Monday, September 20, 2010

Music and Writing and You

So I’m basically the antithesis of Nora when it comes to writing with music.

I can’t do it. The lyrics screw with my head and seep into my prose, and if I’m writing to classical music or a scored soundtrack, the big moments invariably come at the wrong time and I have to replay certain parts and it just slows down my whole momentum.

That having been said, though, music is one of the most integral parts of my writing process.

I like to jog. I like to listen to music while I jog. I like to daydream and imagine whole scenes out while I’m listening and jogging. I’ll go jogging just so I CAN do this daydream/plotting thing.

Because, while I’m imagining my scenes out, there’s no place or time restriction, no inability to keep typing pace or mood with the music. It just comes, beautiful and mutable and lucid; I can mold it any way I see fit, imagine it over and over again in my head with varying shades of beauty and terror, and I love it.

It also helps me burn some calories.

My tunes of choice are epic soundtracks and classic rock. Sometimes metal. SPITFIRE’s got a much more epic feel to it than THE FOREVER DARK, for example. Lord of the Rings soundtracks, lots of trailer music by Two Steps from Hell and X-Ray Dog, Chronicles of Narnia. A little Led Zeppelin for the less-intense moments.

When I’m working on THE FOREVER DARK, though, a lot of (GASP!) corporate rock slips in, much to my dismay. Also Metallica and anything that works as the backdrop for a heroine made of badassery toting a submachine gun and firing it in slow motion.

But I’m not ashamed. Whatever helps me create the scenes I need to make my novel work will do.

So what about you? Does music have a place in your writing process? If so, what kinds of music do you listen to?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Music and writing

Listening to music while writing is a surprisingly controversial subject.  I’ve heard people say that they can’t get any work done if there’s music playing; personally, I can barely work without music or noise of some kind.  Back in college, I was most productive when working in a loud place like the student cafĂ© - sequestered in the library, I’d start to lose focus, but when everyone around me was making noise, I just blocked it out and did my work.

If you can’t stand music while writing, this blog post won’t help you much.  As far as I can tell, there are two basic strategies for creating writing playlists.  First, a playlist of songs somehow related to what you’re writing.  If you’re in the midst of an ongoing project, you may find that a lot of songs suddenly seem very relevant or appropriate.  I have a playlist that I use specifically to write death scenes, as well as playlists that are thematically related to entire novels.  I’ll share a short one at the end of this post.

The other major strategy for building a playlist is songs that motivate you to write.  I find a driving beat helps keep my fingers moving; in fact, I tend to ignore the lyrics when choosing songs for this type of playlist and listen to stuff like Nine Inch Nails, Daft Punk, The Prodigy, etc.  Other people choose classical music over techno.  Don’t let other people’s judgment stop you from listening to music that helps you – if Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend” on repeat is what finally gets the words flowing, don’t hold back out of shame (I once spent an hour writing to “When I Grow Up” by the Pussycat Dolls).

So, what do I listen to?  Here’s the playlist I’ve started building that I associate thematically with my 2010 NaNoWriMo novel.
  1. Runs in the Family, Amanda Palmer
  2. The Wondersmith and His Sons, Astronautalis
  3. Filthy Mind, Amanda Ghost
  4. Dance Off, We Are Scientists
  5. Send Him Away, Franz Ferdinand
  6. Stupid Thing, Nickel
  7. Jackie Wants a Black Eye, Dr. Dog
  8. F**k and Run, Liz Phair
  9. Kiss with a Fist, Florence + The Machine
  10. I Hate Everyone, Get Set Go
  11. Windowsill, Arcade Fire
  12. End of the Movie, Cake
  13. Kiss Me I'm #!@'faced, Dropkick Murphys
  14. It Ain't Me Babe, Johnny Cash

Monday, September 13, 2010

Presumption and Pretention

So for better or worse, there are some amazing authors out there who also happen to have (or have had) drinking problems. And depression. And have—in some cases—actually ended their own lives because of these things.

And of course, there’s a large minority of folks who buy into this mythology that these things are all the mark of a Great Writer.


Those are pretty serious problems. There’s nothing glorious about that mental destitution. What made those writers so brilliant was their ability to channel and structure the emotion they felt into narrative and plot. The vices were just jumbled, messy extras encroaching on their functionality as people.

An offshoot of this mentality are, I think, the inherent pretentions of some so-called writers. And here’s where I get up on my soapbox.

