Friday, April 29, 2011

Yay to unforseen circumstances

This post is brought to you via a cellphone. Late last night, before I had a chance to write up a blog post, my internet connection died. It was also snowing. I'm not sure these two things are related, but still. As such, there will not be a post today, as typing out something longer than this paragraph on a phone seemed kind of nightmarish. I apologize, especially since I couldn't find you guys a cool squid video. Go google nudibranchs or something. They're pretty cool. Anyway, I'll see you guys on Monday (hopefully)!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

On Shakespeare in high schools

I have an issue with Shakespeare.

It all goes back to my high school education. I remember years of Shakespearean learning units where we stared at blueprints of the Globe Theatre and read Romeo and Juliet aloud in class. I remember being forced to write mediocre sonnets and write essays on soliloquies that I only half understood. Most of all, I remember my teachers would consistently telling my class one thing, "Shakespeare is the one of the greatest writers of all time."

And that's where my issue comes in, because that's where my high school education cut off. There was no actual explanation of why Shakespeare is considered so highly. We spent so much time studying the plot of the plays, that we completely glossed over any sort of deeper meaning.

Some would argue that it's not necessary for high school students to get into the whys of Shakespeare. After all, the only reason that Shakespeare is taught in grade school is to expose young people to as much classic literature as possible. Why go into detail when many people will never use it past high school?

Personally, I think going into detail would help students actually enjoy studying Shakespeare. And I'm talking from personal experience as a kid who used to detest Shakespeare. When you start analyzing what King Lear has to say about humanity, it becomes a lot more interesting than the simple interpretation of a kingdom full of crazy people and traitorous kids.

Shakespearean plays did one great thing for literature: they caught the essence of humanity in a time period where people didn't want to explore what it meant to be human. They are some of the first works of thought provoking literature.

Just look at a handful of Shakespeare's great plays: Hamlet is all about indecision and the consequences of ones actions. The Tempest questions what it is to be human and what it means to grow older. Falstaff from the Henry IV Parts One and Two is considered one of the greatest Shakespearean characters because his attitude is so mercurial. It doesn't matter whether the play is a tragedy, a comedy, or a history--so many of them are deeper than they first appear.

Teens can understand these kinds of things. Teens know what it's like to be in love and to be betrayed. Teens are just starting to discover who they are and Shakespearean plays speak to all of those raw and real emotions.

Now I went to a public high school, so maybe I didn't experience the pinnacle of modern grade school education. Maybe some schools do a better job teaching the Shakespearean plays. Maybe it's just a lost cause and we should keep looking towards college degrees to educate us on Shakespeare. Either way, I want to know what you think.

Should high schools develop better teaching methods when it comes to Shakespeare? Or am I just being super idealistic? How was your education of Shakespeare? Was it good or bad? Tell me your thoughts in the comments.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Writing breaks and guilty pleasures

I'm probably not the first to tell you guys that writing isn't all sunshine and daisies. Sometimes it sucks. Luckily most of us love writing enough to push past the barriers of doubt and confusion. We can suck it up.

However, I'm not sure that sucking it up is always the best option. Sometimes it's just difficult to summon the will to continue. Sometimes you're making your story worse by puttering with it. Sometimes it would do you better to think on a scene instead of work on it. Sometimes your brain needs to relax.

But that's not a bad thing! So many writers will tell you that it's important to write every day, but I think it's more important to be in tune with yourself. If you can crank out quality work every day, awesome. Go do that. But if you need a break, then take a break and don't feel guilty about it.

Actually no. You should embrace guilt. Not the guilt that comes from avoiding your writing, but a better type of guilt. The guilt of guilty pleasures. Why? Because guilty pleasures are the best way to relax.

Really. It's true. Guilty pleasures are powerful because they're things we often relish the most. Maybe it's because most guilty pleasures are kind of ridiculous. For example, a lot of people secretly like reality shows just because they're so over-the-top. Others have a secret stash of tasty food that can hit the spot when they're down. Some people listen to cheesy pop music because the beats are bubbly and exciting. The examples are endless, and all of them bring joy.

