Hi, folks! Due to a family emergency, I won’t be able to post today. In another day or two, start looking for a map of the known world for my most recent Camp NaNoWriMo writing project, Box of Bones. Thanks for your patience!
Hello, internet friends! It’s another NaNo month, and yet again I’m woefully unprepared for it. Not only do I have very little idea of what I’m writing this month, but I’m pretty out of practice in creative writing at all. I didn’t write a single creative word the entire time I was in Portugal, and I’ve written very few in the weeks since.
So getting into better writing habits is heavy on my mind going into this month. This week’s reblog addresses just that. Katherine Firth’s Getting Back Into Writing After a Break may be written more toward the thesis writing crowd, but I found it to still be applicable. If you’ve been on a bit of a writing holiday lately but are ready to come back, maybe you will to!
Getting back into writing after a break
by Katherine Firth
Often candidates and researchers come to talk to me when they are trying to get back into academic writing after a long break. That break can be a couple of months of holiday or extended sick leave, or it can be a year of maternity leave, or years in professional or industry roles.
They used to have decent writing habits, but when they tried to start up again, they found it wasn’t working. Writing was hard. They might not get a lot of words down. The words they did produce weren’t very useful. It was slow and painful. They started to wonder if they would ever write well again, if they were still ‘up to it’.
In a previous post I said I wanted to find some tips for people who wrote infrequently. There’s lots of recommendations for regular writers in Your Writing Starter, but if you haven’t been writing for a while, I didn’t have great advice for you. I’ve been thinking about it ever since, and now I think I do have some useful things to say!
This post came to me when I got my sourdough starter out of the fridge after a month of ignoring it. It was disgusting. It was grey and wet and smelled of paint thinner. The top was covered in a white yeast and had set like concrete. There was no way I could give it some flour and bake a loaf that would succeed. If I did try putting it in a loaf of bread it would be flat. So… my writing starter was in pretty poor shape.
Fortunately, I’ve been doing this for a while, so I knew some things I could do…
To read the full article, follow this link!
This is quite possibly my husband’s all-time most passionately hated trope: It Was All A Dream. Because no matter how cool it seems in the dream, no matter how exciting, no matter how high the stakes- this is what it really looks like, except probably with more drool.
Hello! I got back mid last week and we had a great Portuguese vacation! (The only bad thing about the entire trip was that, on our first day there, we received notification that a good friend was lost in the Chatanika River. If you’re feeling flush for it, or just want to leave a message of sympathy and support for his family, there’s a GoFundMe campaign set up for his wife and two small children. Thanks!)
We’ve only been back in town for a couple days, so I haven’t had a chance to sit down and write anything up and so, in keeping with post-vacation photographic tradition, here are some photos. (But I’ll admit it frankly- with this batch, I didn’t even try to find a writing theme to go with it. *pulls at face* I AM SO TIRED.)
- The “new” church at sunset (Pias)
- Me and some water (Foz do Arelho)
- Me carrying all my earthly possessions within five thousand miles (Lisbon)
- A big bright castle (Pena Palace, Sintra)
- A somewhat smaller, somewhat less bright castle (The National Palace, also Sintra)
- Husband breaking things and getting trapped in a bathroom (vegan restaurant in a tiny town on the way to Lagos)
- Dude tried to eat my foot first thing in the morning how rude (Salema)
- You aren’t in love until you share your first bowl of snails (Moura)
- Ghost cat resting in peace (Pias)
- Sunset on the roof (Lisbon)
- The graveyard of an abandoned church my relatives were probably buried in but we’re not sure because the tombs all got raided for rumored gold a couple decades ago, aka people are horrible (outside Pias)
Hi, friends! I forgot to mention last week, but I am now on vacation! I won’t be posting again until June 18th, but I promise some fun goodies when I get back. Until then, happy writing!
A couple months ago, I had the opportunity to help judge a writing competition. I’d never judged at this level before, although I had competed in several judged competitions, so I didn’t quite know what to expect from the process.
I won’t claim that I learned anything earth shattering, but I wanted to a post a few tips I would give writers submitting to competitions in general. Most of this stuff you’ve probably heard a dozen times, but they came up often enough that once more probably won’t hurt, right? Right.
