Cherry blossom tree
comment 1

Around the internets: February edition

Why is it that there are only two fewer days in February, yet the month seems to lose an entire week?

• Some great writers at this conference.
This is a neat way to find new authors.
Going for the jugular.
• Is Lady Mary a sociopath? (Nothing to do with writing, this one just made me laugh.)
• Loved this piece.
• This site always has fun desktop images, but these are some of my favorites.
• Do you listen to any of these?

Marble clock
comment 0

When it just feels right

I see discussions pop up once in awhile about how to tell when something—a piece of writing, a painting, a song—is done. When there’s a deadline, the answer is easy. It’s done when there’s no time left to continue tweaking. But when there isn’t a deadline, when it’s something to try and get published, what then? I’m not sure I have that answer. I have seven drafts of one novel, and I still don’t think it’s “done” enough to query.

So maybe the question isn’t “Is this done?” Maybe the question should be “Does this feel right?” Is the story saying what you want it to say? Do the characters feel authentic? Is the tone right? Because really, I’m not sure anything is ever really done. Any book or story or essay can be picked apart to itty-bitty details.

I was talking to artist Katie Davis (whom I mentioned here) a couple weeks ago, and I asked her if she ever did larger prints of her work. She said she’s tried, but it never felt right. Obviously, that stuck with me. Because I’ve had people ask why they can’t read a story I’ve written. And usually the answer honestly is because it doesn’t yet feel right. Except with writing (or any other art form), it’s impossible to explain what it takes to make something feel “right.” There can’t be a definitive answer because every creative is coming from a different place and trying to say something very specific to them. So no one is going to end up at the same answer. That makes it hard when the answer to “Can I read it?” is no, not because there isn’t a beginning, a middle and an end, but because those parts don’t fit together how I want them to yet or aren’t using the proper words yet.

Or maybe that’s just me. I hold my fiction close. It feels much more personal than the writing I do at work. I don’t like to share too much ahead of time, partly because I just don’t like talking about it and partly because my crazy process means I don’t often know where something is going until it’s there. I can’t even tell you if it’s a novel, a novella or a short story. I do my planning on the page—thus seven drafts with no end in sight. It takes me as long to get to know my characters and trust them to tell the story as it does for me to open up to a new person.

But then, when something feels right, I don’t have a problem calling it finished and moving on. For all the drafts, I don’t feel like I’m a constant finagler. I get something the way I want it, and I don’t worry about it anymore. Because for me, when it feels right, it feels right. So maybe in the end, creative projects are like so many other things in life: You just have to trust your gut. And then do one final proofread.

Crosswalk sign
comment 0

Yes or no: slang

I’m currently reading my friend Janine Southard’s latest release, “Cracked! A Magic iPhone Story.” It was this and meeting another local artist that got me thinking about slang.

In “Cracked!,” there is intentional product naming, and (because I like to flip to the back of the book before I’m done reading) in her afterword, Southard explains why she chose to do this. To sum it up: this is the world the book is set in, so she’s going to represent it accurately, even if so-called experts warn against dating a book. Works for me, and it works in the book.

Second artist: Katie Davis is a Seattle artist that owns Sad Shop, a line of hilarious greeting cards. She had a pop-in at the flagship Nordstrom the two days before Valentine’s Day, and honestly every card is funny. She uses current slang on a few: One of my favorites is “Amazeballs.”

So slang or no slang? I’m not sure. I like the personality it adds to things, but in 10 years, the meaning might be changed or just lost. I suppose its a chance you take, because even the oldest, most beloved books sometimes require explaining to understand what’s happening in the context of when it was written.

Maybe the life of the product should determine the use of slang. The greeting cards are going to continually be changed, with new ones added and older ones dropped, whereas a book (hopefully) sticks around awhile. Of course, if you’re striving to capture a time period, then some slang is probably necessary.

And then there’s using real-life products or businesses. This one is tough. For example, the “hot” movie of this past weekend, “50 Shades of Grey.” The book is set in Seattle, but as a resident, I remember reading it and knowing when details were wrong and when places were made up. Funnily enough, the made up places didn’t bother me as much as when the facts were wrong. My favorite (which actually isn’t limited to Seattle, but rather a problem for anyone living in the United States) is that the crosswalk signs all light up with little green men. Here, they’re white. (And not all men: the old ones just said “Walk” and “Don’t Walk.”) The choice is then to go with real places and risk getting details wrong or make up places and possibly take away a little credibility. I don’t write fantasy, but this is a big plus for that genre, since you make everything up anyway. Can’t be wrong if it’s your universe.

I need to look back over past work, but I’m not sure this comes up too much in my own fiction writing. I tend to trend toward the historical, and even when I don’t, I’m not sure how much slang I throw in. Guess I need to go back and look.

What about you? Yes or no to slang in writing?

Scrabble tiles
comment 0

Word games

My favorite board games are word games. Though the occasional mindless game of Yahtzee or Uno is fine, my husband and I tend to gravitate toward Scrabble and the like when it’s just the two of us. I think it’s because we’re evenly matched.

We’re always looking for new games, since some word games are great while others fall flat after one play. So when I happened upon a post about something called Crap Scrabble, I had to click. Have you read this from the Bloggess?

I’d start collecting old Scrabble tiles if I wasn’t on a purging quest.

Writing tools
comment 0

6 rules for first drafts

First drafts are my favorite. I don’t usually see a blank page as scary. Instead, it is full of possibility. Maybe it was years of doing Nanowrimo, but I love spitting out stories. My habits when creating something new:

 • Don’t worry if you don’t have a plan.

I can’t write from an outline, but sometimes I start something new with no more than a couple words, a character, maybe one scene. In other words, not much. But the page is blank—the freedom is there to do anything at all.