Now, I'm speaking from experience here. For the last two weeks I've been indulging in guilty pleasures instead of editing my WIP. Maybe I haven't gotten much done, but I've cleared my mind. And now, in the last few days, I've gotten more work done than I would have if I had forced myself to not take a break.

How do you guys feel about breaks? Necessary or waste of time? Most of my guilty pleasures go back to things I did in my childhood (ie: pok√©mon), but what about you? Anything good? Tell me your thoughts in the comments.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Fanfic Week: What makes fanfiction suck

Fanfic Week day three is here! On Monday and Wednesday I stressed on how great fanfiction can be, but today it's time to admit some faults. Why? Because fanfiction isn't perfect. From when FanFiction.net made it extremely easy for minors to read NC-17 rated fics to the drama revolving around Cassandra Clare, its reputation has always been on shaky ground.

Anyway here are some reasons why I think reading and writing fanfiction is not always helpful for writers:
  1. 90% of it is written horribly
    Sure, we may have discussed that the slush pile effect can be beneficial, but it's also crazy annoying. Sometimes, you just want to read something good. But it takes forever to find a worthwhile fanfic, especially if your fandom of choice is old. Fanfics can be beneficial, but for someone with little patience, it's it difficult to get that far.

  2. It's the ultimate ego boost
    In a bad way. No matter how horrible your writing is, there's a very good chance that someone is going to tell you that you're awesome. This is bad because when legions of unknown people talk about how amazing you are, your ego explodes. Fanfic writers have been known to be pompous--they fail to learn and they fail to take criticism gracefully.

  3. It encourages so many bad writing habits
    Like I said above, no matter what you write, someone will tell you it's awesome. Someone will encourage a trait that should be smothered. Be it a cliche plot, purple prose, Mary Sues, or a story that's starting to reach 200,000 words, someone will think you're the next best thing. Yes, everyone goes through these phases, but we also need to learn that our writing can be bad.

  4. It will never be your own
    One of the greatest things about writing is creating your own worlds and characters, but when you write fanfiction, you're missing out on that. Yes, there are other delicate things to test your writing (ie: keeping the players in character and representing the world correctly), but you still miss out. Playing with someone's story elements is cool, but creating something on your own is amazing and wonderful and indescribable. And missing out is kind of depressing.

  5. You're never going to make money off of it
    Seriously, if you're make money off of your fanfiction you are 1) in Japan, land of doujinshi, or 2) about to get yourself into big trouble. If you're the kind of person who always needs to be making some tangible progress towards publication, you're going to find fanfiction a waste of time. Because really, nothing comes of it but subtle improvement and wish fulfillment.
So what do you think? Agree or disagree? Could I have made some better points? A lot of the reasons that fanfiction are good coincide with why fanfiction is bad, which I find interesting. Tell me what you think in the comments.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Fanfic Week: What makes fanfiction rock

So, we're onto the second day of Fanfic Week. Yay! This is the day of positive thoughts, because to put it simply, I think fanfiction can be a great learning tool if you look at it right. Not only can fanfiction allow for fun experimentation, it helps writers understand different plot structures and elements.

But let's cut to the chase. So let me explain in more detail with five reasons why I think fanfiction can be beneficial towards you as a writer:
  1. It is a living, breathing slush pile
    If you've ever wondered how agents can turn a manuscript down based on one page of writing, you have never read fanfiction. If nothing else, this is one of the best things you can learn about. Seriously. Go to FanFiction.net right now, find your favorite book or movie, and peruse the selection. You'll start to understand how a first page can show the different between a good story and a great one.

  2. It lets writers experiment
    The fact that fanfiction is based off of an existing world and its characters lets writers focus on what they want to focus on. Maybe you want an awesome plot, maybe you want a character sketch, maybe you want to see how certain characters would react in a completely different setting. The choice is yours, and when you don't have to focus on an entire story, you can hone your skills on something specific.

  3. There's no pressure to be perfect
    Really. There isn't. So many of us are trying to write a manuscript that we'll eventually publish that we start freaking out about all sorts of little things. Fanfiction will never be published. If you want, you can write under a penname and no one will ever be able to connect your writer-life with your fanfic-life. Hey, you can even leave a story unfinished without too much hoopla.

