Fallow Time

photo via morguefile.com

photo via morguefile.com

In the Northern Hemisphere, this time of year is fallow time.  In most places, you can’t do much prep work outdoors for your garden.  In a couple of weeks, we can start seeds for those things that need to be started six to eight weeks indoors, but right now, at the dawn of the New Year, there’s not much gardening to do.  No small wonder we get obsessed with self-improvement tasks at this time of year! Most of us are no longer farmers, but not too many generations ago, most of us were agriculturalists or pastoralists or gardeners of some sort.  The rhythm of life is hard to escape, even with central heating and cosy indoor work.

I like to garden, and I’m far enough south that I can start doing the gardening prep work already.  Even so, it is fallow time even for me, and that leads to contemplation. For years I’ve sworn off New Year’s resolutions as unrealistic and self-defeating. This year, I’m in a different mindset about it.  I have things I’d like to accomplish, not by the end of the year, not someday. Soon.

The big number one on my To Do List is to take better care of my corporeal being.  I eat a reasonably healthy diet most of the time with the occasional splurge. Exercise, however, I don’t get enough of. I used to do a lot of weight training (resistance training to you young whippersnappers), and I’m going back to that. I don’t worry about becoming Female Hulk; it’s better than Female Jabba the Hut and carrying more muscle means my metabolism runs a little faster and I feel less sluggish.

I want to be more mindful about other parts of self-care as well. Too often I schlep around in baggy shorts with uncombed hair and ragged nails.  I don’t plan to go overboard on this. There’s no point in trying to garden or write in a ballgown and I like being comfy when I work. On the other hand, Comfy doesn’t have to equal rag bag disaster. My body is the place where my spirit lives, after all. It deserves decent upkeep.

I also want to Get Stuff Done with writing this year. So many times I’ve bought into the advice that I should put the manuscript away “for a few months” before revising (yet again) and “not rush”.  Too often, I’ve put away what I want to do for a “later” that never comes. Maybe I’m not yet the next Austen or Thoreau or Mailer or Evanovich.  Maybe my writing isn’t breakout novel worthy or whatever. Maybe it never will be, but maybe it’s good enough.

I don’t have time any longer for “baby steps”, for “letting it rest for a while”, for “not rushing the process”. I’ve done that for ten years.  I’m putting out that story, completing that project, shoving weights onto the bar and learning to do those hack squats that I’ve been waiting for someday when I’m in better shape.

Maybe I’ll be doing squats with an empty bar at first. Maybe nobody will read whatever stories or novels I put out. Maybe I’m rushing the gates, but this is where I am. Watch out, World, because this year I am the freight train of Getting Stuff Done. The gates are down and the lights are flashing. Lead, follow, whatever you like. Just stay off the tracks, because I am coming through! Whoot! Whoot!

Chupacabra!

English: Picture of chupacabra.

English: Picture of chupacabra. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today my Flash story “Date Night” is out on Karen Michelle Nutt’s Halloween Flash Bash. There have been some most awesome stories on her month-long flash party. I hope you’ll stop over and read mine and some of the others too.

William Robert Travis, the protagonist of “Date Night”, has his very own series of short stories. His side kick, Columbine, also appears in another longer William Robert Travis story. I hadn’t intended for Columbine to be a recurring character, but sometimes my characters have plans of their own.  I have a feeling we’ll see Columbine again.

Some writers feel that this notion that characters can have “minds of their own” or “take over” is sheer silliness. Some people’s characters do what they’re supposed to do, fulfill their role in the story, and that’s that. It seems to work fine and some writers write compelling characters and terrific stories that way.

Others of us have a more organic writing process. NaNoWriMo, among others, call us the “pantsters”. People who write by the seat of our pants, not knowing until we get there what the story really is.. I’m not a true pantster. I always know what my story is! I may not know exactly how the story is going to happen. One way I think about characters is by considering them as strings of logical consequence based on how I’ve established their personality. Sometimes this means that when I’m writing, I end up with a character that “won’t do” what I tell him to do. In less fanciful terms, this is a point where I thought I knew which way the story was going to go or what a character would do, but after writing the story and getting to that point, I realize, consciously or sub-consciously, that the action doesn’t really fit the personality & logical consequences string that I’ve created so far.

In “Date Night”, originally I had planned for my character William Robert (Billy Bob to his friends) to defeat the chupacabra with his angel mojo. That totally didn’t happen. The logic of Billy Bob’s story cannon wouldn’t allow it, so I had to get him out of his predicament in another way. I think the story is better for it, but ultimately you, the reader, are the judge of that!

