Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Charting Writing Progress

I've written on and off all my life, but I got serious about writing about four and a half years ago. And by serious I mean I wanted to learn as much about the craft as I possibly could, and made sure to write consistently - if not on a daily basis, then at least on a weekly basis.

I have to admit that at first I was obsessed with word count, including the number of words I generated every time I sat down to write. I kept a word log in which I'd tally how many words I wrote each day, and my goal was at least 800 words, five days a week (so about 4,000 words a week).

Four and a half years later, I have an entirely different approach. I still log my words, just because it's kind of fun and makes me feel like I'm being productive. But in reality I have switched to logging time instead. Because there's so much more to writing than just the words you generate. There's doing research for settings/characters, creating and filling out character sketches, building and fleshing out worlds in separate documents (OK, those last two deal with generating words, but they're a bit different, because a lot of that time is spent brainstorming and the words aren't part of the "official" manuscript), tedious revision (in which you return a tiring amount of times to the words you've already generated and decide to hack them out of existence or add on a whole bunch of new ones), polishing, I could go on.

Point is, I think it's a mistake to calculate your progress in terms of fresh words you write. I used to get frustrated when I didn't meet those 800 words and sometimes I'd even bypass necessary research or something else my manuscript needed at the moment just to squeak them in so I'd meet the quota. But, really, I was fooling myself and causing myself undeserved mental harm (not very severe mental harm, mind you, but you know what I mean). So now I go by time. Two-to-three hours of solid work on my story each day for five days a week, no matter what it needs at the given moment, will bring me ever so much closer to the completed/polished book it needs to be.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Seton Hill University's Writing Popular Fiction Program

I'm graduating from Seton Hill University's Writing Popular Fiction MFA program this January with a polished, market-ready middle-grade science fiction novel, and I have to say the program is definitely one of the best things I've ever done. If you're serious about writing popular novels (or other forms of popular fiction) and want to turn it into a career, I can't recommend the program enough. The writer I entered the program as is a mere shell compared to the one I am now.

Writing is, of course, a lifelong calling and journey, and there's no guarantee any novel you write will get published, including one that's gone through an MFA program. But I have to say that when it comes to Seton Hill's Writing Popular Fiction program, I must've shaved off at least ten years of toiling with writing on my own. There's really nothing like the hands-on expertise of mentors (published authors) in the field you write in, who not only tell you what you need to improve on, but literally help you achieve it in your actual manuscript. The program was also fantastic in the networking department. I have met some fine writers who have also become dear friends, and I hope to continue to both keep up and work with them beyond the program.

Overall, the program has been a mindblowing experience, and I can't imagine having not done it. For me, it was the big-picture stuff, such as building and applying a fleshed-out world and effectively developing characters' (especially the protagonist's) internal growth that I really needed to work on. It's funny how difficult big-picture stuff can be to see until somebody who knows what they're talking about points it to you. But, really, I had such a blast with this program and I know it's one whopping, important step in my journey as a writer. I wanted to make this post because I know lots of writers out there wonder if an MFA program is really worth it, since so many writers learn the craft on their own, so to speak, but I just wanted to add in my own two-cent experience: it was more than worth it. At least the program at Seton Hill University was.

And now back to what I try to do best: writing.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Project Update: Return to UNGIFTED

It's been a while since I've bloggd, so I figured I'd do another "Project Update," in which I egotistically discuss the current status of my my various manuscripts. It will probably wind up being a recurring topic on this blog, actually. Anyway, as I've discussed before, I have three projects a-brewing, so to speak.

My thesis for Seton Hill University's Writing Popular Fiction program, a middle-grade science fiction novel called Savage Jungle, has been approved by my mentors (yahoo!). However, I am setting it aside for a couple months to mull over a couple suggestions one of my mentors gave me about it. I agree with the suggestions and want to come back to the manuscript with fresh eyes before I make the changes and submit it out into the world.

Regarding my MG dystopian, The Adult Plague, I have finished the rough draft, as I think I mentioned in my last post. Therefore, I'm setting it aside for the next couple months so I can return to it with fresh eyes (sensing a trend here?) and make any additional changes before I send it out to critique partners.

That means I have some time here (a couple months if you've been counting) in which nothing's on my plate writing-wise, so I've decided to return to my other manuscript that's been sitting on the backburner for a while (about seven months), my MG epic fantasy, Ungifted. The decision behind this is twofold. To make it seem more exciting, I'm going to bullet both points below:

1. I don't have any new sparkly ideas for stories swirling around in my brain. Nothing. Nada. My brain feels very empty.

2. Over the past couple months my brain started to naturally, and quite nostalgically, think about Ungifted more and more. Clearly, the story hasn't quite let go of me. And since I've returned to the story, I've found that I've actually really quite missed it.