  4. It's good for instant feedback
    Many people share their fanfiction and if your premise sounds interesting enough, a lot of people will read your fanfiction. If you post somewhere like FanFiction.net or in a livejournal community, you'll definitely get feedback. Not all of it will be great, and the internet is always home to trolls, but it's still an opportunity to learn.

  5. It encourages people to write
    So many people who write fanfiction would never sit down to write a book. And then there are others who would never think that they'd want to write a book until after they wrote fanfiction. Fanfiction gets people to practice writing, and as we all know, practice makes perfect. Supposedly every writer has a million bad words before the good ones start coming out, so why not use them on fanfiction?
On Friday we'll talk about the cons to fanfiction, but until then, what are your thoughts? Do you agree or disagree with anything I've said? Has fanfiction helped you at all, or hav you been mostly in the dark?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Fanfic Week: What is fanfiction?

Guess what everybody? Today is the first day of Fanfic Week! It's been something I've been thinking about doing since this blog was a baby, and now we're finally there. Yay!

For anyone that doesn't know, fanfiction is exactly what it sounds like: fiction written by fans. It's when you take an existing world and its characters, and then write your own story involving them. Of course, you don't get paid for writing fanfiction and it'll never be published, since that would be plagiarism to the first degree.

However, fanfiction is a force to be reckoned with. There are dozens of websites built solely for fanfic, and like everything on the web, there are trashy places and hidden gems. It even has its own rules and its own lingo. But most importantly, there are thousands (maybe millions) of people actively participating.

But why?

Mostly because it's a glorified form of wish fulfillment. Fanfiction is fun to read and write because you can make anything happen. Romances that didn't exist before, events that were glossed over, characters with fuzzy backgrounds--all of these can be elaborated on. If the ending of a book or a movie frustrated you, there's a good chance you can find a fanfic where everything happens the way you wanted it to.

As you can imagine, the writing community is pretty split on the matter. Anne Rice has publicly stated her displeasure with fanfiction and has told her fans to go write something original. On the other hand, some authors, like Cassandra Clare, actually started off as fanfic writers before getting published.

Personally, I think fanfiction has value. This might come from the fact that I spent several years writing Kindgom Hearts fanfiction and several more years reading Stargate Atlantis fanfiction. What can I say? I'm a geek. Now would I feel differently if someone was writing fanfiction about my story? I kinda doubt it. Not only is that incredibly flattering, but it'd be really cool. Just saying.

But yes. In the next few days I'll be discussing the pros and cons of actually writing fanfiction--so look forward to it! Until then, what are your thoughts? Have you guys read or written any fanfiction? What fandom did you dabble in? Or do you think it's a waste of time and effort? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, April 15, 2011

More road trip pictures

Yeah, so I while ago I threw pictures of my Portland trip at you in two themed posts about trees and power poles respectively. I also may have mentioned that I was going to do a third, un-themed, picture dump post . . . and then I completely forgot about it.

Well, today is the day for that third post. Partially because I want to share the goofy/cool stuff I saw, and mostly because I'm kind of brain dead and can't think of anything writerly to talk about right now. So, uh, enjoy a day of off-topic goodness. Get inspired by it, or something. Yeah.

Anyway, voila! Random road trip goodness!

Boyfriend at the gas station. Note the helpful directions on the pole.
Random store display of awesome birds. 
Fish on a parking garage in Portland. How cool is that?
I love this sign. That-a-way to a boring, Oregon city! 
Steps and a lantern in the Portland Japanese Garden - it was so pretty there!
Shot from the pavilion in the Japanese Garden.
Uhh . . . a brick. With a face. It was outside of VooDoo Doughnut.
"YEAH DOUGHNUTZ." Also, the eyes of Dr. T.J. Ekleburg.
The little person proceeded to steal the leprechaun's Jameson's and run away.
Random, creepy spikes out in the middle of the water. :) 
The bow of a shipwrecked boat, which is not buried beneath the sand.
Even the bathroom graffiti was exciting. It's a dinosaur!
I wish I had a Toyota Taco. I hear they get good gas mileage.
This pretty mural was in Missoula. Last time I saw it, it was only half done. 
The only decent picture of Boyfriend and me. Also, the Colombia river.
Right. That's the end of Portland pictures. Any thoughts? Next week we'll have something new and exciting to do. What is it? Well, I guess I could give you all a little hint. I've been referring to it as Fanfiction Week. Wooo!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lessons from my drafting process