Writing Advice That Makes Me Weep

Sentences v2

Sentences v2 (Photo credit: eldeeem)

I recently ran across one of those “surefire writing tips” type articles that makes me want to weep or shriek. Maybe both. It amazes me that we keep circulating some of the same tired truisms round and round the internets. Some of my Non-Favorites:

Make your Sentences Short

It’s true that few people want to read paragraph long sentences. However, if you cut every sentence you have in two or try to keep everything to ten words or less or similar advice, you end up with a choppy article or story. Use long sentences when you need them. Use short sentences where they are appropriate. Use sentence length to enhance your story’s flow. Don’t follow some arbitrarily rule about sentence length.

Don’t Use Adverbs

Adverbs are a useful part of speech. I could agree with don’t over-use adverbs, but I’m not willing to dispense with an entire word form to cater to a select crowd’s writing fetish. Use adverbs when there’s no verb that says exactly what you need to say.

No Passive Voice

Although it’s not usually appropriate for fiction, sometimes passive voice is the appropriate choice.  One good example of when to use passive voice is for reports that require some distance between the narrator and the text. Mystery novels and crime fiction use this technique sometimes, proving it’s not always “wrong” even for fiction!

No Weasel Words

Of all the pat writing advice, I hate this one the least. This is advice to scour your writing for weak, unneeded, or repetitious words. I think it’s rarely well-applied. We all have our own personal “weasel” words. It’s up to you to read your writing with a critical eye and discover that you (like I do) use “very” too much. Figure out what words are your personal weasel words and crusade against them, not some arbitrary list. The weasel word lists can be helpful, but they’re only a place to start.

So that’s a few of my favorite non-favorite writing advice tips. I’m breaking the “keep it positive” rule and a couple others as well, I’m sure! I’d like to talk about the strange hatred of “ing”, but that deserves a post of its own.

Do you have any examples of writing advice that makes you weep or gnash your teeth?

Don’t Rush Your Process

I’m in the middle of writing a flash fiction story for Karen Michelle Nut’s Halloween Flash Fiction Bash.  My story will be on her blog on the 17th. It’s 99% done, and I could simply give it a proofread and send it in. If I did that it wouldn’t be the best story it could be. The temptation to send that story ASAP is great. I don’t want Karen to worry that I’m going to be late. The earlier I deliver my story, the better and more reassuring for her.  The story, however, needs a little polish.

English: Proofreading marks for a typographic ...

Czech Standard Proofreading marks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been reading a lot of indie fiction recently. I’ve read some terrific novels. I’ve also read some novels that could have been terrific if they hadn’t been rushed to publication. I’m not talking about misplaced commas, tricky antonyms and creeping apostrophes.  These are writers who have conquered all the little details. They have solid plots and good characterization. What they don’t have is that final polish. Sections feel rushed. They lapse into narration to get from one good scene to another, and almost lose us in the morass in between. The dialogue gets the job done but doesn’t sparkle or sound authentic. The balance of the story is sometimes off, or little details weren’t researched as thoroughly as they needed.

All of these are issues that can be solved by revision. Nobody I know likes to revise. When you first write something, it’s like falling in love. Everything is new and fresh and beautiful on the first pass. Revision is that relationship stage where you argue about whose turn it is to take out the trash and you find your beloved’s socks all over the living room floor. I’m sorry to tell you that somebody has to take out the metaphorical trash– that is, do your revisions. If you skip those deep revisions and call it done after a spell check, you short change your writing. Your writing deserves better; it deserves the best that you can give it.

So let your story marinate a bit. Revise it with a clear eye and a cool head. Don’t let the new story energy fool you into hurrying things along. Your faithful readers will love your work even more, and you’ll build your craft as a writer as well.

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Write or write not. There is no try!

I've been thinking about why I write.

All of us who write know this is dangerous and terrible mental ground upon which we shouldn't trod.  Even knowing that we shouldn't push past the barbed wire and "Dangerous Precipice, Stay Back!" signs, we all wander over there occasionally anyhow.  This has been my week for it.

I wish that I were writing to share some profound truth that can only be shared through fiction, like Dostoevsky,   I wish I were writing for therapy, to heal myself and others, like Robert Pirsig.  Or,  I wish I were writing to protest the ills of this world and make the world a better place like Atwood or Le Guin or a host of others.  I wish I were writing stories of profound spiritual value, like Lewis and L'Engle.

But I'm not.

I write because I like to tell stories.  I was raised on stories.  My mom and dad both told family stories constantly when I was a kid. My dad also told a lot of what I would call "moral tales", illustrative examples of how to live life in an honorable way, or how not to live life, depending on his mood and my most current infractions.  Stories are my way of communicating when I have something to say other than "Hi, how are you? Pass the salt."

I write because I need to say something, and I hope that someone will read it.  I hope that they'll be cheered or touched in some way even if I don't think I'm writing profound truth or entertaining lies.  Some people say that one should only write for oneself.  As solitary a creature as I can be, I find that idea too stifling.  It frees my imagination to think that someone, somewhere, might read what I've written.  So here I am, writing, and mangling Yoda wisdom for my own purposes. 🙂

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