Wearing a fedora does not make you a writer.

Rhapsodizing about the torturous glory of the life of a starving artist while you sip your coffee laced with absinth or some such ridiculous thing for the sake of imagery does not make you a writer.

Bashing successful authors for their trite, plebian words does not make you a writer.

Getting shit-ass drunk and writing while totally wasted does not make you a writer.

I think the majority of people who think that this is what a writer does and acts like approach writing like a Pollock painting—just throw a lot of colors together, with a lot of rage and angst, and you’ll get art.


Writing takes thought. Control. Effort. Writing takes wiping the morning drool off your face and putting your butt in the chair. Writing takes words on a page, and structure, and beauty, and subtlety.

There are those cathartic, raw, emotive passages that seem to defy this advice, seem to bubble and burst out of the wellspring of the human psyche—and to some extent, this is true. But it takes a writer to shape that power into something so potent.

Because I’m a huge Led Zeppelin fan, I read and watch lots of interviews with Jimmy Page et al. So forgive me for this. But I respect him as an artist, because he’s brilliant, and he describes his approach to music as exploring “light and shade.”

To me, that’s what being a writer is. It’s not substance abuse or depression--or useless pretentions. It’s about uncovering something through the complexity of thought—through the light and shade of the human experience, the words and the shapes of the narrative, that world you c

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The myth of the alcoholic writer

Everyone's heard of the alcoholic writers - Hemingway, Joyce, Fitzgerald, the list goes on and on.  A lot of people out there seem to think that drinking alcohol somehow translates to writing brilliance.  As a person who enjoys drinking and enjoys writing, I thought I'd take it upon myself to clarify a few things about booze and books.

Personally, I find it almost pointless to try to write if I've had any significant amount to drink.  Sure, if I had a glass of wine or a beer with dinner, I can write perfectly well.  But I would never drink solely to improve my writing.  First of all, if I've had a lot of alcohol, I am easily distracted - which means that what would be, sober, a quick trip to Wikipedia to check the population of a city turns into a tour of every corner of the Internet when drunk.  Often, I'm more interested in an impromptu dance party than I am in writing a pivotal scene of my novel.

Last year (2009) during NaNoWriMo, I had a bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label (that's Scotch, for non-drinkers) that was supposed to be my 'reward' for days when I wrote a lot.  I learned very quickly, though, that I should only drink it when I was done being productive; romantic as it sounds to write with a glass of Scotch and three clinking ice cubes in one hand, I found that I often wanted to take a nap after finishing a glass.

Maybe hard liquor doesn't affect you the same way.  Speaking honestly, though, does it really make your writing better?  Does it make it easier for you to write about difficult emotions?  Consider investing in a close friend instead.  Does it make you more prolific?  ...I don't believe you, unless you're mixing it with Red Bull (in which case you should try Red Bull without a depressant added!).

You're welcome to try it out yourself, but I think you'll find what many others have discovered - many great writers drank, but it was in spite of their heavy alcohol consumption, not because of it, that they succeeded.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Shayda's Guide to Revision

I confess--I haven’t had a whole lot of practice with revision, at least not with novels. During college, I wrote tons of dark, lyrical short stories for my workshop classes, but revising those is a completely different animal from the beast that is novel revision. Aside from my trunk novel, I’ve never had anything of that length or complexity to revise. And, of course, my experience with revising my trunk novel (before I realized I was beating a dead horse) was something akin to floundering in the middle of an ocean.

In short, terrible.

While that was largely due to the fact that I was trying to whip something useless into a respectable shape, I’ve never been extremely fond of revising. That having been said, though, I’ve managed to glean some valuable pre-revision techniques that—at least for me—will make all the difference in the world when I’m finished with my WIP.


Sometimes, either while you’re writing or as soon as you’ve finished writing a certain scene, you’ll hate it. Or you’ll realize it’s not working the way it should. Or that you need to expand something. Or cut. Or change the tone or the voice or where it falls in the story arc.

Whatever that is, usually you’ll feel it, even if you can’t quite articulate what’s wrong at the moment. MAKE A NOTE. If you use Scrivener like I do, you’ll find the “notes” section in the right sidebar invaluable. If you’re writing it in a regular word processor or by longhand, mark it where you’ll see and remember it.

Trust me. It will give you a huge jumping-off place when you’re ready to revise. I already have a good five or so major revision spots planned, and I’m only two thirds of the way into my WIP.

