Archive for October 2014

What I Learned from Taylor Swift’s New Album

I know I promised a rewrite of my water balloon fight as my next post, but it will have to wait. Because something terribly important happened: I bought Taylor Swift’s 1989 D.L.X.

I don’t like owning hard copies of CDs anymore. I don’t listen to them in my car much, and use Spotify for most of my music needs. But when I heard that the Deluxe version of 1989 would include Taylor’s voice memos during her songwriting process, those three tracks alone were more than worth the $14 and the weight of the physical CD to me.

See, I was a songwriter first. And I really really really wanted to know Taylor’s process. I figured it was a lot like mine (except executed better), since she, like me, wrote exaggerated songs about her exes three years after breaking up with them. She did what I tried to do with my personal songs–tapped into remnant emotions, amplified them… and then did what I failed to do, which is become a gazillionaire. But you know…

The first voice memo on the album was one she sent to Ryan Tedder (of One Republic fame) before their recording session the next day. It starts with Taylor saying:

OK…  so I have this rough idea thing.

and then she plays a baseline on piano, and little else, with some lyrics like this “[good line] mumble mumble mumble… [good line]”. Sometimes she’s a little off key, but the idea is there.

Then after she’s done getting the basic idea down, she ends the memo with:

or whatever, I don’t know. But that’s basically… just like a dark, really dark, like, um, lyric, like, bridge thing, and it’s about, like, uh, everybody’s like trying to get in t- and like ruin a love or whatever and it’s like  you just… whatever. You know. And then the chorus would just go to that major and just be like “ahhh! chorus.” So I hope you like it… it wouldn’t be like a piano thing it would be like mmm bb bb ttcchh… like a beat. Now I’m just making weird sounds… hope you like it.

And, well, I can relate to that. The sheer number of “like”s as she speaks, the incoherence and gist of things… I love it. She writes like I do. Tonight, I was telling my husband about some plot twists I’m planning for my NaNo novel. And one of them involves some kind of mystic man who knows death dates because of some mystic thing and is a hobo living in a mountain. And my husband was all “well how does he hear about the mystic? Does the government know about him? How can he find out if the government doesn’t know?”

And my response was very similar to Taylor’s rambling at the end of her memo. Something like “I’m just brainstorming! There’s going to be plot holes… I’ll deal with those later.” If T. Swizzle herself doesn’t know all the lyrics and melodies at first, and sends a memo to another leading music industry professional saying “Yeah, so that’s the gist of it…” then, so can I, right?

In fact, the way I wrote this original song** was full of “I don’t know”s and “like”s. The lyrics were written in 2006. The audio file below was recorded on August 23, 2012, and the final YouTube Video was uploaded on January 3, 2013. The audio file’s kind of painful–I’d just realized the song was 6/8 and not 4/4, and I was experimenting as I recording. But the contrast is pretty awesome.

So to those of you looking at the germ of an idea–let it be rough. Fill in what you have and save some blanks for later. After all, Taylor Swift does it. If she doesn’t get all her ideas down at once (and like her or hate her, she’s successful), why should you?

**originally published this blog with a Harry Potter song, but I found the memos for this one, which I prefer.

Sample Edit

I am a perpetual editor. Even a quick email to a friend gets edited once or twice before I press send. It’s difficult for me to say that a draft is finished. Therefore, as can be expected, I started editing my new passage the moment I pressed send. Even though I’d done a quick edit as I wrote.

I decided this would be the perfect opportunity to offer a sample of my editing. I already have the author’s permission (yay!), and you’ll be able to see my style of editing, my comments, and the author’s revision post-comments as well (it’s really convenient, being the author).

To aid in the editing process and work on objectivity, I didn’t read the sample at all between writing it and now (pre-edit). My goal is to treat the writing as if it’s someone else’s. Here’s the email Author Me would have sent to Editor Me:

Hi wonderful Editor Rochelle,

I was wondering if you could look at this 600-word short scene from my work in progress, Amazing Novel. A few things I’d like help with:

  • Are the stakes high enough?
  • Do you get the feeling that Jenny is still in love with Liam? That she’s worried the summer won’t be long enough and is afraid to pursue the relationship if it will jut be a fling?
  • How am I doing with showing instead of telling?
  • I can’t decide if I should have her overbearing mother be more involved. What do you think?

