his tumblr and his (and his brother's) YouTube exploits in a sort of haphazard watch-a-lot-of-it-all-at-once way, and he's brilliant. He's funny, charming, smart, subversive, he gets points across without being didactic, he's really invested in making the world better and making people less dumb, and it's like he plugs right into my ideal view of the world. So worth a read.
More books that I just love. As long as they're good, I hope she writes a million of them, and in the meantime, I like her blog. She has a really close relationship with her fans, she answers questions, she defends writing, and when she gets into fights, she's clever, articulate and reasonable in a way I don't think I could be, so I'll let her say it all.
More wonderful books! These are harder to find because they're published by several different people and in different editions (which bugs me, because it means my set doesn't match, but I'm happy they're still around!), and I've found only a few people who have read them, but they're so good. On her blog, which is miraculously still active on LJ, she talks books, writing, being a writer, but mostly she talks fish and horses and worldbuilding and other things about her life. I like a blog that does that. Maybe I'll merge this one with my lifeblog one day...
So that's the main group! There's other blogs I flit to and from, but these are the ones I come back to a lot. Who do you read? Share in the comments, because we're always looking for new writers to read, aren't we?
I'm getting to that part of EMBER where I don't really know where it's going because everything is going at once, and I thought I needed some reminders of what to do about this stuff--and then I thought maybe you guys might like a quick discussion of the middle, too! So here goes, this is everything I know about getting through the middle of your novel.
1. Keep going
It's super tempting to just give up as soon as things get crazy and / or hard. Like, far more tempting than it should be. Usually by now, I have already started planning some other shiny-new siren of a story that wants my attention, and it would be so easy to just leave the mess as it is and go start something new, and get that rush of a story that wants to be written again...
But that's not how books get written. That's how books get started and then get abandoned.
2. Keep track
I'm a big fan of taking notes all the time as you write. Like, if you read this blog, you'll see me harping about it every third post or so. But here's the thing: when you get to the middle of a book, that's when you'll want all those notes. Lists of characters are super important when your books get suddenly full of characters after the world opens up in part two. Lists of what you intended to do are lifesavers when you get to somewhere and you just draw a total blank on how to get those characters out of there.
So every time to change something, every time you start something and then stop for the day, every time you have an idea for something you haven't gotten to yet, write it down. And keep it where you can find it, because it's no use if you don't know what you wrote two months from now when you need it.
3. Make corrections as you go (and keep track of them, too)
Instead of sticking it out and going "I'll fix it in post", make the changes now. Each time you think "well, this whole thing should be more punk"*, or "they need to have been heading this way all along", or "that person actually is this totally other gender / species / plot-device / etc", make a note in the margin to remind yourself that when you revise, you need to fix it before this, and then continue from that point under the new assumption about everything. Things will still be a mess when you go to revise**, but that's why I call the first draft the Mess Draft, and why no one reads it until at least the First Official Draft one or two run-throughs later.
But more importantly, correcting as you go means everything after that point will be right. Or at least right-er. And that's less stuff you have to drastically redo afterward.
4. Brainstorm a lot
Like, a lot. The more story you have--and chances are, at the middle is when you'll have the most story on your hands--the more you need to start knowing how things will connect up, what they'll mean, where they go. If you're stuck, just start writing down what you have and drawing lines between it. Chances are, all of a sudden, you'll start seeing how things could match up, how they could parallel, where they could wind up changing the context of the whole rest of the story.
Or, if you need to know how to get your characters from where they are to this one point you see in the future but don't see how to get to, start sketching out timelines. Think about what has to happen between now and then, what could go wrong, where they could go, what ideas you wanted to get in and haven't gotten to yet, the implications and ominous meanings of what's already happened that hasn't fallen out yet.
Or, worse comes to worse, just, like, list every single idea you can come up with, no matter how bonkers, and run with it until either it's too dumb to look at--or until you have an amazing new story thread to weave into the book.
5. Don't worry too much about the future
I know this sounds counter to what I said above, but here's the thing: you have to know where you're going, but what really matters, in the moment when you're typing stuff up and writing it down, is that you know where your feet are right now. Think about three plot points ahead more than you think about the distant outcome. The Middle is often a lot of slogging, but it's slogging along a trail. You might not always know how the trail gets to the top of the hill, but you know it does, and you can see two or three or four of the bends that get you there.
Less metaphorically, this means write your day's writing, and then before you close up for the day, note three things you wanted to happen next. Even if you don't use them, even if you keep them but skip over then when you're writing and pick up on the other side, they're what you focus on right now, and trust that even when it feels like you're not getting anywhere and all you're producing is crap, your subconscious, where stories come from, knows what it's doing. This is the part of writing where you need to get out of your own way.
Now it's your turn: How do you get through the Messy Middle of a book? Or even just a little story? Share!
It is, Chuck, but that's how you know it's worth doing.
*File under "actual thoughts I've had about this actual book".
**It's ALWAYS a mess when you go back to revise.
31: Do you prefer newspapers or magazines?
Definitely magazines. News with a filter by topic, and more indepth and less slanty--and totally lacking the local your-whole-everything-is-corrupt-and-will-kill-you aspect.
32: Do you read while in bed?
Yes. And at the table, and on buses / planes / boats / cars, in the kitchen, while babysitting, while standing in line...
