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Saturday, December 26, 2009

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

15. The best hours to write

Everyday, I spend a couple of hours reading manuals about the world of writing. I hope that expression sums it all up: techniques, grammar, advices, commercial VS literary, other authors, editors, agents, publishers, readers... I'm an addict for knowledge about the things that are driving me the most on each moment of my life.

After reading all the advices and techniques, I like to test them and eventually make them into my own advices to myself, and stick to what works.

Many of us, when we start our first novel, like to know how our favorite authors found their inspiration and most of all, when do they write, for how long at a time and even where. The reality is that each author discovered his/hers own method, usually is very specific (or not at all) and works exclusively with them.

I read a lot of advices stating we should write first thing in the morning, because it's when we are 'fresh' and full of energy. I've tried that. Nothing came out. The screen remained white because everything I wrote made me furious or depressed and wondering if writing was really for me.

Then I read an improvement to that first advice: go outside first, walk a bit, then write. Yes, I wrote. Nothing relevant to the story I really wanted to tell tough. So it got deleted again.

Since then, I've read about authors that only write every 2nd or 3rd day, between which they continue their daily life always thinking about their plot in their minds. I discovered I do that, I'm constantly thinking about new actions and new dialogues. My characters seem to be living inside my head, growing while I get to know them better and better. However, if I spend 2 or 3 days without writing something meaningful, I get a bit lost and my confidence drops.

I've also read about authors that write during lunch time, others after lunch, other in the middle of the afternoon, or at dinner, or after dinner, lots before bed, many wake up and write or don't even have a specific time to sleep and few writers that don't have a specific time to write. All of these authors, whatever the hour, do the most important thing in their career: write in the timeline that works for them.

So, after more than a month writing and testing myself, I've discovered my method:
I wake up and watch TV for an hour, sometimes two. Yes, TV it's the devil for some, but people inspire me everywhere, so those 2 hours-a-day boost me up.
During the rest of the morning I read manuals on creative writing, stop to do some household chores, sometimes outside, read more pages of another manual, stop for more chores, surf the web to read a couple of blog entries or sites about writing, stop to lunch, clean a bit more and starting from 14h30 (usually) I sit and start working on my novel.

Usually I write until my husband gets home, and that varies, but usually he arrives around 18h30/19h00.

At night, before I go to sleep, I like to relax and read any book I find entertaining, good written and inspiring.I strongly believe we should never stop being readers, first of all. At the moment, my lullaby has been "The Host", by Stephenie Meyer.

So while there's really no specific hour that we all should choose to write, scientifically proven to be the best performance time line, there's certainly a specific period of the day that works better for each one of us and it's as individualized as we all are, as complex human beings.

Vanessa Condez, Note to self: Humanize.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

14. About the Money

Usually writers don't like to talk about the money they earn from writing. I can understand that, if you give away your numbers maybe you cannot negotiate a better deal next time?... Don't know, never been there.

I found a post entry from Susan Beth Pfeffer, someone that lives and lived from her writing all her life, and is now on her 75th book (!) who decided to share a bit more about her numbers, here.

Vanessa Condez, Note to self: Humanize.

13. If it's not scary, it's not for you

I heard somewhere, many years ago, that we should go for the things that make us scared. Obviously, they didn't mean date a psychopath! Only the things that you are scared of but at the same time never really leave your mind. Those are the things that will make you stronger after you've done them. Those are the things that define your limits, so when you overcome them the strength that comes from it is in discovering your life has no limits.

There is always something in my life that scares me. Some things involve other people, so all I can do is be patient and find ways to keep positive or find alternative solutions if necessary. Like the fear I have of never getting pregnant when my husband finally agrees to start a family. Then there are other small fears, about parts of my body that never worked that well, like my left eye, some day shutting down completely.

The good thing is that usually, the most overwhelming fears are the ones only we can do something about. That's why I believe they exist for a reason. My most overwhelming fear, after I finished my bachelors degree, was to never find a job in graphic & web design. I know it sounds easy to achieve, but my father educated me to be perfect in everything I did, the best and so on... so I grew up afraid of everything I had to do professionally and obsessed with knowledge. But lots of perseverance and even moving to another country, got me there, straight into a full time position with an amazing paycheck.

After a year, I discovered working in design, as commercial as it is today, not only didn't scare me anymore, but was draining me out. I kept doing the job, we bought a car that broke down, we bought another, went on vacations and yet our savings kept getting bigger and bigger (still are very healthy, I'm against credit cards or loans), until one day the economic crisis hit the company, they fired several people before discovering they had to let me go too. That was this October, and I officially left the office in November. Common sense whispered to me that I should apply to another job, doing exactly the same thing. But mentally I was stressed, irritated and feeling very old, with only 30 years of age.