Thank you so much! I hope you enjoy.

Author Rochelle

And here’s what I would have sent back (click for larger image).

Water Fight Page 1

Water Fight Page 2

Whenever I line edit, I’m far more likely to use the comments feature than to change things. Except grammar. (But since I have decent grammar, you don’t see any of that here…)

Here’s the email I would have responded with:

Dear Author Rochelle,

Love the premise!  This summer-fling water fight is great, and I enjoyed the metaphor of the balloons. One shattering, and the second one surviving a little longer, until fate took over. (It would be nice if it didn’t break at all… but that’s just because you had me shipping them.) The fate of the second balloon had me holding out hopes for Jenny and Liam.

A few things to note to answer your questions:

  • I pointed out a few places you could show better. If this is the turning point in your novel, or has any special significance, you could show us the whole thing, like a slow-mo replay.
  • As far as stakes are concerned, I would like a little bit more about their relationship. Do you have a place you could slip in some backstory? Show us what happened before, and why she’s scared of trusting him again? Could you have some dialogue conflict between Jenny and Liam, maybe with some undercurrent of what’s happened before?
  • Along those lines, I don’t feel like we know enough about Liam here. He’s attractive, I get that, but I don’t see his motivation at all. I know it’s hard since he’s not your POV character, but why is he pursuing Jenny? Even if you never actually show us, Liam can come to life if you understand him and his motivations better. That should help raise the stakes, too. Is he scared? Overconfident that she still loves him? Worried about the short summer too?
  • If you include more conflict between Liam and Jenny, I don’t think you need her mother to be involved. Since she never makes it inside, the distant threat of wetting new hardwood is enough to get Jenny into the main action, which is the most important.

Take a look at my edits (attached), and let me know if you have any questions about it. Can’t wait to see your revisions!


Editor Rochelle

Tune in to my next post to see what Author Rochelle comes up with based on these revisions.

Just in time for NaNo…

This post just changed my (writing) life.

4 Tips to Solve 99% of Your Writing Problems

I’m not big into zombies, but her examples of what we should do had my heart racing and I just had to read on. Not only does she know how to write tight POV in a gripping way, the examples involve more word count, which is, of course, perfect for NaNo.

So head over and prepare to have your socks knocked off. And then buckle down to work.

Here’s an excerpt from something I wrote nine years ago (talk about having distance!).

I looked up from where I lay, drying off behind his car, to see him coming towards me, smiling mischievously, two water balloons in hand. My bikini top and denim shorts were already soaking and I had to get back inside–preferably dry. I pleaded silently with him, then out loud, to let me be. I picked up my rugged blue towel and wrapped it around me. Trying to head slowly toward the house.

He shook his head. Grinning, he said, “I’d drop the towel if I were you.”

Sighing, I threw him the towel and took off barefoot along the hard sidewalk.  I felt the cool splash of a water balloon popping against my ankles. One down, one to go. The next one shot past me, just barely grazing me with isolated drops.

I slowed down. He threw back my towel. I glared at him and laughed with him. Our fingers brushed once. His hands were masculine and strong. We walked farther apart.

OK, so there’s a few sentences I’m kind of embarrassed of, and I skipped several paragraphs that weren’t important to the main action.

But to improve it based on Janice’s post, we’re looking to:

  1. Show, don’t tell.
  2. Know what to describe
  3. Identify goals and motivations
  4. Create higher stakes

A tall order, but we’ll give it a try. Read the Revision

Minimalism and Revision

I’ve been getting into minimalism recently. It’s always been a dormant part of my nature, but I’m starting to act on it. In September, I wore 31 different articles of clothing. Total. Counting coats and shoes. (I also never completely duplicated an outfit, which I used to do all the time.)

I’ve dropped off bag after bag at Good Will and taken a long hard look at my possessions to see what I really need. So far, I haven’t missed anything I’ve gotten rid of. My husband and I have discussed not getting our daughter anything for Christmas this year, since (a) she’s six months old and won’t know better; (b) she already has what she needs; and (c) my parents have already started Christmas shopping for her.

