Bad Muse Assigns Homework

Does anyone else have that one friend who’s always getting you into trouble? Yeah.

I am that friend.

Bad Muse Assigns Homework

And can I just say that I’m super happy to have Bad Muse and Cat Cop in the same page? This pleases me.

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Writing Magic

This week’s post is by writer extraordinaire Laura Lancaster, Vice President of the Interior Chapter of the Alaska Writers Guild. She is fun, clever, and has excellent taste in apple juice. Behold her wisdom!magic cards

When I was 12 I learned a magic trick from my next-door neighbor. She showed me an ordinary quarter, put both her arms behind her head like a pitcher about to throw a curveball and scrunched up her face. Then she brought her arms forward and showed me her empty hands.

“See, I just pushed that quarter into my neck. In a few seconds, it will land in my mouth. It doesn’t hurt because it’s magic.” Then she reached into her mouth and tossed the quarter in a high arc. It bounced across the floor with a magical metallic ring.

If I ever see you in person, I’ll teach you the trick that turned me, a shy awkward tween into an awkward ham who did goofy magic tricks.

My favorite went like this: I placed the magic baseball cap in front of me on a table. I declared,“I can make three balloon animals in the time it takes most people to make one.”

Then I whisked a rubber glove from my ball cap, blew it up, held it on top of my head and yelled, “chicken.” I held it high and squeezed the fingers, “cow.” Then I let the air out and the glove dangled, limp. I slowed and dropped my voice. “Jelly fish.”

Even though my shows got lots of laughs, I made lots of mistakes. I once had an audience member stand next to me while I did the quarter trick. He looked behind me and learned the secret. Once I had a large audience and my mom told me I had turned away from the microphone and everyone in the back hadn’t heard a word. They applauded out of politeness.

Now I’m a beginning writer. I look back on my career as a teenage magician and I realize I had found my style, or genre, of magic, but I needed more tricks, practice and critique. Writing is no different.

magic levitationMagicians have to master stage presence, precise movement, and misdirection the way writers have to learn plotting, character creation, effective research, world building, precise prose and any number of other skills. If any of those elements are weak, the magic disappears.

Fortunately, if I, as a goofy, awkward teenager could learn magic tricks and face the nerves of performance, I can learn to write fiction.

I’ve learned from books, blogs and magazines, but one of my most helpful tools are writers groups and professional organizations. I even became the Vice President of the Interior Chapter of the Alaska Writers Guild Interior and I’ve found that even if you are not published, there are three reasons to get involved in the writing community.

Practice Makes Better-

Often writers organizations sponsor critique groups. If you are at a place where you can show your work to others, you ought to. Critique groups, whether online or in person, are a great place to start. You may find partners who understand what you want to do and help you do it better. Like magic coaches, they can show you where your patter is flawed, or when they saw the quarter hidden in your sleeve, so to speak.

Guidance In Going Big-

The community talent shows where I did my magic were a place to start, but to get noticed, you have to work a lot harder. Many writers groups sponsor writing classes or conferences and they’ll give you access to big-time writers who teach craft and agents who can advise you about your pitch or query letter. If you are considering hybrid, indie or self-publishing, many authors in professional organizations have done it and are willing to share what they know about publication options, promotion and sales. Magicians never reveal their secrets to the audience, but the most generous reveal their secrets to other magicians and it’s true of the writers you’ll meet at professional organizations.

Encouragement-

Communication is possibly the hardest thing we humans do. We must have a clear idea in our own heads, then convey it to someone else. Miscommunications have caused professional ventures to fail, battles to be lost and families to split. No one gets it right the first time or all the time. How can we persevere long enough to become effective writers?

I’ve found that meeting regularly with writers is my most powerful motivation. When I meet with my critique group and I didn’t make a submission, everyone one reminds me that they want to find out what happens next, and I know it’s not just politeness, they want to help me write better.magic marbles

I have solved many a plot or characterization problem with other writers over coffee, writers I met at Alaska Writers Guild meetings, and I have helped them do the same. The topics speakers bring to monthly meetings and conferences, such as how to submit to an agent, help me, even if I don’t apply the lessons…yet.

Some people have said that writing cannot be taught, but most people would not say that about stage magic. Natural performers still need to learn skills through professional guidance. Natural storytellers have weaknesses that they must recognize and overcome. Every writer has been there. Keep working. Learn from those around you. Professional writers organizations can put those people around you. So when you watch David Copperfield perform an illusion or read Dicken’s David Copperfield, remember, you too can make your writing magical.

Laura Lancaster is a foodie, sci-fi aficionado and fortune cookie baker. She has been the Vice President in charge of the Interior Chapter of the Alaska Writers Guild for the last four years. She is writing sci-fi novels and short stories. Find her on social media: Twitter: Phoenix40below Facebook: @Phoenixseries and blog: lalancaster.com

To find out more about the Interior Chapter of the Alaska Writers Guild email awginterior@gmail.com or go to www.alaskawritersguild.com/interior-chapter

Working v. Writing 2: Some Final Thoughts

ironingSo, earlier this summer I wrote about my shift to working full time and how that affected my writing life. (Read the full post here!) Now that I’m back on the home front while hubby takes up the mantle of Math Master of Science and Stupendousness at Hutchison High School, I wanted to visit that theme once more to close out that chapter of the year.