Now that I'm back to revising Ungifted, lots of changes are jumping out to me as I read it. I believe there's also a twofold reason for this (get ready for the exciting bullet points!):

1. I've improved as a writer.

2. I've had seven whole months away from it, so I'm returning to it with fresh eyes. And no, not a brand-new fresh pair of eyes, just ones that haven't laid themselves on the story in a long time.

All that being said, I'm not sure how long I'll be working on Ungifted, and I'm not sure what's going to come of it. Maybe I'll just work on it until it's time to return to the other manuscripts, but it's been fun coming back to it.

And now back to Ungifted revisions!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Just Finished Rough Draft

That’s right—I just finished the rough draft of my latest manuscript, a middle-grade dystopian book currently called The Adult Plague.  As writers everywhere know, there’s a certain feeling of euphoria that accompanies hitting those final words “the end” when finishing the rough draft.  Of course, they also know it’s still just one phase of the long process of writing a novel, but it sure feels good to get that initial draft done, even though the one I just finished is pretty short at 42,000 words long. 

Now comes the hard part—revision, revision, revision.  I’ve written down a list of things to do—things I want to accomplish before I send this bad boy off to critique partners.  The list includes stuff like add a subplot (yeah, that’ll be a big one), make sure the romance subplot is smooth/believable, incorporate a weakness for the protag’s romantic interest (she seems way too smart and capable at the moment; a weakness will make her seem more human and likable).  Anyway, I could go on, but those are some of the things I’m looking to tackle in the next phase of this story’s growth from childhood to novelhood (if that’s not a word, it should be).  Wish me luck!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Sparse Writer

So it turns out I’m a sparse writer.  Always have been.  I guess that’s not too bad of a thing, considering I write children’s books, which tend to be on the shorter side.  But sometimes it’s a bit of a pain.  For example, I’ve just reached 25K words in my latest manuscript.  I call this a minor accomplishment, because 25K equals about a hundred pages in the publishing biz.  But, unfortunately, my story is coming down to the homestretch.  I’d be lucky just to get another fifty pages out of this draft before it all ends, and a hundred and fifty pages—for a middle-grade dystopian—not too long…not too long at all…

So…hmmmm…what can I do?  At the moment I’m not totally sure, but I do intend to go back after I finish this draft and develop at least one subplot, which should help beef up the pages.  I also want to beef up the romance between my protagonist and, well, his romantic interest.  Heck, I’d like some beef for dinner tonight! (Can you tell it’s almost evening where I live?).  Other than that, I’ll have to keep my eyes and ears open for ways to lengthen this story without adding anything extraneous.  Not always easy, of course.
When I’m totally done with this book (including polishing), I’d be happy if it reached 50K words, but I’d really like it to reach somewhere between 60K-70K, but I don’t think that will happen.  Ah, well, we’ll see.  Of course, all in all, the most important thing I need to keep in mind is that the story should be as long as it needs to be, no more, no less.
So what type of writer are you?  Sparse or—er—non-sparse?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Resident Evil 6 - It's Finally Here!

Today we will be taking a break from writing and other book-related activities to discuss—the release date of Capcom’s Resident Evil 6 for Playstation 3 (and Xbox 360 and PC)!

Man, it’s been a long time in the waiting—about three years since Resident Evil 5 came out, which, like all the numbered games I’ve positively adored.  In any case, I can’t tell you how pumped I am.  I’m a massive Resident Evil fan, dating back to the first games on the first PlayStation console in recorded history, aptly named, Playstation.  I must’ve played Resident Evil 2 and 3 in particular a bajillion times to date (that damned Nemesis monster just never dies in my mind), and have massively enjoyed many of the others.
So what makes Resident Evil so near and dear to my heart?  I mean, aside from the unending zombie-shooting, blood-splattering mayhem?  I don’t know.  I think there are too many things to mention, so I’ll settle on what might be my favorite—I love its “eerie quiet.”  You know, those parts of the game where you’re not shattering zombies’ and other viral-infected monsters’ heads, but are simply navigating about the dreary, silent terrain.  Just waiting, waiting, waiting…for that next malicious zombie/monster to pop out and attack.  It’s that mounting of tension that gets me every time—the fact you know something evil’s in the area that wants to suck your blood clean, but it just hasn’t revealed itself to you yet.
Heck, maybe I can tie this all in to writing, after all.  Sometimes that sort of thing makes the perfect villain, too.  Sometimes when you can’t see the monster (especially in horror books and movies and, well, yes, videogames called Resident Evil), it can be all the freakier, including when special care is taken in building tension before the villain’s reveal.  I should think about that the next time I put my keys to the keyboard.  But yeah.  That’s what I love about Resident Evil.  Can’t wait to purchase me a copy of the sixth installment and get crackin’ on that bad boy (and on some zombies’ heads and other grotesque limbs and body parts).