So without further ado, here are my six tips for entering writing competitions.
Use a spell checker. Seriously. Few things are as distracting to me as a reader than an abundance of typos, and they are so easy to guard against these days. Most writing programs will tell you as you’re writing if your words are misspelled, and often even if they’re being misused. (Some even offer style suggestions! Crazy!) So just take a few moments before submitting a story and make sure yuor words is’nt wrong.
Follow submission guidelines/ competition rules. Are you tired yet of being told to follow the rules? I always am! And yet I was shocked at how many of the submissions I reviewed weren’t following guidelines. One wasn’t even the right genre for the competition! When submitting, please make sure you are submitting the right story to the right place and in the right way. Please don’t be That Guy that makes people like me have to keep telling decent internet folk to just follow the rules.
Make sure your story is a story. Does your story have an arc? Does it have conflict? Does it have characters? (I’m not even kidding.) If it’s missing any of these things, squint at it a little harder before sending it in. Even a very skillfully written series of events won’t go far if it’s just that- a series of events. Make sure your story has a beginning, a middle, and an end, preferably with some kind of growth in between. Make sure it’s a story.
The first few paragraphs are key. Make sure that you draw your readers in immediately. When judging, I read through and rated submissions in batches. While I took care not to work while I was totally glazed over, it’s hard to get into a story that starts off in the wrong place, or even too slowly. Short stories have a limited word count so be certain you’re making the most of your space.
Sensory details really sell a setting. Again, limited word count. But that’s why you must make sure that you set the scene quickly and completely. Small, specific sensory details can ground a reader in a time or place with few words and make a huge difference in the reader’s immersion level. Of all the stories I judged, each one described what conversations were heard and what people/things/events were seen and what emotions were felt. Fewer talked about the colors of flowers or the city sounds of cars and construction. A couple talked about how the environment actually felt. Only one mentioned smells and tastes.
Take heart- There are a lot of good writers out there. Whether or not you win, you’re probably one of them! Even if you don’t place the first time, or the first ten times, don’t sweat it. Any writing competition is going to draw in writers of all levels and, while judges try to be objective in their criteria, there is some personal taste going into the matter, too. If your story doesn’t get picked, don’t quit. Polish the story a little more and find another place to submit it to. Never surrender!
The day before my husband and oldest son went on a caribou hunt, I bought a vacuum sealer from a second hand store. It did not work. Annoyed, I returned it, and my annoyance was compounded by the fact that I could only return it for in store credit, and that credit had to be used immediately. (This was after being told at the time of purchase that yes, of course I could return the item, and nothing more was said. I feel like something more should have been said.)
In the midst of my discontented wanderings through the store, I came across a most beautiful thing- a vintage turquoise Smith-Corona portable typewriter. Of course, it was irrevocably broken, as all things in this shop seem to be. But still, it was fun to plink away on and I’m sorry I didn’t buy it. It would have been just lovely on my book case and I could have spent many happy hours tinkering with it in the vague hope that I could resurrect it and name it Lazarus, but my husband would have caught me trying to sneak it in the house and given me that look and really, I don’t have any room on the book cases anyway. Alas. (In other news, I need more book cases. And a bigger house.)
But just touching that typewriter made me feel suddenly more creative, and I hustled home (with a bunch of new books I’m not sure where to put and some curtains I’ll never use, curse you, vacuum sealer) and knocked out another chapter in the Copper book I posted a chapter from last month (read here!).
The typewriter got me thinking. Some writing methods work better for me than others. And some that work for me might not work for as well for other writers. So I thought it might be fun to spend some time writing using several different recording methods and see if any patterns emerged. I came up with several styles of writing that I wanted to try, and went forth, hoping that a victor would emerge in each of these categories: best for brainstorming; best for drafting; best for editing. Each of the following writing methods was ranked according to these categories. Read on for my own personal results!
Method: Longhand, cursive
I know so many people who draft in longhand. (Sadly, I don’t know anybody who still uses shorthand to write anything more than short notes, and I was too lazy to learn stenography for this.) I don’t normally draft in longhand so it was fun to give it a try.