The Exception to Write-It-First

Now, while I usually adhere to the write-it-first-then-revise doctrine of noveling, I will say this: sometimes, like with the early draft of SPITFIRE, I realize something is fundamentally not working. I got 30,000 words into that draft before I realized that the tone and voice and tense just weren’t meshing with the story.

Trust me—it broke my heart to trash 30,000 words. Most of those were even pretty good words. But ultimately, they just didn’t serve the story.

I wouldn’t call this revising, per se, but sometimes it pays to scrap what you’ve got and just rewrite the thing.

I also found that, because I’d written the beginning before, it was even better the second time around. I have a whole blog post over at my personal blog about this wonderful and curious phenomenon.  Unfortunately, I can't find it, so you'll just have to poke around over there until it pops up.

In short, revising is one helluva beast--but also the kind that, as long as it doesn't kill you, makes you--and your writing--stronger. Duck your head and barrel through it, because it's all worth it in the end.

*Awesome comic found at Sequential Life here.  

Friday, September 3, 2010

Reviled revision

I know there are people out there who enjoy revision.  There must be.  Personally, though, when I've finished a novel and am about to start revising it - well, that's when I tend to come up with a brilliant new idea that I just have to write out, and revision gets put off for another day - oh my God, I think I just figured out why I haven't sold a novel yet!

All kidding aside, revision is one of the most important jobs every writer takes on.  Revision is when you tease out the best bits of your novel and carefully shape them until they make something worth reading.  The best simile I can think of is that writing a novel is like building a nice piece of furniture.  First you construct the basic form (writing) and carve the rough shapes of whatever decoration it will have (rewriting), and then you begin the endless sanding and polishing process (revising).  If I've left something out, please don't correct me.

Everyone has a different process that works for them.  I find it helpful to print a clean copy of my manuscript, stick it in a three-ring binder, and go through with a blue or green pen, writing sarcastic comments wherever they're deserved.  When I have enough distance, I go back through and find the places where I was most sarcastic - usually these are plot holes, moments where my characters act out-of-character, weird things like that.  I fix the big stuff first, and then (at least in theory), when everything else works I go back and start polishing sentences themselves.

The preferred book on revision seems to be Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. You can get a copy of it at your library (I guarantee it).  In the end, though, revision is a matter of sitting yourself down and working  through your novel, one page at a time.

Or you could just write a new novel.  Revision only matters if you care about improving your writing.

Monday, August 30, 2010

That Thing You Dread

It’s such a common phenomenon that we’ve even got a name for it. Of course, not every writer has one, but I’m willing to bet that those folks are few and far between.

My trunk novel—which I saw crumble into unpublishability before my very eyes as the joy of finishing it faded—was an eighteen-year-old’s attempt at emotional, literary Southern Gothic.

And it was crap.

But it’s the best crap in the world. You can read all you want about novel-writing and structure and plot and character. Go for it. That’s what I did, and it really does help. But there’s nothing quite like writing a novel for teaching you how.

And, at least for me, this is where I can’t tell you much more; because what did I learn from writing this glorious piece of trash? Nothing you’d be able to find without taking the plunge into novel-writing-dom.

I can tell you this: Don’t be afraid of the trunk novel. Embrace it. Hold on to the lessons you learn from it. I’m not saying your first novel will have to be trunked, but the fear that goes along with embarking on such a perilous quest can be debilitating. Don’t let that happen.

My trunk novel actually has a place on my bookshelf. Once I resigned myself to the nature of the beast, I made my way over to and published the novel privately. It’s not for sale. It doesn’t have an ISBN, it doesn’t have a list price, and it will never be seen by eyes other than mine.

But it’s in hardback, wrapped lovingly with a shiny dust jacket, and every once in a while, I’ll pull it down from my shelves and lose myself in it.

Trunk novels are alright. And, let’s be honest—you could do worse, right?

You could just sit there and not write anything at all.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Trunk Novels

If you've been writing for any length of time, chances are you've got a trunk novel - the first, or maybe the second novel you actually completed, that novel you love but maybe are a little embarrassed to mention in polite company, that novel you'd never show anyone else now that you know better.

Believe me, I've got them.  After all, my first "novel" was a college drama starring thinly disguised versions of myself and my older crush.  Would I ever dream of inflicting this story on an unsuspecting reader?  Lord, no.  What about my second novel?  Well, it was a 90,000-word talking animal epic.  My mother had a copy bound for my 13th birthday, and it's the only 'published' copy that will ever exist.  Do I love that book?  Of course.  But is it fit for public consumption?  Perish the thought.