So a while ago I finished the rough draft of my manuscript. It was pretty sweet. Then someone asked me about my drafting process. This was both awesome and horrifying because suddenly it seemed like the world had deemed me qualified to answer such a question. I definitely don't feel qualified!

And when I considered the answer, I realized that my drafting process is kind of a mess.

I munch on junk food of all sorts. I waste time researching random crap on the internet (ie: flowers) when I should be focusing on my work. I spend an embarrassing amount of time staring at my Twitter feed and urging it to update. I'm a lazy plotter, so when my outline is sparse I bemoan my woes and whine at Boyfriend until he tells me to stop being a drama queen. I avoid reading blog posts because I'm supposed to be writing, but then I don't write, and then I don't get anything productive done.

Unfortunately, most of these things aren't very helpful. Not to you, not to me, not to anyone. However, after some immense consideration, I managed to weed out what I think are the most important bits of my drafting process.
  1. I wrote (almost) everyday
    This is helpful in two ways. The obvious is the fact that you're always getting something done on your WIP be it 10 words or 10,000 words. The not-so-obvious is that writing everyday makes it so you're thinking about your story all the time. Not only does this make it easier and faster to get in the zone, but your writing sessions become more productive. Also, for my first several months of drafting I wrote at the same time everyday, which helps cement the routine.

  2. I sucked it up
    It's very easy to whine about writing. I am particularly whiny about writing. Those of you who follow me on Twitter understand this firsthand, considering that I make exasperated comments with each chapter I write. Writing breaks are important sometimes, but the other 90% of your time should be spent writing. You don't want to? You'd rather work on something else? Suck it up.

  3. I set myself a scary goal
    I also told you guys about it to round myself up a nice big dose of accountability. If you have a goal--a realistic one--you start producing more and quicker. Especially if there are prizes at the end. Because prizes rock. Just look at NaNoWriMo, it's the ultimate goal-setting challenge for writers and thousands of people finish every year. 
There are my three tips. They're pretty basic, but I think they're pretty important. What do you guys think? What's your drafting process like? Do you have any other important tips? Or are you a big fan of the crappy process parts too? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Writerly Tools: calibre

So, I realized that I mentioned a useful program last week before discussing it as a writerly tool. Oops! Well, today we'll rectify it, because I'm about to introduce you all to Kovid Goyal's calibre.

calibre (and yes, it's lowercase) is one of those programs that doesn't immediately sound like it would be helpful for writers. It's an open source e-book library management program. However, I'm a really big fan of being able to read unpublished manuscripts on e-readers, so I find calibre pretty useful.

I've talked about this before, but manuscripts + e-readers = reduced eye strain, a laser focus that lets you read instead of edit, and a note-taking system if you desperately need to say something. There are several different ways to get your manuscript on an e-reader, but calibre is a program that makes it easy.

I downloaded calibre to convert files, but it turned out to be so much more than I expected. If your curiosity is the slightest bit piqued, read on and let me tell you five reasons why calibre is worth checking out:
  1. calibre is designed for reading
    Sure, you can do a bunch of awesome converting and stuff, but you also read everything you have in calibre. The program included an intensive e-book viewer that supports CSS, tables, and every e-book format. You can also download periodicals to calibre and store your data online for access on-the-go.
  2. calibre converts everything
    Say you want to convert your manuscript to an e-reader format so you can share it with your beta readers, but you don't know how. Well, calibre is your tool. It can convert everything into everything else. That's 15 different e-book file formats people, including PDF, EPUB, and MOBI.
  3. calibre works with everything
    It doesn't matter if you have a Kindle or a Nook or one of the less popular e-readers because there's a high chance that calibre will sync with your device. There is a hardcore list of compatible e-readers though if you want to double check. Also, there are versions of the program for PC, Mac, and Linux.
  4. calibre is an organization mastermind
    If you have e-books floating around on your desktop, calibre will help you organize them into a delightful, virtual bookshelf. You can also edit and sort via metadata tagging, a custom tagging system, or, if you're really desperate, separate libraries.
  5. calibre is under active development
    It's also advertised as being "developed by users of e-books for users of e-books." This is cool because if a new e-book feature comes into play (ie: Amazon's "real" page numbers), you can bet that calibre will whip out a quick update to get everything compatible.