Someone told me to take a couple of months off, relax, enjoy my savings, myself, my fresh married life. Doing that consciously, not applying to another job, was scary as well. What would everyone think?

The next thing was discovering what scared me the most, and that was admitting, after all that hard work, I didn't want to work in design anymore. My family still doesn't know. That's one of the joys of living in another country.

And writing came along after that, very easily, almost like it was meant to be since the beginning, the scariest thing and the thing I should be doing all along.

It feels right.
I know eventually I may want to start a new job (part-time or full-time), but I know now that I will never stop writing again, especially in English, my second language. And the funny thing is writing is scary every-single-day! And that's why I do it.

Vanessa Condez, Note to self: Humanize.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

12. Openings

Several authors write about the importance of Openings.

When starting a new story, Mary Mackie on Creative Editing, advises us that we should make sure the 5 Ws are somewhere in the first paragraphs. Who (character), where (place), when (time), why (motivation) and what (motif). Of course there's an exception to this rule and we may want to leave something out deliberately, as a mystery to disclose later, but the main idea is that the reader doesn't like to feel left out in too many of these things. Readers like to be part of the story as much as possible, for only then they can develop empathy towards the main character and imagine living in their shoes. That's the only reason we read, to live in other people's shoes, to have a break from our lives and our little world.

In Language of Fiction, Keith Sanger uses some sample openings from established authors, comments them, and advises us to pay attention to openings in books we read and loved. See rules that apply to them. Analise if they hold us in, how they do it, and discover why you wanted to read more. If you stopped reading, discover why. If your story has the same gender and voice, avoid the things that drove you out.

Now I understand how important an opening must be, specially in a world where we all move at fast-pace and readers as well as agents will often rely on those first pages to decide if they will keep reading us or drop the book in a forgotten place.

I love the opening of my story. The first line was probably the only thing I didn't edit yet. My challenge has been delivering the rest of that Chapter as strong as that first line I wrote. I keep jumping into other Chapters ahead and coming back to that first Chapter to add one paragraph at a time, editing a lot. I think I'm constantly practicing what I learn from all the manuals and my writing is growing with me. I believe writing is an art we learn with practice and the more I write in English, more natural it becomes and words will flow easily with time. One good thing about writing in my second language is that I check myself much more often than a native speaker and I recognize cliches, and avoid them, easily.

So here're some First Chapter Openings from some of my favorite authors, in very different voices and ways to draw us in:

"Jenny-May Butler, the little girl who lived across the road from me, went missing when I was a child.
The GardaĆ­ launched an investigation, which led to their lengthy public search for her. For months every night the story was on the news, every day it was on the front pages of the papers, everywhere it was discussed in every conversation. The entire country pitched in to help; it was the biggest search for a missing person I, at ten years of age, had ever seen, and it seemed to affect everyone."
Cecelia Ahern, in A Place Called Here.(author of "PS: I Love You")

" I knew it would begin with the end, and the end would look like death to these eyes. I had been warned.
Not these eyes. My eyes. Mine. This was me now.
The language I found myself using was odd, but it made sense. Choppy, boxy, blind, and linear. Impossibly crippled in comparison to many I'd used, yet still it managed to find fluidity and expression. Sometimes beauty. My language now. My native tongue.
With the truest instinct of my kind, I'd bound myself securely into the body's center of thought, twined myself inescapably into its every breath and reflex until it was no longer a separate entity. It was me."
Stephenie Meyer, in The Host. (author of the Twilight saga)

I wish I had an established author or two, willing to read my opening and tell me in all honesty if it's as good as I think it is. But then again, I think we all have different opinions and even what attracts one agent or publisher, may not seem especial to another. So I'll just carry one trying to be my best teacher with what I have and learn each day.

Vanessa Condez, Note to self: Humanize.

11. Why I write

Today I found the quote that defines exactly why I stopped (almost) everything in my life, to write:

"You only lose energy when life becomes dull in your mind. Your mind gets bored and therefore tired of doing nothing. Get interested in something! Get absolutely enthralled in something! Get out of yourself! Be somebody! Do something. The more you lose yourself in something bigger than yourself, the more energy you will have."
Norman Vincent Peale
1898-1993, Pastor, Speaker and Author

Vanessa Condez, Note to self: Humanize.

Monday, December 14, 2009

10. Music gets me there

Music always helped me write. At the moment, I'd recommend Zero 7, Dave Mathews (these guys can never go wrong!) and New Moon's OST.

Vanessa Condez, Note to self: Humanize.