Monthly Archives: October 2015

All Words Are Not Created Equal

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We have only a couple of days until National Novel Writing Month begins. I trust everyone planning to participate in this illustrious event has an idea for what they’re going to write, or they’re existing in a state of near-panic. The NaNoWriMo emails and blog posts are scheduled to get writers excited and energized for November 1st. Then they’ll strive to keep the participants motivated, offer ideas for writers hung up on their storyline, suggestions for how to torment your characters, writing tips, cheer on the ones who fall behind in word count, and some tricks to increase your word count – actually, I’d like to talk about that.

NaNoWriMo isn’t all about word count. Yes, I know the challenge is to write 50,000 words in the 30 days of November, but that’s just the technical bit. To me, NaNo is about the experience. Not the experience of obsessing over word count, that’s a bad habit. I see it as the experience of writing a novel as a whole. You prepare: get your general story lined up – plot it if you can, then you have to get those first exhilarating and terrifying words ‘on paper’ to get you started. Once you have your beginning, then the experience is about continuing. Some writers have problems with this bit and NaNo forces them to face their bad habit and break it.

A common problem with new or inexperienced writers is that they edit as they go. By ‘inexperienced, I’m including those who’ve been writing for years. I’m talking about experience in terms of habits, not length of time or amount of effort. I feel like a bit of a hypocrite lecturing on this as I edit as I go. However, I have completed over a dozen novels. I know how to finish a book. For some, editing as you go keeps you from finishing your masterpiece. You hear this repeatedly, so I won’t dwell on it further other than to say the reason you hear it repeatedly is because so many writers have trouble listening to this advice: knock it off.

There are writers out there who have dozens of first pages/chapters. They get it down, then decide they’re not going to write that story right now after all. Maybe they think it wasn’t good enough, maybe they thought of something else that’s more exciting, or maybe they just don’t know where to go next. Knock that shit off too. Focus. Finish one.

I’ve written before about how when I write it’s non-linear. That’s largely to avoid writer’s block. If I’m midway through Chapter 3 and don’t know where to go next, I’ll think about it for a short time, and if I don’t come up with an answer, I’ll just skip ahead to Chapter 3 or 4 or 8. I know what happens eventually, so I’ll write that while mulling over how to get my hero from the edge of the precipice I left him on. Eventually I’ll either think of the answer, or write my way backwards until I get to that point and realize I made a mistake and he was never supposed to be on the cliff in the first place. It was cool to have him hanging around up there, but it wasn’t right for the story. A plot dead end. Writer’s block because of plot issues isn’t an excuse to stop writing. And yes, writing this way makes continuity a bitch. (Tip: Keep a really good story bible/style sheet, timeline, outline, etc.)

In NaNo, a lot of writers focus more on word count that they should. They don’t use contractions. They use wordy descriptions instead of something concise and the writing ends up loose and slippery instead of tight. It loses impact. I understand it, but I don’t agree with it.

NaNo is about pushing ahead and losing bad habits that keep writers from finishing books. It’s inadvertently causing some writers to create bad habits by encouraging this loose, ineffective writing and we all know how hard it is to break those habits. Yes, you fix a lot of that nonsense in revisions so I don’t usually fuss about it. In time, you start catching yourself as you write those unnecessarily wordy descriptions and correct yourself, then you stop using as many adjectives and adverbs in the first place. Better word choices is better writing. Still, I hate to see writers fall into that trap in the first place.

My challenge to all you NaNoWriMo participants this year is to use better word choices. Sacrifice word count for better writing. I don’t condone editing as you go, I still believe NaNoWriMo and first or second novels is not the time and place for that. But use the best verb in the first place. “He whispered” instead of “He said softly,” “She raced” instead of “She ran quickly,” and so forth. Ditch as many adverbs as you can. Then, when you hit your 50k, you’ll have a better manuscript – something you might be able to show a spouse or friend and know they’re reading your story, not struggling to follow the plot drowning in a sea of words.

Get more from your November, and good luck.

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Teenage Boys are Hazardous to Your Brain

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Did you know Taco Bell has a ghost pepper griller? Well they do. Anyone not cringing at the thought either needs to have their head examined or doesn’t realize what a ghost pepper is. In 2007 it was the hottest pepper in the world. That record has since been repeatedly broken by other hybrids cultivated by botany sadomasochists. The NYPost once wrote an article that eating too many could kill you. Naturally this made Taco Bell want to add them to the menu. Of course The Boy and his friend, who shall henceforth will be known as ‘Idiot’, decided they had to down this abominable creation.

They’ve been ‘getting around to it’ for a while as near as I can tell, apparently not up to the challenge on their midnight Taco Bell runs on Friday or Saturday nights when they are not supposed to be walking around the city! Yes, we’ve discussed this habit, a few times. Luckily the drop in temperature is putting an end to it.