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

World-build Before You Start Writing

Today I’d like to share a writing tip I learned recently that applies to writing science fiction and fantasy (though I imagine it can’t hurt to give some thorough consideration to your story’s setting/world).  Also, keep in mind that I’m just one writer, and that what works for me might not work for you.

This might seem obvious to some people, but I learned the hard way that it pays to build your world, including as many of its intricacies as you can, before you even start writing your book.  In fact, I wrote two books in a row in which I failed to build a fleshed-out world beforehand.  Problem was, when I finished drafts of those books, I had to go back and add in all those world-building elements, and it took a lot of extra work because brainstorming my world opened up all sorts of plot opportunities and character developments I hadn’t seen before—and just about all of them improved the story, so I had to add them.
See, the thing about world-building—it should affect every other part of your story in some way—characters, plot, etc. (all of the elements of a book should blend together and affect each other).  For example, the world you build might influence how your protagonist escapes the villain at some point in the story—perhaps your protag jumps on a hover scooter some kid left on the sidewalk, because, you know, the number one past-time in your futuristic world is hover-scootering.  In general, your world/society should affect how your protag fits into that world, perceives that world, etc., all of which could even affect your protag’s main goal that drives them throughout the entire story.  (Whoa…I know).
So, learn from my mistake, and build your world in advance.  As a result, you’d be amazed by how many appealing plot constructs open up just pleading to be constructed, and how many characters your fleshed-out world creates and influences that will make your story richer than if you hadn’t known about them before you started writing.  At the very least, you’ll save yourself a lot of work in the long run.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Project Update

OK, so here's an update (yes, it's been a while since I've last posted on this blog) on my various middle-grade projects.

SAVAGE JUNGLE - a.k.a. my thesis for the Seton Hill Writing Popular Fiction program - I've just submitted this to my two mentors for final review. Yes, that means the manuscript will now either PASS or FAIL (cue dramatic music). The very last thing I did before I sent it was read it out loud to myself, which, as I mentioned in another post, is seriously such a great exercise. Caught lots of nice, nitty-gritty little polishing errors (or things that could be tweaked to make the language smoother), but other than that, hopefully it's ready to make the grade (keeping fingers crossed lol). I will know in about a month from now (late October).

UNGIFTED - On the backburner. I'm now aware of a few things I could do to improve the story, and a couple of them I'm not entirely sure what to do about. I've decided to let it sit on the backburner and hope that some of those issues resolve themselves in my subconscious (one of them I will be actively trying to solve, but that one can apply to all my stories). But if not, this story may forever remain on the backburner, which would be sad, because I do like it and had a blast writing it (even if I sometimes tell myself I don't and didn't)...

NEW DYSTOPIAN STORY - though really not so new anymore - I'm now back into the thick of things on this one. I'd been writing it for a while, and then had a huge spell where I had to sit back and think through some brainstorming aspects that were basically of a worldbuilding and plot nature. But now I've got those ironed out (at least for the moment), so I've plunged back into the actual writing. Wish me luck!

And that is all for the update. Carry on...

Thursday, May 3, 2012


So as you know, I've been brainstorming for my new MG dystopian novel, doing a lot of "preliminary" work. Though I've always been more of a pantser than an outliner, I have to admit that the more stories I write, the more of a planner I've become. Hmmm...I wonder if I'll be a flat-out outliner before long (though I tried that once and it totally killed my inspiration to write that particular book; it was no fun when I knew absolutely EVERYTHING before I started to write it).

So before I dig into the actual manuscript again (or continue from where I left off, to be more accurate), I'm working on the following "prework": character sketches, world-building, major plot points, and pitch.

Character Sketches: I've already made sketches for two major players: the protagonist and his best friend. Y'know, the whole works: their story goals, fears, strengths, weaknesses, worst day of their lives, etc. There's at least one other character I know I'll be making a sketch for as well. I'm also working on how the main character changes throughout the course of the book. I've been playing with an internal conflict based around curiosity, but maybe it's stupid. We'll see...

World-building: This is a dystopian after all, so this futuristic "oppressed world" needs to be built quite fully and with as much detail as possible. It influences the story in a huge way, obviously.