There are more - I won't force you to suffer through plot summaries.  We all write them, books that offer a snapshot of the gawky adolescent phase of our writing careers.  Trying to publish these books would be like trying to pass your 3rd-grade violin recital off as a masterpiece.  Every respectable author should probably go through multiple trunk novels before producing one that's publishable.

So what's the point, then?  Why not quit writing as soon as you realize something is destined to be a trunk novel?  I'm on the brink of that realization now, struggling through a rewrite of an old novel.  Personally, I believe that trunk novels are how you develop your craft as a writer.  Part of the reason I love my old trunk novels is that they so clearly showcase each stage of my writing development.  "Aww, it's Nora's first lengthy descriptive scene!"  "Look, Nora just learned how to give a character flaws!"  "Hey, some of this dialogue sounds kinda real!"  They'll never be worthy of publication (if you ever see a novel for sale that says "written by Nora Coon at age 9", please direct angry letters to the fantastic agent I will have at that point in my career).  But I love my trunk novels just the same.

How do you know if something's a trunk novel?  First of all, if you're not writing with the hope of eventually selling your novel, it doesn't matter.  Write whatever you want, and enjoy.  But if you do dream of someday getting a phone call from your agent saying "Good news, Random House wants it and they're offering a mindblowing advance", read on.  If you have a critique group, it's relatively simple - ask them to read it, and see what kind of feedback you get.  If it's legitimate criticism, you've got something to work on.  If it's a lot of people saying "I don't understand why you asked us to read a 110,000-word book about one day in the life of a talking sock", it may be time to re-evaluate.  If you don't have a critique group, find a few people whose opinions on literature you trust (a creative writing professor, an articulate friend with similar taste in books) and ask them to read it.  

Personally, I believe that you should finish a novel once you've started it, if only because you'll learn something from every novel you write.  I am also a huge hypocrite and have about seven unfinished novels sitting on my hard drive.  Most would be called trunk novels, because there are gaping flaws.  Eventually, the choice is up to you: keep working, or leave it and start something else.  After all, you can always dust it off in a few years, once your writing has matured, and if the idea is still good - well, that's when you yank out the plot and characters and start rewriting.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

First Drafts

First drafts are kind of amazing.

Imagine this: It’s like being given three hundred sheets of blank paper and told to fill them—daunting, overwhelming, and powerful all at once. You get to create. You get to mold and reshape and mold again. You get to know your characters, to thrust them into all kinds of trouble, and pull them back out again.

You get to make mistakes.

Here’s how I do it—I have a rough outline. Very rough. I usually imagine certain stand-out scenes and add those first. I move them around, try to see where they fit, and add more as I go. It actually takes me a while to get writing, but when I do, I wrap myself up in that world that I’ve created, into those blank sheets that are suddenly alive with color and emotion and people.

And I write outwards from that feeling of immersion, because it’s so exhilarating to feel the story as I write it.

And I can’t stress this enough: You get to make mistakes.

First drafts aren’t meant to be perfect. They aren’t even meant to be fun, really. They can be, of course, and they usually are. But what I really think first drafts are for is authorial enrichment. Learning who your characters are. What their story is. Sometimes what their story isn’t.

And I think, to some extent, first drafts help you learn a little about yourself. How you relate to this thing you’ve created. This beautiful, reckless thing. Because while it may not be ready to be seen by any eyes but yours, it’s all you. It’s you when you’re sick and tired. It’s you when you’re brilliant. It’s you when you’ve had the shittiest day at work or school and you want to quit everything—even the writing.

That first draft is imperfect and glorious. Embrace it.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Heh, despite last week's helpful posts on discipline, I still failed to post this on time.  Life is a learning experience, yes?

First drafts are my favorite part of writing, without a doubt.  Forget the agony of revision, the pain of rewriting and trying to fill plot holes; I like the rush of pure creation.  It used to be that I agonized over first drafts too, wanting every sentence to be a polished gem (or something) before I moved on to the next one.  Then I started doing NaNoWriMo, and, well...things changed.  My first drafts are great rambling messes now - but I actually write them, instead of staring at the page and trying to decide whether to tag a line of dialogue with "she said" or "she exclaimed".