Minimalism and I get along really well. I’m even cutthroat toward my bookshelf, which I want to fill, but only with books I love to re-read.

But where minimalism serves me best isn’t choosing outfits in the morning, or making room on bookshelves, or saving money on Christmas. It’s when I’m editing.

Read More →

Advice I Ignore and Why You Should Too

“Read widely in your genre.” “Make sure you know what’s current in your genre.” “Read books from the past year or two to spot trends in your genre.”

I see this advice all over the place, especially from agents. Mostly, I ignore it. I want to do better about reading newer books in 2015, but I ignore it with good reason. Remember how Picasso said you have to know the rules before you break them? I know them. I break them anyway.

This year, I’ve read 42 books so far, so it’s not like I don’t read. Instead of reading a ton of newly published books, my biggest priority, year after year, is re-reading.

Thirteen of the 42 books I’ve read this year I’d read before, and that’s a lower number than usual because I was trying to read every book on my bookshelf at least once (three to go, and two more e-books).

Reading books that came out this year teaches you about publishing trends two or more years ago. Re-reading books helps teach you how to craft a novel.

Read More →

No Plot? No Problem–Start with Theme

I’ve been re-reading the best non-fiction book I’ve read this year: Inside Story by Dara Marks. If you want to know how to write a story with impact, one that leaves an impression after your reader is done, read this book. Then read it again. Cover it in highlights and take notes. It’s about writing intentionally.

Pantsers, don’t tune out. It’s not a book about outlining by any stretch of the imagination. This book helps you determine what it is you want to write about and how to make it poignant.

To me, that poignancy is why I write. When I get an email from a Beta that has, “Why would you lead me on like this” as its title, and says “Don’t make me cry over [spoiler] in class,” I feel like I’m doing my job. When I get reviews on my fanfiction that say “how heartbreaking” “this made me cry, and that doesn’t happen often,” I’m in heaven. (Because I’m evil. I love making people cry.)

In Inside Story, Marks argues (effectively) that as writers, we have two choices: following our intuition to combine plot, theme, and characters, or being intentional and letting our characters and plot grow from our theme. The only way to effective storytelling, she argues, is through the second choice.

See how below the jump.

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On Coming Out (as a writer)

About a month after my sister moved to college in 2010, she called me and let me know that she was lesbian. I was surprised, but not very surprised, and I thanked her for telling me. It was a while before she had the courage to come out to our parents, especially to my mother, who was a conservative Christian and had bought firmly into everything that implies.

The past few years have been relatively normal for my little sister. Not too much has changed about her. Her coming out has, instead, had a profound effect on our mother. A woman who was used to taking what she heard at face value began to grapple with her faith out of love for my sister.

I am so very proud of her.

But it took me years to do my own kind of coming out.
Read More →

On Things Happening for a Reason

The past month of my life has been a roller coaster of emotions.

Good things:

  • I turned 26
  • I celebrated three years of marriage
  • My husband dressed up (dressed up!) to take me out to a nice restaurant to celebrate my birthday and our anniversary
  • I got to wake up to a cooing baby every day
  • Except the days my husband got up with her so I could sleep in

Bad things:

  • I lost my grandmother at the age of 73, when she was on vacation in Montana with my uncle
  • The church I’ve gone to for almost six years announced that it would be closing
  • My church closed
  • My friend’s daughter, who has a chronic condition, ended up in the hospital for two weeks of treatment

Good things again (because ending with bad things sucks):

  • My daughter is seriously adorable and kept me laughing and working
  • Plot bunnies began to form orderly-ish rows for my NaNo novel
  • I started freelance work!

Anyway, all that to say my month has sucked more often than not. But on the other hand, I’ve always been a believer that things happen for a reason. Ecclesiastes 3 has pretty much been my life, recently.

The great and terrible thing about being a writer? All of the above is slipping into my work. I’ve mentioned before that I tried and failed at NaNo last year. I had started in October with a brand-new ideas notebook for it. I’m still using that notebook. But recent events have had me looking at my original idea in a completely new light.