Anyway, The Boy and Idiot never found the nerve to follow through with their challenge when they didn’t have parental support nearby. Just in case. So when Hubby and I picked them up on Sunday afternoon and drove them to Taco Bell for a quick bite, they had Hubby add two of the previously mentioned monstrosities to the order. At the time, I had no idea what they were up to, but the phrase ‘ghost pepper’ piqued my curiosity.

I questioned them, received the story amid very un-teenage-boy-like giggles, and just nodded. What else was I supposed to do? Forbid them from eating something that someone somewhere tested and classified as non-toxic, if not actually edible. It had nutritional information available, which meant it was food. Although I’m not sure about the calories-per-serving information. Is that before or after you sweat away a liter of water? Right, before. Calorie info doesn’t take chemistry in biological organisms into account, that’s why it it’s inaccurate. Another time on that.

Anyway, so what was I supposed to do with the information my 15-year-old was about to intentionally injure himself? It seemed mostly harmless, so I asked Idiot to film it for me. They thought that was a riot.

I have now watched the video, and while I’m disappointed by the poor quality of Idiot’s camera phone, I’m more concerned about the brain cells sacrificed in this endeavor. The video went like this:

[Picture a tall, almost awkwardly thin teenage boy eating a griller – much like a burrito.]

Idiot: “How is it?”

Boy: [Pauses eating and considers the question] “The middle and back of my tongue are lava.” [Takes another bite, then puts last quarter of the griller down] “I can’t finish this.” [Reaches for drink (Mountain Dew Baja Blast – because they just couldn’t accept my suggestion to drink milk) and takes a long drink]

Idiot: “Your face is really red.”

Boy: “Is it?” [Takes another drink]

Idiot: “Yeah. It doesn’t show on the phone, but it is.” (True, the video just showed his face as a delicate pink. It was a good look for him. Normally he could be mistaken for a vampire and I tease him that he glows in the dark.)

Boy: “I don’t really like hot things.” [Picks up rest of the griller and proceeds to eat]

Idiot: “You’re finishing it?”

Boy: [Shrugs and finishes the griller]

Idiot: “So it’s my turn?”

Boy: [Nods and reaches for his drink]

He said it was too hot and he wasn’t going to finish. He said he didn’t like hot food. Then The Boy picked up the damn griller and finished it. I can only assume the ghost pepper sauce can overpower brain cells and turn the mind of the consumer to its own will. So Taco Bell kicked off the zombie apocalypse, now you know.

Setting aside The Boy’s irrational behavior, which I suppose is pretty normal for a 15-year-old, what happened next really surprised me. Idiot, seeing that The Boy finished the griller without much trouble, decided to up the ante. He added hot salsa to his. Lovely. It turned out not to make much difference. Idiot finished his griller, albeit he reportedly turned 12 shades of red in the process.

The ghost griller is the third and hottest in the Taco Bell Dare Devil Challenge, so now the boys are planning on conquering the other two. They already survived the hot one, the other two shouldn’t be any problem.

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Downfall of Math in America

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I am back in high school and, for once, it’s not my son’s fault. The kids had yesterday off because … the teachers weren’t at school. I don’t know why there wasn’t school yesterday, there just wasn’t. In the case of my son doing his online homeschooling, a teacher holiday shouldn’t make much of a difference. He’s behind on his classes. The powers that be, meaning Hubby, decreed The Boy was permitted to take advantage of the day off and left Thursday night to spend some time with a friend and … I expect him back sometime today so I can help him (nag, nag) get caught up in school. He has a big project that shouldn’t be big, but it is because he didn’t do any of the prep work assigned during the last five lessons that would make this just the last step. No, he has six assignments rolled up into one now.

The Girl, is caught up with her school work. I would love to say that’s the advantage to her being in a regular high school, but it’s just the way she is. To be a responsible little senior, she’s taking online ACT practice tests. Yay! And she keeps having trouble with one type of problem that comes up in math. Oh. Not to be thwarted, she Googled it. That didn’t help. Damn. Okay, fine, time to be the mom.

I sat her down and asked what kind of math problem it was, praying it wasn’t Trigonometry because I doubt I remember that, and trusting it wasn’t Calculus because I don’t remember her taking it and I really don’t remember that. She didn’t want to talk about it.

Um, what?

Why didn’t she want to use me and instead keep trying to figure it out by looking at online resources? It was embarrassing. How the hell is math embarrassing? Yeah, ask that to a teenage girl who introduced me to the Ackles Ass Equation. She didn’t blush then. Fine, pushing that aside, what was embarrassing about this particular math problem? It couldn’t be bad, it was on an ACT practice test.

Sigh.

A while later, it turns out it’s something she should have known for a long time and didn’t master then. Factoring. YAY! I can factor, I remember that! So I sat her down and showed her how to do the problem on her test. Just having a person show her instead of reading it on a website seemed to make the difference. Until Hubby got involved. The problem was find the largest common factor between three numbers. I had her completely factor all three. It’s not difficult, and it doesn’t have to take a long time. It does the job, and The Girl understood it.

