Filtering by Tag: writing process

"My Writing Process" Blog Tour Post

My participation on the My Writing Process Blog Tour is due to John Henry Fleming's persuasive powers. I can't say no to my professor, not matter how long I've been out of school (and it hasn't been that long, come to think of it).

I've written about John on my blog a few times now; his writing is delightfully bizarre, showcased through his newest book, Songs for the Deaf. John's other (but no less impressively bizarre) books include The Legend of the Barefoot Mailman, a novel just re-issued in a 20th Anniversary Edition ebook; Fearsome Creatures of Florida, a literary bestiary; and The Book I Will Write, a novel-in-emails originally published serially and now available as an ebook. He teaches in the MFA program at the University of South Florida, and he’s the founder and advisory editor of Saw Palm: Florida Literature and Art. His website is

1) What are you working on?

The moon and stars revolve around my debut novel at the moment, LOVE FORTUNES AND OTHER DISASTERS. After juggling multiple projects for so long, it's strange to say that Fallon Dupree and her world of charms and fortunes is what's on my mind. I'm working through my first round of revisions.

Before starting a new project, I'd love to write some more flash fiction and short stories. I feel like it's been a while and I have some new ideas lurking.

2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?

HMM. Not sure how to answer this one. A lot of my writing falls into the vein of magical realism. I think magical realism is still growing in the YA genre, but a lot of those books I’ve read tend to have dark, sometimes very sad tales to tell. I prefer to write stories that are a little brighter–maybe that’s years of Disney’s influence on me, but there you go.

3) Why do you write what you do?

I can’t help it. I grew up exposed to storytelling that embraced the strange, if not for fantasy’s sake, then humor. I’m talking about cartoons, video games, children’s books, fairy tales and mythology. In my own writing, I strive to create stories of oddball characters and circumstances. If I had any writerly motto, it would have to be straight from Edgar Allan Poe: “There is no exquisite beauty without some strangeness in the proportion.”

4) How does your writing process work?

In the beginning, I’m a scavenger. I keep my eyes open for ideas and start gathering bits and pieces that shine, so to speak. When they come together, that's when the work begins.

While I use notebooks to write outlines, character bios, and other notes, I do the writing itself on a computer. I’m actually a terrible speller, so seeing the errors while I’m writing is a huge distraction for me–not a problem if I have good old Spell Check on hand. This is probably kinda weird, but when I’m writing on my computer, I love having the Word file zoomed out so that I can see two pages at a time. It’s like I’m hovering over the page in a helicopter, rather than in the trenches. After stealing writing time both in grad school and at my job (yay, lunch breaks!) I’m so used to people walking behind my desk and getting a clear view of my computer screen. So the privacy of writing with such tiny print is an added benefit to that habit!

I usually write my first drafts fairly quickly, but that depends on outside forces, like life (work, laundry, room-cleaning, socializing. What are those things?). The amount of drafts I go through while revising depends upon the project - I've found that each new book demands a different process.

Thank you for inviting me to join the tour, John. This is the part where I'm supposed to introduce you to three awesome writers making their posts next week. 

But I kind of failed at that.

The blame is in my corner. I don't have many authorly friends. YET. I also worked mandatory overtime for the first time this week. My brain has melted into an unidentifiable shape. 

But if you're interested in reading more about the writing process, do check out John and Jim's posts. Startlingly enough, I seem to have beaten Ira. 

Writer in Search of a Writing Spot

I need a change in scenery. Something to spice up the endless hours of burning my eyes out on the screen. Meeting my 1k word count goals every day at the same computer in the same shifting light is fine... but I'm tired by the weekend. I want to go outside.

Or sit inside, in the AC, but somewhere that's not the office or my own house.

Graduate school gave me the chance to write anywhere I wanted on campus. I had my pick of at least five different buildings, each with their own nooks and outlets to suit my moods.

But now I commute to work, come home, and go to sleep. And at work, the only real place to sit is in my cubicle. I'm really good at sitting there for hours. So my project is to find (a few) public places (besides the library) that I can hunker down at and write on the weekends.