On the first page, I mention that the book will be a fast-paced, high-tension story in which the narrator faces the ticking clock of his own death date.

Recent pages have no evidence of the fast pace, and the book is leaning closer to magical realism than sci-fi in my mind. And the questions about life and death have become even more important and poignant.

The driving force behind the main character, and especially his love interest, is coming to terms with a friend’s suicide. That suicide was always present as backstory, but it had more to do with the themes of predestination and serving as a warning for what the main character could do than anything else.

Now it is grief that prods the love interest into action, pushing her towards life at the same time it pushes the main character towards death.

The most recent note I have in my book? “Give the main character my coping methods for grief.”

I didn’t even know what my coping methods would be until September 10th. And as much as I hate how everything keeps piling on top of each other in my life right now, “to everything there is a season,” … and every season has its story.

And this story will begin with NaNo 2014… NaNo cover and working blurb below.

Expiration Date Cover

For Treyton Staub’s sixteenth birthday, his parents took him to the city morgue to choose a gravestone. That was four months and two days ago, and he has less than twenty-four hours left to live up to its inscription. After all, everyone has a death date; this day was his.

Michael Alester is a doctor searching for utopia: a perfect world on the Kenai Peninsula where he lives, a perfect population, where everyone has a job and everyone is useful. So when more babies are born than expected, he takes the matter into his own hands. After all, who would question their child’s expiration date? Even if it does give them only sixteen years, four months, and two days with their son.

How has “real life” made its way into your writing? Does the writing help you cope?

Plotter? Make Sure You’re Wearing Pants

I am a plotter. Absolutely. I must plot stories before I write them or else they won’t get written. I need main characters, themes, a basic plotline, and a (probably terrible) ending before I can start the part of writing beginners think is the only Real Writing: words that might eventually appear in a novel.

But you’ll never catch me with my pants off. For the novella I’m finishing up (I have 8 of 10 chapters complete), my outline tells me that chapter 9 is about the MC making up with her BFF after they had a fight. The problem? The MC and her BFF ended up making up in chapter 7. And that was the only information I gave myself for this chapter.

Thankfully, it’s a romance, and so I know what the ending will be (happily ever after). And just as thankfully, I knew I was veering way off course a few chapters ago, and I planted new conflicts that needed resolved. So I’ll still get to the ending I want. And it’s way better than what I originally had planned.

The main difference between plotters and pantsers is how much work goes into the pantsing, and when. I could argue either way on who ends up doing the most work. When I pants new ideas into my notebooks, I scribble page after page about main characters, premise, themes, potential plot lines, world building, scene ideas… but I never try to make my scribbles dramatic. I don’t need them to work on their own.

This is all work I’ll finish before November 1st, when NaNo starts. Then, with my pants thoroughly on, I’ll be able to craft my writing. Not because I don’t pants, but because I already have.

And if experience means anything, I’ll get about 30,000 words in and realize I’ve already written everything I planned, even though I’m aiming for 60k with this book. Then I’ll have to sit down with my notebook and put my pants back on. I’ll need subplots and missing scenes. I’ll brainstorm my way through secondary characters for information I may have missed. I will write thousands of words that I never intend to see the light of day.

My understanding of Traditional Pantsers (oxymoron?) is that the entire first draft is this way: a meandering through an interesting story idea, finding out about the world and the characters, 50,000 words (if you win NaNo) of planning for what will be the first draft that actually makes sense.

I don’t think that outlining first is necessarily better. And I have a hard time considering what I do as outlining–it really is the writing frenzy pantsers wax eloquent on. When I begin an outline, I don’t know the ending. I write until I get there, but instead of entire scenes, I have “Jane finds out Mark’s secret and has to escape.” That leaves me a whole lot of room for pants-wearing while I’m “Really Writing.”

In fact, there’s so much room, I might just need some of these:

Hammer Pants

Are you a plotter or a pantser? Somewhere in between? How are you preparing for NaNo?

5 Things I Learned After a Seven-Day Social Media Fast

On September 29, after I spent the morning refreshing the same blog three times (the blog I know only updates once a day), checking Facebook and Instagram every ten minutes, and clicking on Every. Single. Link. I found halfway interesting on Twitter, I realized I needed a break from social media.

