Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Voice of Reason

Wisdom of an Inner Editor
Greetings, blog readers. Allow me to introduce myself; I am Renee's Inner Editor.

Now, don't go looking at me like that. Inner Editors have a horrid reputation, I know, but there's no need to recoil. And scrunching up your nose in that manner is just rude, if you don't mind my saying so.

You may be under the impression Renee runs away every time I come calling and the Muse and I have to be kept in separate rooms for the sake of both our continued good health, but that simply isn't true. Renee and I happen to enjoy working together a rather lot and I even have a very cordial working relationship with the Muse.

It has been brought to my attention by the Idea Salesman, in his typically disrespectful--"Hot Librarian Chick" is not an appropriate moniker for a coworker, in my opinion--but also infuriatingly logical manner, that I agreed to contribute to this blog to further your understanding of Renee's creative process and provide some small form of entertainment. I also hope to dispel some of the more malicious myths out there regarding my kind.

Inner Editors, being abstract concepts of the mind, don't typically have much opportunity to defend ourselves in an open forum. The Idea Salesman was not incorrect in assessing the rare opportunity I have at my disposal. I do so abhor his being right; he never lets those rare moments pass unremarked.

Contrary to popular belief, Inner Editors are not a "necessary evil". (We are, of course, quite necessary. We're just not evil.) I don't hate Renee or the Muse and I don't get any thrill out of slashing through great swaths of raw prose with a giant red pen. Do not mistake my having a career I happen to enjoy for anything more than that.

We don't need to be tied up and hidden away in a dark closet or shipped off to deserted islands when there is writing to be done. Nor do we particularly appreciate such treatment. And don't think to just pack us off on some fancy pleasure trip either. I love a good Caribbean cruise as much as the next girl, but that kind of vacation isn't very restful.

Be serious now. Could you relax in even the most luxurious stateroom if you knew that someone back home was hosting a chaotic festival celebrating the wildest of wild abandon in your living room, making a huge mess you knew you'd have to clean up as soon as you returned?

I didn't think so.

Working with an Inner Editor is not a bad thing. We're not here to judge you or torment you. We're here to help. To separate the grand ideas the Muse inspired from the chunky adverb-inflated text and stilted dialogue you wrote as the coffee was running low and the real world was creeping into the edges of your concentration.

Do we harp on you about horrid comma abuse your routinely engage in? Naturally.

Do we nag you about big blank white space your characters sometimes stumble into when having an heated argument? Of course we do.

Do we continually remind you to include, or remove, the sidekick you insisted on bringing into the story and then constantly leave hanging on the edges of every scene? Well, that's just polite.

Consider for a moment the prose you would be stuck with if we weren't there to help you with those things.

Ah, yes. Now we've come to an appropriate point in the conversation for you to recoil and scrunch up your nose.

You're welcome. Now go buy your Inner Editor something nice to show your appreciation. And stay away from giant red pens. There's no need to make a cliché of yourself.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Now is not a "Good" Time

I had a different topic planned for the blog today, but as you'll see in a bit, today didn't exactly go as planned. This turned out a bit whinier than I'd like, but I figure it's probably best to show off what I don't know about writing right alongside what I do. I'll let you decide which posts are which.

CONFESSION: This is not a good time for me to begin a writing career.

No, really, it's not. I have small children. I spend my days changing diapers, making bottles, trying to sneak redeeming nutritional content into boxed macaroni and cheese because that is all my toddler will eat for dinner this week, and singing about the itsy-bitsy spider over and over and over...

Also, my husband's career is taking off and taking us right with it, meaning half our apartment is in boxes and soon we'll be living in a completely different part of the country. In the next week, everything must be packed and prepped (or pitched). And then there will be several days in the car with the kids and the cats. And then there will be unpacking and settling in and teaching the girls about the wonders and glories (and shoveling) of snow.

(As an aside, I'm a little concerned about the dangers of moving to Chicagoland. Wizards and vampires and all manner of other supernatural things have chosen to come out of hiding and live openly there. Is it something in the pizza, do you think?)

My days are long and exhausting and there is never really time for me to write. There are a million other tasks on my to do list and most nights I get into bed so tired I'm sure I could sleep solid for a year and still not feel rested.