33: Do you read while on the toilet?
Yes, though not as much as I did when I was a kid and I'd lock myself in the bathroom just to have some space to myself. I used to frequently do my homework in the bathroom, at home and at school, because no one bothers you when they think you're indisposed.
34: Do you read while in the car?
On long tips, yes. In the back seat, where I can hunker down and don't see the stuff moving outside in the corner of my eye. Not in the front seat, and there's not usually time on short trips.
35: Do you read while in the bath?
If I take baths, I'll take a magazine. My current bath doesn't hold water because the plug-thing is broken, and so I take showers--and it's much harder to read in the shower...though I did joke the other day that I was going to take my tea and my book into the shower with me because I wanted to take one, but didn't want to stop reading my book.
I have been running this advice blog for a long while now, and although I've answered tons of questions and made tons of resources for writers, I think that there is something very important that I have not really touched on… and that is that every writer, regardless of experience or age, has the ability to inspire others.
I mean it.
Writing is such a fluid medium— every writer can find their own way to tell stories. This is the freedom of writing. That is why I want to give my fellow writerly friends (that's you!) a chance to voice their thoughts and advice, so that countless others can be inspired :D
How can we go about doing this? Take a few minutes, and consider the following question:
What is the one piece of advice you wish you would've known when you first got started writing?
And then write down your answer! You can reply to this post, reblog it with your thoughts, or you can drop it on my askbox!
Over the next couple of days I will gather the advice and I will make an awesome post (sourcing each of you correctly and linking back to your blogs, of course) and I will post it here for everyone to see! Imagine this as a nexus— a fountain of inspiration, if you may, and a clear reminder that each and every one of you can inspire others to write!
Let's make something awesome, together~ ♥︎
Oh, jeeze, one piece of advice?
Keep going—like, it’s easy to start a story, and if you’re really into it, it’s also easy to get right into the middle of a story, but then it gets hard and that’s when it gets easy to just…wander off. To start another story, and another. But if you power through, if you just commit to keep going, regardless of what you think of it in the moment, then you’ll have a finished story instead of a whole bunch of fragments. And when you have a finished story, even if it’s missing parts and doesn’t make sense and you still hate the end, you have something to edit, and it’s editing and revising that makes a story great.
For good measure, here’s a few more:
Write every day, even if it’s only one page, even if you hate it, even if you have to do it one sentence at a time in between other things.
When you’re done with the day’s writing, write three things you intended to do next, even if you don’t actually do them, so you don’t have to look at the blank page and not know what to do next.
Plan a story when you get to the middle, not at the beginning, so it can be wild and free and exciting before it all has to come together.
Who cares if the story has already been told? It hasn’t been told by you.
Give a finished story a month of totally ignoring it and working on something else before you go back to revise, so you’re fresh and a little separate from it.
Have side projects, always, but don’t work on them until you’ve done your day’s work on the main one.
When you finish, start writing something else.
Write about what you don’t know, and figure it out as you go.
As you may know, I'm working on what I want to be my first novel. However, I've only ever written short stories before. I feel like I'm going too quickly too soon, and won't have a large enough word count. But I don't want to just add fluff. What tips do you have for going from short stories to writing novels?
Ooooh, good question. I actually have the opposite problem—I set out to write shorts and wind up with novels. But here’s what I can sort of retro-engineer to help you out:
Ask as many questions as you can, mostly of the why-sort: why does this character do this? Why does this culture do this? Why did history go the way it went, and what do all the characters feel about that? Adding a sense of history is a great way to expand a world—the things that are happening right here and right now are never isolated incidents, they happen because of the characters’ pasts, the pasts of the parents of the characters, the history of the peoples and the settings. And there’s always fallout because of things that have happened before.
See if you can mirror and parallel—are there other characters you can introduce that can show differing options of the trials and tribulations of the main characters? Or who can catch the fallout, keeping it close to home and personal? Side characters with as much story as the main characters (so long as it mirrors-but-doesn’t-repeat, complements, works against, or falls out of and comes back to the main plot) add to the story and, by necessity, the length.
Look at your plot structure. A short story is sort of along the lines of incident-action-setback-conclusion, but a novel is more like incident-action-setback-action-setback-action-setback-action-setback-sidetrack into other stuff that puts everything else into perspective-action-setback-action-setback-action-setback-conclusion. There’s a lot more space to come up against other characters, other plot happenings, other things that aren’t needed at all in a short, but enrich and inform a novel. Ask yourself if you’re telling enough of the story—and see where you can add in extra meat, not fluff. Are there politics at hand? Is there a wider cultural impact? Is there some other thing entirely that the main characters have to do to get over their issues and be able to save the day?
Remember that everyone in the story has their own goals—even baddies. And those goals will lead them down paths that don’t always line up with the main characters, and can even slow down the main characters, or endanger them, or turn them back around, or change the context, or add new meaning, or make it worse.
Does this help? Does it bring up more questions? I’m here to help!
In all the crazy of this last week--lots of really weird personal stuff--I totally forgot to pass on the link to a new magazine that I'm featured in! Community Orange is a neat new place to get articles on being a better person, and I'm happy to say that I'm featured in it's first issue, with the article righ' cheer: How to be a Good Citizen! Go support them and their hard work!