• Write on a schedule.

I tend to write on weekdays, taking weekends off so I can spend more time reading. But when it’s a new story, I work on it every day I’m scheduled to write. Even if I’m at a loss for what comes next. Two hundred words is better than none.

• Do not go back and edit.

When writing without a plan, there are plenty of things that will change in subsequent drafts. Plots change, characters turn out to have a different name, maybe even the time period changes. Leave the old. Make a note of what has to change, but don’t get lost in previous chapters. Keep moving forward.

• Journal after writing.

I always take a minute to write in my journal after working on new fiction. It started as a way to keep track of writing days as I was developing a habit, but has since proven useful. The journal is a spot to make note of changes that have to happen in editing, work out plot problems or write reminders of what needs to happen next.

• Stop before you’re done.

This is a trick of Stephen King (I think). Stop before you’re completely out of ideas. Knowing exactly where to pick up the next day is a huge help in a productive start the next day. This is especially true when writing time is limited. The less time staring at the blinking cursor, the better.

• If boredom sets in, move on.

It’s advice you’ve probably heard before, but if you’re bored, the reader is going to be bored. There are so many stories to tell, I figure I won’t waste my time on something that takes a turn toward the dull. That said, I like to address it when I journal, see if there is anything worth saving, but if not, I just save it to a file and move on. Maybe one day the answer will pop up and I can return to the story. If not, it was good practice.

Star Wars costumes at EMP Museum
comment 0

On writing and a galaxy far, far away

Last week I got to attend a media preview for the new Star Wars™ exhibit at the EMP Museum here in Seattle. It looks at the costumes from the six movies, everything from Boba Fett to Queen Amidala’s wedding gown.

It’s an incredible exhibit, but what I enjoyed even more than just getting to see R2D2 and C-3PO up close was learning about all the work that went into these clothes, and realizing how similar it all is to writing.

Going through the exhibit was one of those experiences where in some ways, you already knew some of the information, you just needed to read it to realize it. For example, any American that has seen these movies knows, right away, that Han Solo’s wardrobe is a bit wild west cowboy. And walking around the exhibit, it happens again and again. Queen Amidala has that beautiful red dress with the gold headpiece. You know, as a viewer, it’s vaguely Chinese. This exhibit discusses all those influences. The costume team studied other cultures, pulled photos and drawings from various historical periods, and really, researched, researched, researched. The result is an immediate understanding about the character when you see them in costume.

That’s what I think writers try to do, too. Give the character some trait, some quirk, that immediately tells the reader something about them. It might be clothing, but it might also be a hairstyle, a slang word, a movement. Whatever it is, it has to be grounded in the reality of that novel. Historical period, country, galaxy, economic class, and on and on.

I’m not a descriptive writer by nature—I have to go back and add in the details I see in my head but fail to put on the page in a first draft. This, then, is a good reminder that those descriptions are also telling the story. It’s important not to forget them.

As always, it’s fun to see other people’s creativity, hard work and love. I’ll never create an elaborate costume with hours of hand-beading or complicated underclothes to shape it properly, but I enjoy learning about the work that went into it and taking some of that energy home to pour into my own creative projects.

(“Rebel, Princess, Jedi, Queen: Star Wars and the Power of Costume” is open at the EMP Museum. It’s a traveling Smithsonian exhibit, but they hadn’t yet confirmed the other cities on the tour. Absolutely worth checking out.)

Stack of books
comment 1

Decluttering, or balance, part 2

Browsing in a bookstore about two weeks ago, I picked up a cute little hardback with this beautiful teal/blue/white cover. (Step 1: Judge a book by its cover?) “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” by Marie Kondo. So I started reading. Who doesn’t need to declutter? I haven’t been able to shut my closet door since we moved into our house, six-and-a-half years ago.

A few pages in, I realized I should just buy the book. (Step 2: Buy ANOTHER book to cram onto the bookshelf. The irony isn’t lost on me, which makes it OK, right?) About a week after I bought it, I finally read it, and although some parts are a little bit too spiritual for me, overall, she’s got good points. My takeaways: If you don’t love it, get rid of it, but conquer the clutter by category, rather than by room. Once you start, don’t stop. Challenge accepted.

This past weekend I decided to tackle my clothes, since that was the suggested starting point anyway. I piled everything on the bed: clothes, coats, scarves, gloves, hats, socks, underwear, shoes, handbags … And it was suddenly clear why you do this by category, instead of room. After unearthing my clothes from around the house, I could see exactly how much I had. Oh my god. It was ridiculous. (Step 3: Realize no one actually needs 25 t-shirts if you can’t wear them to work and prefer tank tops for exercising.) I started going through things, and by the time I was done, I’d filled seven large garbage bags with stuff. Seven. I’m not entirely sure I will be able to get through a week on what is left, but I only have things I love, my closet door shuts (!!!) and there’s room left to fill in the gaps.

The next day I went through books. So. Much. Harder. Books are second on the list, but this was difficult, and I’d guess I’ll still get rid of some as I sit and stare at my bookshelves. I think between my husband and I, we got rid of five garbage bags of books. Everything was donated, and I feel like I got so much accomplished over the weekend. It takes me seconds to put clothes away, seconds to put a book on the bookshelf, rather than searching for an open spot on the shelf or rearranging clothes to make something fit.

Turns out decluttering goes hand-in-hand with finding balance. If I don’t have to waste time cleaning: Awesome. Plus it just feels nice to be in a space that isn’t packed with possessions (and honestly, our house wasn’t so terrible). There’s a ton left to do, but it’s slowly starting to feel right in the house. There is mental space where there wasn’t before. There is energy for creative things that used to flow into all that extra stuff.

Also, I finally finished editing down a short story this past weekend. See? Decluttering works.