I've mentioned outlining, but I don't usually outline before a first draft.  I've mentioned discipline, but I'm very undisciplined when writing a first draft.  I put off writing until the words are literally spilling out of me - until I'm scribbling down phrases and paragraphs on nearby scraps of paper and my comp sci notes and the grocery list - and then I lock myself in my room for hours at a time and blurt the story out, either by hand (if it's short) or on my computer.  Eventually, either I finish or I have to go do something else (like go to sleep).

Once I have a first draft, that's when the real work begins.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

That Ever-Elusive Cornerstone of Industry


Let’s be honest—who among us is truly disciplined? It’s the bread-and-butter staple of the writing world; it’s the butt-in-chair philosophy that keeps our little vessels afloat; it’s making yourself eek out words and plunge through the raging surf of life to pull our work into being.

It’s a pain in the ass.

A while back, we talked about time management. Most people think that’s the hard part. It’s not.

See, it’s pretty easy to garner some time for yourself—a half-hour here, twenty minutes there. Shorter showers. Whatever.

But the real trick is to sit yourself down at your desk and write something during that time.

It’s a scary thing, because there are those days where you get 5,000 words and it feels like flying, and then you run into other days where just 500 feels like smashing your head against the keyboard. It’s all too easy to throw in the towel on the days that the words are slow and bad and stupid (at least to you), and figure that, “Oh, tomorrow will definitely be a 5K-word-day!”

Because it won’t be.

It won’t be, because you’ll still be tired, the words still take a while to get rolling, and you’ll decide to throw up that white flag again. You’re setting yourself up for failure, this way.

That’s where discipline comes in. Discipline is both a martial and a saint—it keeps you in the chair, writing, even when you’d rather not be there and all your words sound like despair. But write, you will. You’ll form habits, you’ll sit in that chair, and before you know it (people always say that about things that take forever), you’ll write straight away as soon as you sit down.

In all seriousness, though, it takes discipline to write. It takes discipline to sit down every day in front of that blank page and put cohesive, thoughtful words on the page.

They won’t always be good words. They won’t always be bad, either. But I can tell you this: without discipline, you’ll never write any words, and that’s the worst travesty a writer can condemn herself to.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Gosh, Wednesday again already?  Guess that means it's my turn to blog about something near and not-so-very dear to my heart: discipline.  I should admit up front, I'm not a very disciplined person, especially when it comes to writing.  In fact, my usual approach is about as follows: "Ooh!  Cool idea!  Better write it down!"  Then I write until I lose interest, and then I stop.  This has led to an unbelievable number of ten- to fifty-page chunks of writing - I have an entire folder in my documents titled "Novel Beginnings".  It's 29 megabytes.  Considering how small a single Word document is...well, you get the picture.

My self-discipline, therefore, is almost nonexistent.  But I've found that even un-self-disciplined folks like me can create the illusion of outside forces to make them be disciplined.  Case in point: NaNoWriMo.  Is anything actually going to happen to me if I don't make it to 50,000 words?  Of course not.  But every year I toil away diligently, devoting energy (that would otherwise be directed towards very important television) to writing.  Most years, I make it.

Sadly, NaNoWriMo only happens every November.  When that's the case, I find contests to be the most effective way to whip myself into shape: make a bet with someone that, say, you can finish rewriting your novel by October 31.  Just for example.  Come up with whatever dire consequences will motivate you.  Instant self-discipline!

Oh, I guess I did forget to mention why discipline is important.  Sure, there's always the off-chance that you'll vomit forth an entire perfect novel, sell it, and never have to work hard.  For most of us, though, getting published involves an awful lot of tough writing, re-writing, and editing - and that takes discipline.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Plot Thickens

I have to be honest: I'm terrible about plotting things out.  I tend to just sit down with a few words or a phrase in my head - or maybe some idea of a major overall conflict - and then write, and occasionally I emerge with some semblance of a cohesive plot.

If you follow my example, well, there's still hope.  Every once in a while, I do manage to make myself plot things out.  Not in too much detail - I think half the fun of writing is discovering the story and the characters as you write - but just enough so that I have a rough idea of the sequence of events.  Then I write those events down on a scrap of paper and promptly lose it.  This way, I've actually thought through the entire story - helping to avoid plot holes - but I don't feel like I've confined myself to a single possibility, or like I'm rigidly filling in the gaps between scenes.