I haven't always had this opinion - another point for the Real World. In fact, writing in public spaces had been kind of fun to joke about among my grad peers, because we all knew the stigma behind it. To quote one of my favorite cheeky writing books, Robert's Rules of Writing, Robert Masello says:

Starbucks is where writers who want to be seen in the act of creation go, who treat writing as if it were some kind of performance art. They want to be admired, they want to be soothed by the ambient noise and the occasional glance from an attractive patron. They want to be asked, "What are you working on?" so they can sit back and talk about it.

I'm not gonna lie. Part of the intrigue is that I have a shot at being a little more social. By simply sitting at a cafe or bookstore, the possibility of making new friends or witnessing something inspiring (or funny) is greatly increased than... if I sat at home.

Besides, aren't hip 20-something's supposed to be out in public, soaking up the universe? I dunno. You tell me.

I've been living in the same place for 10+ years (not including the four years at college), so I know what's around here. Businesses close so fast that my memories of failed gift shops, pet stores, and a parade of restaurants isn't so great. The rent's too high, I guess, for some entrepreneur to open a coffee shop down the street from me.

Like any good sleuth, I searched the internet for coffee shops, bakeries, soup and sandwich shops - anything that might be in reasonable driving distance. The shops I found were a good 45 minutes away (without traffic) and/or in dubious areas of town. So.


So. That leaves only one place: Barnes & Noble. *cue ominous music*

My local B&N (which is not so local, driving-wise) is really the only central book hub left after Borders closed. There are no used bookstores. Only one place to go. Personally, I love wandering the two-story store; as much as I love ordering books online, nothing beats the pleasure of finding books by simply stumbling upon them. There's a coffee shop inside the store, so to speak, so I'm going to start going there to write for an hour or two in the morning.

The hard part is making sure I don't leave with a new book each time!

Do you have a favorite place you like to write/read at besides at home? What's your view about writers writing publicly? 

BTW, make sure you stop by Namie's blog, Good Morning Lovely, because she's just posted her interview with me there. Do poke around her blog; Namie's posts are both uplifting and inspiring - and I have the honor of being her friend (like, in real life. We hang out).

The Art of Writing With the Internet

I really enjoy reading my favorite authors’ blogs. Typically, I’m a bad blogger in the sense that I’m usually behind with reading the blogs I love, but when I do get the chance to sit down with a mug of chai tea, I enjoy getting to read the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of the people I admire most. Laini Taylor’s blog is one I keep coming back to. She’s the author of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, one of my favorite books. I just started reading Night of Cake and Puppets, savoring every bit of Zuzana’s adventure. I went on Laini’s blog this morning and read her post about how her most recent writing retreat went. She gave some advice as well about how best to be productive during a writing retreat, and it got me thinking.

A writing retreat is exactly how it sounds: you pack your bags, check into a hotel room for x number of days, and write. The hotel functions as a (comfy) desert island where you will fill up your empty word document because the sand is getting hot and the seagulls are not great conversationalists.

If you’re to go on a writing retreat, Laini suggests that you avoid the internet:

“No internet accesss. This is very important. Go to a hotel without free wi fi and do not buy a connection, and do not ask for a password. Just don't ever go down that path. NO. INTERNET.”

I get it. Checking your facebook account and tweeting photos of your hotel room’s carpeting is not what a writing retreat is all about.

The internet in the enemy. Turn off your wi-fi and go it alone.

Except that I don’t think I could do it. In fact, if I didn’t have the internet, I’d probably trudge home from a retreat with only a big fat bill to show for it.

On the bottom shelf next to my bed, I have as series of binders from pre-college, where I’ve stored drawings, stories, and copies from source material before personal computers were a real thing. Sometimes I open up a binder and look at the stories I wrote, torn out of notebooks and hole-punched together, wondering how I ever managed.

Nowadays, I handwrite notes and outlines for my stories–along with snippets of dialogue or description–but the bulk of my writing happens on a computer. And somewhere along the line, I started using search engines to seek the answers to my questions rather than bugging my mom to drive me to the library.

Yes, the days of interrupting my parents to have them rebuild the Roman aqueducts for me and catch criminals in Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego? is over.   