Major plot points: I find it's good to know the major moments and twists of the story in advance, that way I can be sure the stakes are gradually being raised, or that at the very least the story has a general path I can shoot for as I write. It also helps to have at least a general idea of the ending, which I do at the moment. Fleshing it out is what's going to be the hard part, though maybe I'll do that as I do the actual writing.

Pitch: This basically extends from the other aspects I just mentioned. I like to write the best possible pitch (in other words, what you'd read on the back cover of a book) I can before I write the book. That way, I can read it and see if it not only feels like a story, but one I'm just itching to read myself. Okay, I'm itching...

Back to more brainstorming...

Saturday, April 28, 2012

New Project

So in a sense I'm in a lull between projects. I just finished a middle-grade science-fantasy novel called UNGIFTED, which is now on submission to agents. Regarding my science fiction mid-grade novel, SAVAGE JUNGLE, which is my thesis for Seton Hill's Writing Popular Fiction program (I could rant forever about how much I love that program), it's in its "nitty gritty/polishing" stage. I might take a little break first, but it's definitely time to kick off a new project.

I've been playing with a couple MG dystopian ideas. One of them is similar in a way to THE HUNGER GAMES, and given that book's (and movie's) immense popularity right now, I feel like it might not be the best idea to pursue that project at the moment (talk about going AGAINST the trend on that one). The other one, however, I'm equally excited about and has one of those premises that is similar to tons of stories. In fact, recently I found a couple books that use this same general premise, one of which has been inspiring. At first I was horrified. I thought I'd conceived a fun, original idea, but nooooooooo, it has been done quite a few times. Thankfully, though, the stories are still very different from my idea (I read them) and each other, so I think I'll go ahead and write mine. It's funny how so many stories can be written using the same basic premise (no, I'm not going to reveal what it is, but believe me, it's been around), yet turn out so wildly different. It's also a wonderful thing.

Anyway, I've already written some of this new book, so all I need to do is pick up from where I left off before. Should be fun, and I should be getting to that soon depending on how long my "break" is. I'll keep you updated!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Reading Out Loud

Wow...OK, I know I said I'd do a post a week, and now it's been quite awhile since my last post (I'll have to be more timely in the future), but I would like to talk about reading your own manuscript out loud. I've been doing this for my non-thesis manuscript called UNGIFTED, and it's such an incredible exercise. It's amazing the things you catch when you actually hear the words. Not only did I catch sentences and phrases that were a mouthful to say (since I stumbled over them), but I even caught some minor inconsistencies (like what characters were wearing). I was surprised by that last one. Another big one is repeated words. These can be tough to catch when you read silently, but when you read your work out loud, you actually hear any repeated words; they're like little red flags.

That being said, reading UNGIFTED out loud is the final step before I start to query it. I think this exercise is best done right before querying, because the things you catch are minor or small-picture rather than big-picture. This book has gone through several drafts and has received lots of feedback and it's in the best shape I can get it in at the moment from a story or "big-level" perspective. But every time I read another chapter out loud, I'm so glad I did! OK, off to read another...

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

New Blog Direction

OK, so I haven't posted a blog entry for awhile, because I created this blog for a reading course in a grad program at Seton Hill University. I'm currently in its excellent (and I mean truly excellent) Writing Popular Fiction program, working on my thesis of writing a novel. I entertained the idea of having a blog before, but never actually did it until I joined this program, since it was a requirement, as I said.

I have to admit that although I enjoy writing entries on my blog, it also feels kind of weird. Like I'm talking to the world, but in reality the world doesn't give a crap. Well, that's what it feels like, anyway. Like I'm shouting, "Hey - here I am! Listen to me!" You know?

*Dead silence*

Oh, right. I forgot...

Anyyyyway....since I'm done with that particular course (a horror reading course - and it was horrifyingly fun) at Seton Hill, I'd been thinking about what to do with this blog. I mean, now I have this blog, right? I wasn't sure what to post, though, but NOW I have an idea. Since I've been writing a novel (well, two - one for the program like I said, and one on the side) and I'm nearing completion of it (I'm referring to the one on the side here), I figured I might as well chronicle that novel's journey. Not just to completion, but also my search for literary agents/publishers and anything perhaps remotely related to the writing/publishing world.

Exciting, huh?

*Dead silence*

Oh, right. Whew! OK, anyway, my new goal is to post a blog entry AT LEAST once a week with a typically writing-related subject, though I guess I might post other things that randomly grab my fancy - oooh, shiny object! - from time to time.

I guess that's it for now! So stay tuned, everyone........

*Dead silence*