But there are shortcuts. Hubby thought of three in seconds and muddied the waters trying to let her use her time more efficiently. I shooed him away and showed her how to do it again without any shortcuts. (They rely on tricks and having an inherent understanding of math. I love my little girl, but math isn’t her strength. She has to do things the long way and write it all out or there’s little chance she’ll get it right.)

Now I’ve sent her off to take another ACT practice test, because that’s what every overachiever 17-year-old girl wants to do with her Saturday. Then I’ll let her spend the rest of the day watching Adventure Time, if she’s inclined to. I hope so, that way I can guilt her into to taking another practice test tomorrow.

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Goodbye Facebook

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Time is a precious commodity. I’m really feeling that right about now. The kids are sucking up more and more time as The Girl starts looking at college options for next year and The Boy persists in being irresponsible with his home/online schooling schedule. I may boot that kid back into the system just to save myself some headaches. Except it won’t save me any headaches, it’ll just create different ones. Grr. (Reaches for another book on raising teenage boys.)

Since the kids started taking up more time, and Hubby’s parents are getting older and need us around more, I’m finding less time for writing. This is a bad thing for many reasons.

Writing is my sanity. Trust me when I tell you the whole house down to the lizard feels it when I’m not writing regularly. With that in mind, I need to feed the lizard. I wanted to finish The Thousand Words Series and the next book in the Genie In Your Pocket Series (which is also a sequel to Never Ready from the Lexi Frost Series and the final book from The Thousand Words Series. Timelines are a little nutty in there but I explain it all.) I’m partway there. I published A Glorious Mess, the third in The Thousand Words Series, but only as an ebook. The paperback still isn’t available – totally my fault, sorry. And I did finish the final book in The Thousand Words Series but I received interesting feedback on it from my beta readers. I’m debating what to do about that because changes I make there affects Desperate Wishes (the next book in the Genie In Your Pocket Series) and I’m about half done writing that first draft. I intended to have A Thousand Words Book 4 done and published by now (no title, that’s part of the problem) and finishing up Desperate Wishes by Halloween, but that’s not happening. So I’m behind. Realistically, I’ll get The Thousand Words Series finished and on Amazon as an ebook by the end of the year, but Desperate Wishes won’t be published until next year. Fine, I accept that. Grudgingly.

Aside from less time for writing (and revising, and editing, and publishing, and marketing) my lack of available time shows in another way: online. I’m not there as much. Blog posts are erratic, coming sometimes every two weeks instead of weekly. I’m not spending much time on social media and actually irritated by the amount of time The Girl spends on Tumblr simply because I’m jealous. (And she needs to focus on the upcoming ACT to expand her college options.)

Social media isn’t a problem really. I can just let accounts sit idle and get to them here and there when I can. In fact, that’s what I’m doing. Except Facebook picked a bad time to irritate me with their updates and policy changes. I know they’re like a virus and possibly worse than Google when it comes to disregard of user privacy, but Google is handier so they sneak by under my radar. Facebook doesn’t have that luxury. Worse, Facebook is now being shown to be almost useless to writers for reaching their audiences. Readers may follow you, in theory to get updates on book releases and promotions, but those messages get lost in their timelines. When readers can just as easily follow you on Goodreads – a site made specifically for avid readers – sites like Facebook and MySpace are superfluous. And they’re not as useful as once promised for reaching new readers. As an author, I have to take a step back and say “What’s the point then?”

For a long time, authors have been told to have a presence online, it’s necessary for reaching readers. Now the value of many social media sites is under review and not holding up to the potential. Especially if you’re short on time to devote to marketing specifically to those sites. In general, it’s no big deal. You can update or promote occasionally and let it otherwise float along and I’m willing to do that, except with Facebook. I’m tired of policy updates and hearing about their privacy violations from news sites. Now it’s come up how many ‘dead’ accounts there are and how difficult it is for people to get social media accounts deleted after a relative dies. And people with pages and an audience who don’t have their account deleted are targeted to have their pages hacked and updated ‘from beyond the grave’ by bored tech-savvy youths. I can only imagine what might show up on mine so I now have a technology amendment on my will.

Personally, I don’t play games and the updates and invitations are so annoying I have to force myself to even log in. Some of the pages I personally followed have disappeared, my daughter threw in the towel and deleted her account a year ago as did one of my cousins. People who genuinely know me have other ways to reach me. In fact, friends and family never reach out to me on Facebook. Readers can send me a note from my website. There’s little to no value in Facebook for me anymore, so it’s going to have to go. (And I should add I’m very proud of myself for not making that a slam-dunk New Year’s resolution and just taking care of it now.)

So goodbye, Facebook! It was a fun ride there for a while, but it’s time to go our separate ways.

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