I should just admit right off the bat that, sadly, I didn’t learn any earth-shattering secrets of the writerverse. (noooooo!) But I did pick up a few coping strategies, if you will, about how to deal with less energy, less brain power, and less writing time at the end of each day.

In the earlier post, I mentioned that backshop work (blog work, market research, submissions, etc) had more or less ground to a halt. I had to really push myself to get that stuff back on board, and in the end, it had to come out of slated writing time in the evenings. So while I was able to pick that up again, I had to get better at balancing things. I cut back on expectations in one aspect of writing to focus on another, and for that to work, I really had to get a better handle on my priorities. Before, I had the time to do pretty much everything to the degree I wanted. I could research agents and magazines and the lethal dose of dark chocolate (it exists!) and still have time to crank out 2k a day, or edit three pages, or whatever the current project entailed. With only limited time and energy, I had to really figure out how important each of those aspects was to me. Of course, this ratio will be different for every writer, but I do think it was valuable for me to know that about myself. I probably figured it out about midway through the summer, and felt a lot less stressed about the whole affair afterward.

Another thing I mentioned in the previous post was that I was getting better at working more efficiently once I did sit down to work at the end of the day. I think that at the time of writing, I had pretty much maxed out my efficiency- which was a little lame because I was hoping to eke out a bit more than I was getting. But I was very interested to see if that heightened efficiency would disappear once I had all the day to dillydally at the keyboard again. But so far it hasn’t. *blows tiny trumpet* Don’t get me wrong; this doesn’t mean that I can now sit on the couch and burn through ten hours of writing in Go Mode. Far from it. Actually, I’m still in the habit of separating my writing work from my day job, so to speak. My kitchen has been sparkling. Those dishes are done before the leftovers get cold. The meals I make are downright magical. And I’ve plugged back into the library at my boys’ school with a vengeance. It’s only been a few weeks back at home so I’m still waiting to see if this will fade (because let’s all face it, I’m lazy and a terrible housekeeper). But so far, I’ve kept to the habit of hitting the day job hard, and then hitting writing hard the minute the kids go to bed. So the efficiency at writing has actually stuck around so far. Maybe I’ll report back later if that changes.

All in all, it was a good summer. It was good for me to change my system up, and I think it’s still serving me well now that I’m at home again. We’ll see how things evolve in the meantime. I’m still working myself back up to fighting form for this November, but I think I’ll get there. One thing that I learned better than ever this summer is that, whether I’m working in the home or out of it, writing is important to me. I didn’t really get seriously into writing on a regular basis until my first son was born and I started staying home to raise him and manage the household. I’ve always had this kind of niggling suspicion in the back of my mind that maybe I’ll never really make it as a writer because I’m only a hobbyist; that I only took up writing because I was sitting around at home and what else was I going to do with myself.

Working full time this summer fixed that line of thinking. Storytelling isn’t something that I think I’ll ever give up, no matter how hard it gets or how short time becomes. And that’s been gratifying to learn about myself.

Greetings from Camp!

Hello! I gotta say, I’m a little proud of myself lately! In addition to Camp NaNoWriMo, I’m staring down four other writing deadlines this month and- shock of all shocks- I might actually hit them all. This is unprecedented! (And might have something to do with [okay, everything to do with] having damaged my leg and being trapped on a couch with KT tape, compression socks, the works. Nothing slows down an overachiever like crutches. Guess I’ll have to overachieve somewhere else- hello, laptop!)

We’re over halfway through the month now and I’m pretty sure I’d have to lose an arm in a car accident in the next 24 hours to not be able to squeak across the finish line. So I might actually have the time to draw a decent comic for next week! But until then, enjoy another reblog, this time from National Novel Writing Month itself! (By the way, their blog archives are worth trawling if you’re ever low on motivation or ideas.)

This little number caught my eye because it’s doing the opposite of what I normally do on my blog: it’s taking lessons learned from writing and applying them to life in general! Please enjoy and I’ll see you again next week. Happy writing!

5 NaNo Lessons I’ve Applied to the Rest of My Life

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Every November since 2011, as soon as I post the “NaNoWriMo Participant” banner on my social media outlets, I hear two things from friends and family. One is, “You’re mad to tackle 50k words in a month.” The other is, “I wish I had the drive to do that sort of thing!”

I never said I’m not mad (I am a writer, after all). As for the drive… take the word of this former owner of the Pan-American record for Writing Procrastination: that can be taught. So much so that I applied what I learned in six seasons of November madness into other areas of my life that have nothing to do with fiction writing.

After all, most big deadlines can seem like the elusive 50k in November: an Everest of a situation. Whether you want to do it (e.g. get to dance at the Lindy Hop ball, finish a race for the first or tenth time) or you have to do it (e.g. a school essay, a job presentation), the first and irrational reaction, of course, is to panic and freeze, and then say “Nope, won’t do it. There are better people doing it already.”

That’s where the NaNo mind-frame comes in handy.

Want to read the rest? Head on over to NaNoWriMo’s blog via this lovely link!