Is it bad that I never got past the Ancient Rome case? I much preferred the other Carmen Sandiego game where I wasted plane fuel jumping country to country interviewing suspects

Of course, nothing beats physical source material. When I was writing my thesis, I ordered a 1927 reproduction of a Sears catalogue since the novel takes place in a 20s-inspired world. I spent a whole afternoon flipping through the pages, lost in a world long past (and actually, I considered the idea of dumping my wardrobe and replacing it with all 20s outfits, if only I could pick straight from this catalogue).

Research time usually happens before I even start writing. I gather books from the library or order them if I think I may use the information for future projects, and hunker down with some hot vanilla blueberry tea. I type my notes to make sure I can read them later, haha.

When I’m writing, I don’t usually have sessions where I write straight through. More often, I’ll keep writing until I need to know something. What kind of nuts do airlines serve? How does a jet pack work? If you were in a hot air balloon and the pilot fell out of the basket, how would you figure out how to fly it?

Not all questions can be answered through raiding the library alone (especially because my library severely lacks a decent selection. Hello, inter-library loans!). Google is wonderful for this, and usually I can find a picture or website that helps answer the question so I can move forward with my story. Other times, I might have to email or call an expert in the area… which is something I’ve tried to do multiple times with hilarious results. If you meet me in person, ask me to tell you what happened when I contacted a doll-repair business.

I cannot turn off the internet. If I did, I’d probably be stranded in my draft. I’m not the kind of writer who can simply skip over the issue and continue. I don’t leave “BLANKS” throughout my drafts as markers for places in the story to return to and fill. And I can’t say, “I’ll keep going because it’s a first draft. I’ll just let my imagination free!” Honestly, I wish I could, but it’s just not my process.

So I minimize my document, search the internet, and eventually return with an answer. Rinse and repeat.

Laini is always full of great advice; when I read her blog posts, I’m usually nodding my head vigorously and taking mental notes. Her advice about not using the internet is still good. On bad days, it’s the very thing that prevents you from making progress in anything–not just writing. Even though I can’t bring myself to shut off my internet, thinking about what she said made me aware of how I work and how writing makes it from my head to the paper.

Understanding your process as a writer is pretty important–it’s a surefire way of beating writer’s block, at any rate. Perhaps the internet is more helper than hinderer for you too.

It's debatable.

That Time I Was Stuck in Revision Hell

Stop the presses: I’m finally writing about writing. It’s been such a long time.

It’s the most important month of the year for writers around the world because, as soon as November 1st hits, the month dons its alter ego mask and cape and becomes… NaNoWriMo! National Novel Writing Month is for writers big and small, new and old, who rise to challenge of writing a full-length manuscript within 30 days. In order to do this, we writers forgo mundane activities like doing laundry, eating, and taking the dog for a walk.

Yes, this happens every year.

The official goal is 50,000 words – the minimum length of a complete novel manuscript. In my experience, my novels usually go way over 50k, but most novels do. Reaching that 50k is a true achievement anyway. Like winning a marathon. Only in this case, the gold medal comes in the form of your own hand patting you on the back. Or on December 1st, having your mother yell at you to finally start dumping your stinky clothes in the washer.

Although I’ve written my fair share of words each NaNoWriMo, I haven’t “won” yet. This is because I had been in graduate school the past three years where November is one of the most hectic months. Academia is always on the verge of chaos at this time. As a grad teaching assistant, grading and planning classes became more important than ever. Students burst into your office, demanding that their tardy sins be forgiven and that the A- they got on their last paper should bumped up to an A.

I had my own graduate classes to worry about too. 20-page annotated bibliographies don’t write themselves. My short stories had to go through the writing workshop mill, again and again, only to always come out in pieces. During my last year, when the epic movie that is Wreck-It Ralph was released, I adopted Felix’s “I can fix it!” mantra while staying up late at night, taking turns critiquing my students short stories and revising my own.

Somehow, I managed to update my piddling word count at NaNoWriMo’s hub every now and then. And each year, I felt proud with what I had accomplished.

Fast-forward to now.

Kind of. Because before I tell you what my current NaNoWriMo project is, I should probably explain my mental state leading up to November. Because I’m not working on Boys & Bees this month… despite the bees that literally plague the palm tree outside my front door. I know they’re looking for updates (or the fruit growing on the tree. Or both). I feel like a have the mafia, in bee-form, staking out my house until I finish that novel. Gah. Nevertheless.