If you don't have quite the same issues, I recommend a more detailed outline.  A scene-by-scene outline can be immensely helpful because it allows you to write scenes out of order - very helpful if you occasionally find yourself with writer's block.  Writing a one-paragraph or one-page synopsis (like you'll have to do if you ever submit a query for a novel) is an excellent way to get a long view of the story without trapping yourself in details.  And every once in a while, I find it very helpful to outline with an eye to how many pages I want to spend on each event - this can work wonders for your pacing, or it can drive you insane.

Or you can just write without thinking about it.  When it comes time for revision, though, serious plotting and a detailed outline will save your life.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Shayda's Rambly Guide to Plotting

So, I made this video quite a while ago, but since this week's topic is plotting, I thought it was apropos.  I talk about a few outside resources and links that you can find here at my blog, where I posted this video originally.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Finding time to write

It's funny - when I'm home for the summer, it's almost impossible for me to write.  At school with a million things to do, though, I always manage to find time.  The NaNoWriMo time finder is really great for showing you time when you could be writing - and once you know that you spend 4:30-5:30 every day reading webcomics, there's the matter of turning free time into writing time.

I find that the best way to do this is a) remove your computer from the internet and b) find some way to designate it as "writing" time.  To get rid of the internet, just unplug your ethernet cable or turn off your wireless network.  One major source of distraction, dealt with.  Then, make sure your brain knows that it's writing time - wear a certain jacket or fingerless gloves, listen to your writing playlist, reserve one location just for writing.

If you're really having trouble making time to write, there are two simple but somewhat painful sources of time: getting up earlier, and going to bed later.  If you are a night person, stay up an extra half-hour and write.  If you're a morning person, get up a half-hour earlier.  True, this solution will rob you of precious hours of sleep, but that's an extra three and a half hours of writing time every week.  Finally, the best thing I can suggest is to carry a little notebook and pen with you everywhere.  Waiting in line?  Whip out your notebook and scribble down a few sentences.  Walking down a relatively straight path?  Hey, as long as you can write and walk, you're golden. 

Now I'd better get back to making time for my English seminar paper - graduation looms closer every day!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Time (and How to Find It)

I will freely admit that I am a procrastinator.  Case-in-point:  I'm living at home right now, volunteering here and there, and working part-time.

I have time.  I mean, I have TIME like you wouldn't believe.  But I'm still only averaging about 1500 words a day.  (It pains me to admit that.)

What I need--and everyone needs--is time to write.  This can be procured in one of two ways:  either by (1) freezing time in the middle of the day, preferably when your blood sugar is high, you feel great, and inspiration is whirring all around you, and sitting down to write, or (2) time management.

If you can't freeze time, I'd suggest the latter.  What I'd also suggest you do is go out and get yourself a copy of Chris Baty's NO PLOT? NO PROBLEM.  It's basically the National Novel Writing Month bible--it shows you exactly how to write a 50K-word novel in a month!  It's also helpful for those slightly saner folk who just want to write a novel, period.

What Chris suggests is basically this:

  • make a list of everything you do, from waking to sleep
  • mark how long each thing takes you to do
If you find that you're watching TV mindlessly for an hour after dinner, guess what?  You could be writing.  If you're stopping to get an iced mocha on your way to work, save some money and write for the fifteen minutes you give yourself to do that.

Make it easy for yourself.  If you have a laptop, keep it nearby.  If you prefer to write with pen and paper, always keep at least a small notepad in your pocket.  (Although I'm in the TYPE IT BECAUSE HAND-WRITING TAKES WAAAAY TOO LONG camp, I have a mega-purse and will occasional stuff a full-sized notebook in there when I can't bring my computer with me.  Just a thought.)

And I know, I'm sort of a hypocrite telling you all this stuff, but I'm working on my own issues with the notorious T-I-M-E.  I promise.

Hopefully, you'll find some time for yourself and your writing.  I know it's tough, but it's totally worth it.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Writing Workshop and You

I’ll be honest—aside from my college writing workshops, I haven’t had much experience with critique groups.

And since I’m being honest, I’ll go ahead and tell you now that I hated those workshops.  Two of them were run by a professor whom I admired and whose feedback—while harsh—made me really THINK about the words I was putting down on paper.  I’m indebted to her.

The actual students-critiquing-other-students’-work part?  Horrible.  Egos, attitudes, pretentions of being way too “deep” for the simple spinning of this planet—GAG. 