Friday, April 8, 2011

It's crochet and knitting time!

It's been a while since I ranted about dragon scarves and manuscripts and I figured it was time for a crafty-times update. Or rather, the Salt Lakians (aka: the people who taught me to knit) are visiting this weekend and it's time to own up.

For all of you that don't know, I am in the process of making this awesome-sauce dragon scarf. It is also my first knitting project and I have pretty much banned the idea of working on another project until I finish the stupid thing. Here's my progress:
Well, it does have two more spikes since last time.
I kind of fail. However, like I said before, at least I haven't started any other knitting projects. Yes. This scarf is my one and only foray into knitting hell. I feel like I am doing much better on the crochet circuit. Let's share, shall we?

First of all, my current crochet project, which is a delightful mouse doorstop. Yeah. That's right. A mouse doorstop. Check it:
Okay, so that's worse than the dragon scarf.
Right, so maybe that's only five rounds of goodness, but I've only been working on him for a day! And my attention span was kind of low on that day. Really. I don't suck this much. I'll show you.

Second concurrent crochet project: Totoro. I've made him before, but that was a gift for a friend and he was awesome enough that I've been slowly working on one for myself. Because Totoro is awesome. And if you have no idea what I'm talking about, then it's time to get on Netflix and rent the movie. But yes, here is my Totoro progress thus far:
Mysterious blobs of grey yarn!
Mmm, arms, ears, and a tail. It doesn't look that impressive, I know, but eventually they'll all add up, right? Right? Okay, so that's nowhere near done. Well, how about this: I made a cute birdie!
Look at him! So cute, so tiny, so finished!
That's right, a finished project. Because I'm very much capable of actually finishing things. Okay, I'll admit it: this is slightly more fail than it looks. So maybe I was inspired by the pattern and I decided to make more than one bird. Maybe I wanted a flock and then my ambition puttered out. Maybe.
Yellow bird totally does not approve.
Okay, so maybe I'm not doing so fantastic in any ring of craft land. This is obviously why I'm not a professional fiber arts person, because my attention span for these things is relatively short. In fact, there are actually two more projects that I haven't even started yet: the stripey blanket that I've been "working on" since December and the red panda hat that I blabbed to Twitter about. Hopefully next time I decide to do a crafty-times post I'll have more to show for it. If not, feel free to make me pay, readers.

Anyway, what kind of crafty things do you guys do other than writing? Do you knit or crochet? Are you an artist? Or would you rather play sports and leave writing to be your only creative outlet? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Let your e-reader save your eyes

I know that many of you aren't sold on e-readers yet. There are various pros and cons, but we aren't going to wade through that quagmire today. Instead, I'm going to tell you an awesome feature of e-readers that doesn't involve reading books. And no, it's not games.

Right now I'm entering editing mode. The first thing I always do before tackling a major edit (after leaving my work to marinate for a while) is to re-read it. It's really helpful to go over everything one more time before whipping out the red pen and making things bleed. That way I don't accidentally try to cut important information or develop a plot point that is better trashed. Doing a once-over helps me visualize the work as a whole.

But, as many of you know, re-reading a manuscript on the computer is an eyestrain nightmare. Blame your LCD screen. Why? Because computer screens are shifted towards the blue end of the color spectrum, which also happens to be the end that our eyes have the most trouble focusing on. Your eyes have to work harder than normal and it causes all sorts of painful nightmares.

Eyestrain and I know each other very well. We are at war. But this time I won the battle.