Pros: very good for inspiring creativity; excellent for working out outlines of books and individual scenes; very accessible;
Cons: difficult for later editing; in nearly all cases, must be transcribed to a digital format for sharing;
Method: Longhand, print
Everyone I know who uses longhand for writing does it exclusively in cursive. So I though, ‘Huh! What’s wrong with print?’ And once I start asking questions, I gotta find answers. All in the name of science. Sort of.
Pros: actually somewhat better WPM than cursive (Ms. Hardman lied to me); accessible;
Cons: doesn’t feel quite as inspiring as cursive; same cons as cursive;
Method: Typing, computer
This is my workhorse. A solid ninety percent, maybe more, of my writing uses this method.
Pros: very quick WPM; easy to keep files together and organized; easy to share materials with others;
Cons: computer isn’t always accessible; I am so very, very bad at technology; screens make my eyeballs sad; inspirationally meh;
Method: Typing, mechanical typewriter
Wow it took me half of forever to scrounge one up to type on. I’d never used one this old before and I was a little afraid to touch it, haha. It didn’t type very well, but honestly, the thing is like a hundred years old and I’m really impressed it worked at all.
Pros: mega super fun; creatively inspiring; that little ding at the end of the line; general coolness; that typing sound- something about the clickety-clack of a typewriter just feels all inspired and literary;
Cons: SO HARD TO FIND; keys jammed when typing too fast; had to push the keys really deep to get the typebars up to the page; machine was old and I didn’t know how to change the ribbon (let alone where to get one); difficult to edit;
Method: Typing, electronic typewriter
I actually managed to scrounge up not one, but two of these- each of them in dusty storage rooms of increasingly underfunded libraries. Go figure.
Pros: halfway between an old typewriter and a computer for coolness and inspiration; able to keep up with my typing speed;
Cons: relatively obscure- difficult to procure, and doubtless difficult to keep in repair; difficult to edit;
Method: Audio Recording
This method started out at a steep disadvantage, largely because I hate the sound of my voice. Not enough that I’d consider ever shutting up, but still. (It really didn’t help that I’ve been sick and sniffly for the entire duration of this experiment.)
Pros: can be done relatively hands free once you hit record; thoughts can be recorded quickly; very accessible if you have a phone that takes recordings; assuming recording was on a phone, sharing is very easy;
Cons: Very self-conscious of doing character voices; self-conscious of my just normal human voice; how does editing even happen like this; must be transcribed into another format for editing and sharing; while it worked well for taking notes, it was TERRIBLE for doing actual prose or, even worse, dialog;
There are many, many ways to record stories out there. And while I was tempted to bust out some clay tablets or carve on some tree bark, I by no means exhausted the possibilities. These are just the methods that I thought a decent percent of people might actually regularly use. (Maybe not the typewriters these days. That was more for fun.)
But anyway, here is some data because data is delicious.
|Longhand, cursive||48; 54||25.5||Easy||Medium||Difficult||****|
|Longhand, print||51; 57||27||Easy||Medium||Difficult||***|
|Typing, digital||142; 150||73||Easy||Easy||Easy||***|
|Typing, electronic typewriter||82; 83; 79; 77; 77;||78.8||Difficult||Medium||Difficult||****|
|Typing, mechanical typewriter||Didn’t record||Slooow||WHYYY||Medium||Difficult||*****|
|Audio recording||373 in 4 min||93.25||Easy||Difficult||Easy||*|
So the results are in and I think we have our winners! For brainstorming, I definitely did best with longhand cursive. For drafting, digital typing (on my laptop) was hands down the winner, as it was for editing. Typing on a computer isn’t the most inspiring way for me to write, but it is the quickest and the easiest, and it’s way easier to edit and share than its counterparts.
But that’s just me! Seriously guys, this was great fun running this experiment. You should consider doing it yourselves. Just spend a few hours working away using each method and see if any patterns emerge. You never know when you might stumble across your next big breakthrough on putting out your best work.
Until next week, happy writing!
(PS- Warning: in a couple more weeks, I’ll be skipping the country again and I’ve slated about a month of not putting up blog posts, depending on how quickly I recover, etc. But I promise I’ll bring you back some cool pictures and new sample settings. More details to come.)