Reblog: The Bulletproof Writer

mermaid Hello! It’s another NaNo months! Wahoo! *flings confetti* And with that comes stick figures and reblogs, huzzah!

I know we’re only three days in, but I’m feeling good about this month so far. I spent the first day working on a thriller project that I quickly sacked (probably in large part because I am apparently majorly uncomfortable writing about affairs), and then switched over to a Little Mermaid retelling. I’m really enjoying the switch, and it’s great to be drafting again after so long editing. This being a NaNo month, though, let the blogging laziness begin.

Our first reblog of the month is about dealing with rejection, something that I’ve been working hard to get better at. (As you may recall, I have a rejections goal for the year, which sounds a little insane, but is actually kind of working for me.)  If you haven’t come across Joanna Penn’s blog, The Creative Penn, before, it’s definitely worth checking out.

Here’s a piece from her archive by Michael Alvear, called:

The Bulletproof Writer: How To Deal With Rejection

Rejection is part of the writer’s life, whether that’s from an agent or publisher, a one-star review, or lack of sales. But that doesn’t mean that rejection has to destroy you.

bulletproofHere are some tips from Michael Alvear on how to handle it in a more positive way. 

What danger is to a cop, rejection is to a writer–always hanging in the air dripping with possibility. And drip it does, onto the talented and untalented in almost equal measure.

Actually it doesn’t just drip; it pours.

Rejection has a 360-degree aim — from literary agents who don’t want you as a client, editors who don’t want your manuscript, publishers who give you an insulting advance, bad reviews from literary critics, hate speeches on Amazon, and of course the ultimate rejection—poor sales. Somebody, somewhere at just about every stage of your writing life gives you the finger, a hand and sometimes the whole arm.

Success makes it worse because now you have more to lose. Who do you think suffers more—the newbie who can’t get her first manuscript accepted or the best seller who can’t get his last published because his prior two books tanked? Success, as any best-selling author knows, doesn’t protect you from rejection.

Want to read more? Go check out the full post here! And until next week, happy writing!

Working v. Writing: Early Assessment

Working WomanLast summer was crazy-go-nuts. I mean, it was great fun, but it was the kind of great fun that I won’t be doing again for a while. So when we were deciding how we wanted our summer to go down this year, Husband and I agreed that it would be done here in Alaska.

Robert was a little mentally exhausted from this last school year, and so rather than take a summer job, he wanted to stay home as primary caregiver. And since we both know that I’m an incorrigible busybody, it was clear that I’d have to be out of the house for a pretty solid chunk of the time. So I procured me some summer work.

We’re about three weeks into it, and it’s been good so far. My hermitous little soul is pretty frazzled by the end of each day, but other than having to talk to strangers every single day (every. single. day. *inner screams*), I like the job and I like my coworkers and I like the customers. And Robert’s been an excellent stay-at-home daddy; even the kids are having a blast (probably in large part because Papa isn’t nearly the white-sugar-and-refined-grains-will-kill-us-all fanatic that mommy is).

My writing schedule has had to change as well, and I’m still sussing out whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Even when I was at home for most of each day, it was hard for me to write for significant chunks of time, because I can’t concentrate on creative work while the kids are being noisy or, paradoxically, being too quiet. Most of my writing took place at night, so that hasn’t really changed; it’s still the best time for me creatively and logistically. What has changed is the sort of work that I could do before that I now can’t.

I don’t spend the day mulling over writing questions like I did before. I can’t zone out and pick things apart in the back of my mind. Mine is the kind of mind that can have several little brainless things going at once, but only one true focus at a time; and while I’m on company time, that focus has to be on company matters. So when I do sit down to write at night, more of my time has to be spent hashing through the sorts of things that I would typically have already done by the time I sat down to write.

On the other hand, I feel like I can focus a lot quicker and harder on writing stuff now than I did before. There were certainly time constraints on when I could do writing before, but there weren’t constraints on when I could think about writing. And I feel like not even thinking about writing for a solid eight hours of every day rests my brain so that when it’s time to write, I can hit it hard without any mental exhaustion, boredom, whatever you want to call it. This is probably a good thing for me, because I’m mostly cured (in remission?) of my wandering mind during writing time and can really get crackin’ when the time comes.

All in all, I’m probably getting the same amount of actual writing done. I’ve just shifted and compressed the time I do it in. There is, however, one glaring difference I’ve noticed.

My submission rates have tanked. I have done absolutely zero market research. And you all saw what happened with last week’s blog post when I hit a snag. (Hint: nothing.) I haven’t even opened my most recent issue of Writer’s Digest. These are all the things that take the least concentration from me, but, word-for-word, the most time (except maybe reading magazines, haha). It’s clear that I’m prioritizing the creative aspects of writing above the more business-y aspects. And while that’s okay for the short run, it definitely won’t be good for my writing career in the long run.

This is still a relatively new lifestyle shift for me, so I’m hoping that as I continue to adjust, I’ll find my stride again and pick those things back up. But for now, do any of you writer folks who also have a regular day job have any tips for finding the balance? Pretty please let me know in the comments below!

Thank you and happy writing!