Nora has a really, really good point:  don’t work with people you love simply because you love them.  But I’d like to add something to this:

Don’t work with people you HATE simply because they’re “writers” like you.  And, of course, it’s one thing to be forced together, but I know it’s hard, at least for me, to find people that are (1) writers and (2) not going to hate you for giving them constructive criticism.

Don’t settle.  It’s tough to find a niche.  Heck, it’s taken me over a decade to even begin finding people who want to be career writers.  But I think it’s worth the wait.  I’ve recently joined Absolute Write, which has the potential to be an invaluable venue for writers, beta readers, and advice.

Another good place to find beta readers and writing partners is on the National Novel Writing Month forums.  The downside to this is that the bulk of people who use the website aren’t active until November of any given year.  Plus side?  I met Nora my second year of NaNo-ing madness, and despite the fact that we haven’t actually exchanged a lot of work (mainly due to the fact that we just aren’t finished with anything), I can tell you, having a support system—one that understands what you’re doing every day at the keyboard—is fantastic.

Basically, my experience with writing groups can be distilled like this:  I can’t tell you a whole lot about critique groups myself.  They have the potential to be terrible, to be amazing, and just plain useless.

But what I can say for certain is this:  Find yourself a serious writer-friend or two.  Someone who knows the craft, who’s eager to continue to learn it, and who’s willing to struggle with you along the way.  Writing is by nature a solitary art, but it doesn't have to be lonely.

Beta Readers, Critique Groups, and Workshops - oh no!

It's a pretty common piece of advice to new writers: "Get a critique group."  But how useful, really, is a critique group?  If you follow a few rules, it can be incredibly helpful - if not, it can be one of the most painful/boring/torturous experiences of your life.

First of all, don't go in blind.  In my experience, critique groups work best when everyone is writing in the same genre (i.e. "fantasy") but the pieces are not so similar that people worry about being copied (i.e. "we're all writing coming-of-age stories about teenage girls set at a fantasy boarding school!).  That's not to say that you can't critique someone's futuristic space opera if you write historical fiction; if that's what you're doing, make sure all participants have read in that genre before so they know the conventions and can understand how cleverly you've subverted the tropes.

Second, it's okay if you're acquainted with the people in your critique group outside the group, but if you want to have any kind of productive experience, don't start a critique group with your three best friends.  It's really tough to give an honest critique of a piece - that is, give it the help it needs - if you know how your friend poured his/her heart into it and will be crushed by criticism.  My first real critique group, in my freshman year of high school, was a group of close friends, and we had some real problems with hurt feelings.

Third - related to that - be honest, but be kind.  Don't lie or leave things out (that's just unproductive), but don't give someone a critique letter that says "this sucked".  Balance your criticism with tact, and if you don't like something, try to articulate why it didn't work.

Workshops - by which I mean the kind of college writing workshop you'll probably experience if you take any creative writing classes ever - are a slightly different story.  You have no say in the members, and there's no way to know what they read.  Take comments with a heaping cup of salt.  Sometimes you do get very useful feedback - and sometimes you get a bunch of students ripping your piece apart to prove how smart they are.  Even if people "don't understand" something, their opinions can give you helpful perspective.  Occasionally.

I have only one hard-and-fast rules for critique groups and workshops: for the love of God, proofread your piece before you turn it in.  Yes, sentence fragments can provide a nice effect, but your story needs to be readable.  Nothing is worse than trying to critique a story and noticing that only half of the sentences are even coherent.

As for beta readers - individuals who read your work before anyone else - I'm a big fan.  Pick them well, treat them well, and they will save your life (and sanity).

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Hello World

Since Shayda wrote such a nice introduction, I figured I'd better hurry up and introduce myself too.

I'm Nora Coon, 21-year-old soon-to-be-former college student.  Some vital information:

- I read and write YA fiction, ranging from fantasy to realistic fiction.  Every once in a while I pretend to write sci-fi, but I think it's usually space opera instead.  I do love steampunk, though.
 - I'm a senior English major at Grinnell College, a small school in Iowa.  Soon, though, I will be an intern with National Novel Writing Month in Berkeley, CA.
 - I have three books published, all nonfiction: The Diabetes Game, Teen Dream Jobs, and It's Your Rite.  All were published when I was in high school.  My first love, though, is writing novels, and that's what I'm working on now.
- I spent about a year as an intern at a publishing company, so I've seen both sides of the slush pile.