So I decided that for the next four weeks, I would:

  • Check Facebook only once per week (to check event invites and church news, but NOT scroll the news feed)
  • Check Pinterest never
  • Use Instagram only on October 22 to upload my daughter’s 4-month pictures
  • Only use Twitter from other websites (i.e., promoting my giveaway and blog posts, sharing important blog posts from others, etc.)
  • Only watch Vlogbrothers videos on YouTube (no gymnastics or recommended videos, as both are notorious time suckers for me)
  • Check my blogroll only once per day
  • No forum participation, including passive reading (outside answering PMs)

So far, I’ve done okay. I did end up on my Twitter feed for a bit today after posting about my giveaway (JK Rowling posted an anagram about her movies… I couldn’t resist), and I end up looking at a lot of different blogs (never the same blog twice, just a lot of blogs…), but on the whole, for once, I’m succeeding. and here’s what I’ve learned:

1. I think in Facebook status updates

My daughter spent nearly an entire day yelling instead of squeaking or crying. I thought about how I would word my Facebook status. I spent time with old friends, and immediately crafted a mental status about how important it is to maintain relationships in real life and not just digitally (the irony wasn’t lost on me). I took a few pictures at a good friend’s wedding and thought about the caption I would include. Cuddle-naps with the kiddo? Thought about Facebook. An adorable outfit of hers (or mine)? Wanted to post it to Instagram.

I wasn’t sure when I started my fast if I would make it the whole month. When I realized I crafted an image of my life based on how I would present it to the world of Facebook, I knew I needed to continue.

2. I have a lot of free time

I work 40 hours a week, and I’m on pickup duty from daycare. My total route (home to work, work to daycare, daycare to home) is about 30 miles, and since daycare is at my Mom’s house, I usually stay for a bit to chat. And yet… I have a lot of free time. Lunch hours, the hours between 7:30 (when my daughter goes to bed) and whenever I go to bed… They add up quickly and are a lot easier to see when I’m not constantly on the lookout for what’s happening in my news feeds.

3. I am extremely resourceful… at finding ways to waste my free time

Without blogs to check or YouTube videos to watch in the evenings, I could still find ways to avoid working and curating meaningful relationships. Bejeweled 3 was free on Origin (it might still be, if you need a time-waster). I re-discovered my love for 2048. I caught up on my friends’ fanfiction stories (although that, thankfully, was on The Weekly List). I watched a few episodes of Friends with my husband (but everyone knows watching Friends is time well spent).

I did not clean my house. I’m still only 10% through reading Les Miserables. I did not become a meditative hermit.

4. I was still the most productive I’ve been in a while

I’ve written more than 3,000 words for a story I practically abandoned in May. I’ve been brainstorming the heck out of my next novel, including re-reading a book on how to marry structure and theme. I was proactive about laundry and making dinner. I got stuff done.

5. I am in need of connections to people, and fulfilling that need with real people is far more satisfying than scrolling a news feed

More than anything, I was proactive in my pursuit of other people. IRL. (that’s “in real life” for those who don’t think in acronyms) Without the false sense of connection that social media was providing me, I was in desperate need of relationship. At the wedding I attended, I was present. I interacted with the bride and groom and with old friends. I danced with my husband and daughter. I hardly looked at my phone.

That evening, I spent three hours talking with my husband. The next day, I reached out to a friend I hadn’t seen since my baby shower–a friend whose house I drive by almost every day–and we spent two hours together. She got to meet my baby. We lost track of time. Hours later, I was with three of the 14-year-old girls I mentor at Starbucks. We got kicked out because it closed.

All in all, I am actually excited to keep this up. I’ve been writing. I’ve been editing. I’ve been going to bed (mostly) on time. I initiated texts. My Facebook-status mentality for categorizing my life is slowly starting to disappear (and morph into blog post ideas, but shhh…). I hope I do make it to a month. Who knows? Maybe my need for Facebook in particular will disappear, the way my month-long fast from Tumblr turned into an indefinite fast.

Have any of you taken a social media fast? What did you learn?