To avoid reading all 102,000 words of my draft on my laptop I transferred the entire thing to my Kindle. Not only is it cool seeing your words as an e-book, you won't be sucked into the black hole of over-eager editing, and you won't get blinding computer headaches. Yay!
Those words on the Kindle? Yeah, those are totally mine.
I'm not sure about the Nook or other e-readers, but if you have a Kindle this is pretty easy to do. You can follow the helpful instructions at Amazon or use Calibre to convert documents and keep them organized. It's all pretty simple and it's definitely worth the effort.

How many of you guys have e-readers? Have any of you read manuscripts on them, or do you just focus on published works? If you don't have an e-reader, is this the kind of feature that might sway your opinion on them? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Let's NOT venerate writing books

So last week someone told me that my how to fix up your dialogue post sounded like something yanked out of a writing book. It definitely wasn't, but I can't decide if I feel insulted or pleased by this comment.

The thing is, I'm not a big fan of writing books. I've just always felt that my time was better spent writing than reading about writing, you know?

I mean, the books I have read were helpful. The Seven Basic Plots helps shape cranky plot structures, Reading Like A Writer shows how to identify what does and doesn't work in a story, and No Plot? No Problem! is the speedwriting NaNoWriMo handbook. I've always wanted to read On Writing and Save the Cat! just because I've heard so many good things about them. And, of course, From the Query to the Call is supposed to be the ultimate (and free!) guide to querying.

The problem, I think, is when you start reading too many of these books. How many writers stymie themselves by endlessly reading writing books because they're afraid that they don't know how to write? How many writers waste time with methods that don't work for them because a famous author talked about it in his book?

Writing books set rules, but people need to remember that writing rules should really be referred to as writing guidelines.

They help keep you in line, away from cliches and poor structure and weak writing. But if your story needs to start with a prologue, or needs an adverb in that sentence, or needs to tell something instead of showing it, then you shouldn't be afraid to do that. Don't let a writing book tell you how to write your own story.

I urge you to read some writing books, but don't start worshiping them. And please, don't hold everything I say to that standard either. Everyone has their own method and their own rules they like to follow. Knowledge is awesome, but the most important thing is to write in a way that works for you.

So what writing books have you guys read? Did you like or dislike them? And what do you think about writing blogs, since they can get writing booky at times? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, April 1, 2011

March Book Roundup (UPDATED!)

ETA (04/02/11): Uhh, I forgot to list a book. Probably because I read it in the bookstore. Oops? Review and cover picture added for posterity.

It's that time of month again. Yay!

For anyone that doesn't know about the Book Roundup, here's the lowdown: at the beginning of each month I do Twitter-length reviews of the books I read during the month prior. Genres are listed at the beginning of the reviews and my very favorites are marked with a star ().

Got it? Alright, let's get this show on the road.

Paranormalcy by Kiersten White
YA Paranormal--Urban fantasy with a paranormal containment agency and a sparkly, pink twist. Love how Evie is very much a girl, but can still kick butt. 

Instructions by Neil Gaiman (illustrations by Charles Vess)
Picture Book--Adorable poem exploring the motifs of the classic fantasy/adventure and the "instructions" regarding them. Accented with gorgeous artwork.

Graceling by Kristin Cashore
YA Epic Fantasy--An epic, high fantasy characterized with magical powers called "graces." Wish the villain had been more omnipresent, but still a delightful read.

Delirium (ARC Copy) by Lauren Oliver
YA Dystopian--Romance in a dystopian world. So happy at the lack of a love triangle. Also, beautiful prose, rounded supporting characters, and tragic love. 

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
YA Epic Fantasy--A royal conspiracy, a living prison, and two MCs that just want to escape. Full of fun world building, though characterization a little lacking.

I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore
YA Paranormal--Aliens are among us. Intriguing idea, but poor execution in pacing and characterization. Also, cliché high school drama. But Bernie Kosar was cool!

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Fiction--The intrigue, drama, and lifestyle of a early 1930s train circus. Not only is the topic fascinating, but Gruen's characters are pretty much alive. 

How about you guys? Read any books this month? If you're participating in a book challenge, did you make any progress? Tell me in the comments!