Less vital stuff:

- I am a caffeine addict, pure and simple.  I got through my first three years of college drinking multiple cans of Red Bull every day; after a stern lecture from my dentist, I've switched to coffee.
- I love National Novel Writing Month, and participate every year (since 2005).  I've succeeded 3 out of 5 years.  I also do something called National Novel Writing Day, where you try to write a novel (40K-50K words) in 24 hours, and have succeeded.
- I'm very into cooking and baking and food in general.
- In addition to English, I have an unofficial minor in Computer Science (in other words, I found out I liked it when it was too late to switch my major).

What I'm working on:

Let's see.  I'm taking a writing workshop at school right now with Paul Harding, who just won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and am freaking out over the quality of a short story I'm about to turn in.  I'm in the middle of completely rewriting my dearly beloved novel, Kinesthesia.  I'm very bad at sticking to just one project, so I work on multiple things at once.

That's probably more than anyone wanted to know.  Like Shayda, I do have a personal writing/cooking/life blog, See Girl Write.  Stay tuned for our first real post on writing and publishing here at Book-Bound Writers!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Howdy, Folks!

Welcome to Book-Bound!  Before we really kick things off, I think some introductions are necessary, so:

I'm Shayda Bakhshi, and I like to write.  A few pertinent things about me and my writing:

  • I love YA fantasy.  Blame Garth Nix if you have to blame someone.  
  • I'm a fan of literary fiction, as well.  There are some brilliant people out there whose noses aren't suck in the air.
  • I've got a BA in English from the University of Texas at Austin.  Hook 'em!
  • I'd like to go to graduate school next fall to get an MFA in creative writing.  Job security, you understand (although there are no guarantees it'll get me anything other than nasty looks).  We'll see.
  • I'm engaged to a wonderful boy whom I met in college.  No, I don't have a date for the wedding.  I will when I have money, but right now, I'm poor.

Some not-so-important things:

  • I have a serious Coke (the soda, folks) addiction.  It's bad.  I've gained half a person from drinking it.  Trying to stop.  Support welcome.
  • I've been writing since I was about eight or so, but besides being able to string sentences together, I don't really have a lot of material to show for it.
  • My trunk novel is called MAUREEN POPE.  I "published" it myself on Lulu.  Privately.  It's crappy but I love it.
  • My dog blows bubbles and growls in her sleep.  It's adorable.
Current writing-stuffs:

  • Project of the moment:  SPITFIRE, formerly known as a bunch of other things. (And, incidentally, I decided on renaming the whole project "Spitfire" today.  There was much jumping up and down and celebrating.)
  • SPITFIRE is a YA contemporary/high fantasy novel that I'm thinking will be complete at about 90,000 words.  Kind of long for YA, but hey.  We'll see.
  • I've got about 23,000 words as of now.  Hopefully, that number will grow significantly in the coming weeks.
And that's about it.  At least for an introductory post.  You can follow all my personal trials and tribulations over at my blog, Write Now.  Stay tuned (because this is a TV/radio show...) to hear about my partner-in-crime, the lovely Nora Coon.

Monday, April 12, 2010

About Us

Shayda Bakhshi is an aspiring novelist, a recent college graduate, and an avid reader. Aside from writing furiously before graduate school begins, she is debating whether or not to include her middle name (which is, innocuously, Leigh) in her Really Official Published Author Name, or just slap the S and the L onto Bakhshi and have done with it.  And yes, she did just lift this blurb from her blog bio.

Nora Coon is a writer, a cook, almost a college graduate, and desperately searching for a job.  She has three nonfiction books published, and has written about seven debut novels, most of which are kept hidden so that no one will ever read them.  Currently, she's rewriting the most recent.  She enjoys Stumptown coffee, the Portland restaurant scene, leather jackets, and days free of writer's block.  Contrary to what this photo suggests, she does not enjoy hiking.

About Book-Bound

Welcome to Book-Bound!  Here, we do two things:

  • We talk about every aspect of the writing process.  This is as much for aspiring writers as it is for us; we want to be able to offer knowledge, tools, and [sometimes differing] opinions about the whole deal.  Writing, publishing, agenting (eek).  Book deals.  Contracts.  What have you.  

  • We're going to chronicle the fiction publishing journeys our two lovely contributors.  (Yes, I did just refer to us in third person.)  Think of it as a crash-course in getting published.  We'll tell you what works, what doesn't, and how badly we screwed up our pitch to Agent Awesome, so that your journey might be a little smoother.
So enjoy, have a look around, and be sure to visit us on YouTube and Twitter!