Let me explain you a thing. Remember the novella I wrote and posted on Figment back in May – Stella Over the Fireplace? WELL, I hadn’t written anything new since then. That’s almost four and a half months of no new writing. What was I doing?

Revision. REVISON (it needed to be in caps).

After taking Stella down and submitting it, I found out that two publishers were having open door submission periods… around the same time. For those who don’t know, open door submissions means that a writer can, for a period of time, submit an unsolicited manuscript to a publisher for consideration. This is a rare, wonderful thing since most publishers only look at manuscripts sent to them by literary agents (hence, the term solicited manuscripts). Since my hunt for an agent continues on with all the endless mountain-climbing and orc-battling of The Hobbit, I jumped at the chance to take advantage of the open doors. But I had to polish my manuscripts one last time.

And then I quickly sunk into the dreaded pit of revision hell.

Now, normally “revision hell” means that a writer is stuck in an endless cycle of revising the same manuscript over and over again. Yet for me, it was more like being constantly handed another manuscript to revise after the previous one was finished. It began with Tread Softly. I wrote the final chapter that I’d been putting off writing for a while. And then I shouted “I’m gonna wreck it!” and tore down the first three chapters, only to rebuild them into a shiny, much improved version. Then came tweaking and reworking the rest of it. After tying Tread Softly’s shoes and sending it on the bus with the other manuscripts, I turned by attention again to Birdcage Girl.

The opening chapter still didn’t sit right with me. And, between a few revisions on Pocket Forest, I realized that Birdcage Girl would probably need another overall round of polishing. That’s the thing with writers. We keep changing. We keep improving. Which means that as long as your manuscript is in your hands alone, you’ll always find something to revise. I shut off the lights, closed my bedroom door, and listened to the Pushing Daisies soundtrack until inspiration flew at me, saying, “Yes, this is the beginning. Right here. You were close, but this is better.”

Yay for soundtracks!

And so, I continued revising BG again too. When I had spare time at work, I edited and reworked sentences. When I came home, I stared again at another mess of words on the screen and revised some more. By the time I sent BG out again (I buttoned its sweater and waved as it boarded a plane), I was left wondering what else I had to fix / change / revise.

But all that was left was the blank page. A new story. And I was scared for the first time.

Imagine spending months on end doing nothing but changing words already written on paper. So when someone hands you a blank sheet and says, “create,” it’s not exactly a shining moment of freedom. Trying to write something new was like waking up from surgery without the use of my hands. Sentences dripped from my fingers, dull and jumbled, and I could hardly stand looking at what I wrote. I deleted almost everything I tried to write.

Me on a good day.

The thought of continuing Boys & Bees was very appealing for many reasons, but I knew that I’d want to revise all 30k before writing new chapters. Which was bad. Because I’d only be delaying the fact that I had to face the blank page again.

I had to force myself to use the other side of my writer-brain again. Turn off the internal editor. Awaken the dreamer. Nothing could shake me out of this stupor like starting a new project:

This title is shiny.
Planning WCFiL was fun because this new set characters are just… something. Really. They have interesting backstories, a stake in the novel’s main conflict, and when they talk to each other, I hardly know what to expect. Even though my writing is always fiction, the topic of this project is near and dear to my heart. I feel like, while I’ve been gaining back my writing-creating skills, I’ve also been exploring my own feelings about the topic. Expect magic, heartache, humor, and goose chases.

Say hello to a town that believes in the powers of love charms. The people of this town trust in their fortunes so fervently that they never question the mysterious woman handing them out… and how she can possibly know everyone’s romantic fate. A few hapless teens band together to form a rebellion bent on overthrowing the woman, but in the end, whose side is Love on?

However, like all of my projects these days, this one has a deadline too. So I don’t think I’ll be able to share it on Figment without taking it down quickly after. Hang on tight because you’ll be able to read this story soon, one way or another *cue evil laugh*

So this is NaNoWriMo... and I'm going to kick butt this year. I've got my headphones, Charlotte Bronte muscle tee, cup of earl grey. Today's NaNoThon is going to rock.