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!