Sunday, November 24, 2013

Find motivation - wherever you can get it

As you may have gleaned from the posts in November, our main theme is "How to improve your writing." The other three Chics have written incredible posts on practicing your craft, using real life experiences to influence your writing, and finding your (and your characters) voice. I'm rounding out the month talking about motivation.

We've all been there: You want to write, your characters keep you up (or wake you up) in the middle of the night showing you awesome scenes that you're desperate to type up. But, oh crap, you've got to get up for work in three hours, so you better not stumble out of bed unless you're pretty much awesome at pretending you're not groggy while at work. So how in the crap can you get writing done when life gets in the way?

Find motivation, wherever you can get it...and I can't stress this enough: At the times it will help you most.

If you can squeeze in 30 minutes of writing time when you get home from work, make sure you do something that will help you get in the mood. Whether its driving home in an eerily quiet car as you think of your characters and picture a scene you've been wanting to write but haven't figured out the details yet; or maybe you want to blast the crap out of your sub-woofers and sing at the top of your lungs to a song that helps you visualize your characters/book. Just do it. That way, when you get home, you're feeling that undeniable pull toward your computer/laptop to put those fingers to the keys.

Here are some things I do to help me get motivated (obviously depending on the story I'm writing at the time):
Listening to music
Listening to an audio book
Reading a book
Watching TV

In my experience, finding the right kind of motivation can be one of the most beneficial things to improving your writing craft. If it helps draw you into your story (whether you're writing or editing it), how can it hurt? In fact, it could enhance you're emotions so much that you actually improve what you've previously written.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Voice: How to find yours

Voice: it's what we always hear about at any book club, writer's conference, and critique group.

The voice was so well done I didn't care about the writing.  
The author's voice was so well defined that I felt like I knew each character like they were my friends.
You need to work on your voice.  You transition from sarcasm to drama and back loses the reader...blah blah blah

We've all heard people say things just like this, usually the last is directed at our work and the former two are about some other wonderful, successful, published author.  We've been told countless times that until we get our voice nailed down and solidified, our work isn't going get any serious attention.  I've even been told that finding my voice is the single most important technique to develop as a writer.  And it's all true.

And yet, after all of the conversations about voice and ways to develop it, we're still just as lost as ever in regards to how to tie down our writing voice.

My experience has been one of those long, painful, learning curves, without which I wouldn't be at the level of writing I feel like I've come to today.  When I first started writing, I wanted to show just how many words I knew and just how artfully I could craft sentences.  I was so focused on making each phrase wonderful that I missed out on the underlying reasons for writing: a story, a plot, a theme, character development...etc.  I didn't have a cohesive story, only pretty sequences of phrases that didn't make much sense or even catch anyone's interest, not even my own.  I knew what I'd done wasn't anywhere close to being a novel, so I basically scratched the whole thing and started over.  I focused on the plot rather than on the writing and by the time I finished the book, I actually had a book.  But it still wasn't acceptable.


Because there was no defined voice in the novel.  It was all over the place.  The characters reacted in volatile ways because I didn't understand them and that led me to write them reacting to whatever situation the way I was feeling the day I was writing that particular scene.  It was like being in a relationship with someone who hadn't been taking their medication to keep them balanced.

I had to do another major revision.  Instead of starting over completely though, I could keep the theme, plot, and story.  I just had to develop that one aspect of writing that had been so elusive to me over the four years I've been working on my writing: voice.

I researched voice, reading as many blogs by authors, agents, editors, and publishers that I could stand.  I was still clueless though until I thought of my writing as a person.
What does that even mean?
I'll try to break it down in the way I finally understood it.

Take any person you know well and think about their personality, think about them.  How do they react when they are happy?  What kinds of words do they use when they're angry?  What about the way they express their feelings or deep desires?  I bet you knew the answer to every single one of those questions because you know that person so well.  And because you could answer those questions with confidence, that means the person you thought of is consistent.  They are defined as a person and that definition comes out depending on the situation.  But that person also isn't monotonous, emotionless, or boring.  They simply are consistent.  So it is with voice.  It is consistent and must be throughout your entire novel.

That was it.  All I needed to do was think of voice as a person and once I did that, it became consistent.  And remember consistency doesn't mean monotonous or emotionless.  So now I've finished another major revision that revolved around consistency: consistency in my characters (due to the amazing tool of character sketches), and consistency in voice (which came easier once I understood my characters).  Consistency has been the key to my development as a writer.  Hopefully it's something that can help you too.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Real emotion/life experiences

As writers it is our job to make people feel emotion with the use of our words. Emotion makes people connect to the story. So what is it about the words we are using to describe, say... "My heart ached." Anyone can say that. How do we as authors make someone truly feel the aching of the character's heart? We draw on personal life experiences and then we find a way to describe the sometimes indescribable.

"There was an emptiness where I normally used to feel things."
"My heart felt like it weighed a thousand pounds, but somehow still beat."
"It felt as if something had a hold of my heart and continued to squeeze it tighter and tighter."
"The pain and anguish settled where love and hope used to abide."

These are all different descriptions, and each is unique in their own way, but they convey a sense of aching. We as human beings experience so many emotions. Wonderful and horrible emotions. The beautiful thing about being a writer, is we have the gift to connect intimately with our readers. We make them feel as if we are writing this story just for them, because they lived it, or they relate so closely with one of our characters.

I think the best way to do that is by using what is latent within us-these emotions that everyone feels-but we have the ability to make it a reality. Being someone who has little experience with emotions (Yeah right. I'm a girl, who are we kidding), I find that is when I connect the most with a story or character. I like to challenge myself sometimes and come up with multiple ways to describe one emotion/reaction and its always interesting to me just how many I can create. Emotions are relatable and a ready source. Use them.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Practice Makes Perfect

One of the best things I ever did for my writing career was take a creative writing class. In that class I not only learned there are other forms of writing that I actually enjoy, such as poems-yikes!-but I learned that writing is a skill or talent that can be learned. And not just learned, but perfected.

Whether it be writing on your blog, journal, or even a paper for school, you should write as much as you can, as often as you can. This is going to be your craft, you should be good at it.

Find ways to grow as a writer. Since taking a few writing classes I now proofread all the communications that go out to our distributors from our corporate office. This responsibility helps me practice looking at grammar, sentence structure, and punctuality and now that I'm in the editing stage of my book I can tell you it has definitely helped me catch things.

Want a writing challenge? Here's one my creative writing teacher had my class do: 

Pick a fictional character of your choice (could be one you're writing or one you've read about). Set a timer for three minutes and write about a place your character can't return to. Ready? Go! 

The character I chose to use for this prompt actually surprised me. It was a character from a book I started years before and put on hold so I could work on my current novel. I was quite interested in where the rest of the story would have gone if I hadn't run out of time.

I eyed the plane ticket wearily. My fingers itched to reach out and grab it, just hold it for a moment. But I couldn't. I knew they would come after me if I took that ticket to its destination. Oh how tempting it was though! It was my belated birthday present from my sweet grandmother, who had no idea that I couldn't return to Europe. There were a lot of things she didn't know about me. Who I really was. What I really was. No one in my family did, and how could they? They weren't there when I made the decision in Europe to go to the dark pub on the corner of Heaston. They weren't there when I ran my mouth and got into trouble. 
*Copyright Jayne L. Bowden*