Stress and fatigue are tough enemies to fight. So is doubt, by the way. And fear. And let's face it, doubt and fear are usually lurking somewhere behind the myth of "now's just not a good time". And it's not a battle you fight once. Fear and doubt and stress and fatigue never really go away. They hide themselves away in the small shadows at the back of the subconscious, patiently waiting to slip out and ruin your thoughts again another day.

I've been at this aspiring novelist thing for three months now this time around. I've successfully converted my thinking to accept 4AM as a normal wake up time. I've gone public with my family and friends and, well, all you lovely people. I've settled on a routine I like and trained Long-Suffering Husband into working around it. Even the cats have adjusted and no longer pitch fits when I'm in the "wrong" part of the house before sunrise.

I don't know what your cats are like. My eldest feline basically runs our house like a furry little cross between a drill sergeant and a very stern librarian, with a little Catholic school teacher/nun thrown in for good measure.

And in spite of all this, I still this very morning had a meltdown. I deleted everything I wrote (bad writer!) and spent an hour ranting to my husband about how my main character is a selfish whiny idiot and no one will ever want to read about her and maybe I should just scrap the whole story and start over. Or better yet, maybe I should just scrap the whole writing thing altogether and go back to being a person who's highest ambition is getting a decent amount of sleep at night, because clearly sleep is all my feeble little mind is capable of.

Oh, I was growly and snippy and I'm sure quite the joy to wake up to this bright sunny morning. I feel so bad for that poor man sometimes.

But I won't scrap the whole writing thing or even the story. I'll get up ridiculously early again tomorrow morning and shamble out to the kitchen for a cup of coffee and a few bites of toast. And then I'll plop myself down in front of the keyboard and grab my selfish, whiny, stupid main character by the hair. I'll shake some sense into her and do my best to send her on her way. I'll apologize to my husband (um... sorry honey!) and try to remember that I can do this and I want to do this and I'm here not because someone forced me but because I wouldn't let anything stop me.

Because that's what you do. That's the way it works. There's never a "good" time. There's just now. Or never.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

My Worst Advice

Pretty much every writer has that one piece of writing advice they hate to hear. It's like nails on a chalkboard for them and as soon as the words drop off of some well-meaning critique partner's or writing buddy's lips, they cringe away with dismissive irritation or irate annoyance or at the very least a heavy sigh and an exasperated "I know."

Maybe they don't agree with the philosophy behind it. Maybe they don't really understand it. Maybe they've just heard it so many times it’s become more like dieting tips than anything else. Everything in moderation, dearie; it's all about portion control and if you just found a little more time to work exercise into your daily routine…

There’s a lot writing advice out there and most of it is misunderstood at best, ruthlessly abused at worst. I have a critique partner who took Stephen King's words about eliminating adverbs so seriously that she'd slash out every word ending in -ly she came across. Even the ones that weren't adverbs. I began to slip extra seriouslys and quietlys and angrilys into the pages I brought to critique meetings just to see her get all worked up over them.

Someone else I know got so caught up in the idea of beginning the story with an action scene that she reworked her entire plot just to accommodate a fight that didn't actually make any sense.

Ever gone so far to avoid exposition that you forgot to mention the main character’s name until page 65? I know a guy who did that.

I used to keep a spreadsheet to comparing the frequency of be verbs in my prose to all the other words in an attempt to minimize my use of passive voice.

Write what you know. Eliminate needless words. Use adverbs sparingly (the sparingly there makes that one my favorite). Avoid passive voice. Lead with action.

Show, don't tell.

Show, don't tell is my personal writing diet tip. I've heard it about 10 million times and it took me forever to actually understand what I was being told. How do you show without telling when you’re writing? It's not a movie. I can't actually show you anything! I'm a storyteller; I have to tell you things! That's how words work, dammit!

You can see from my excessive use of italics and exclamation points that I used to get quite worked up when I'd hear this particular piece of advice. Because I didn't understand it.

On the surface, it seems very straight forward. You should show the reader what happens by actually writing the scenes, not tell them about it by recapping afterward. At least, that's what I always thought it meant.

HINT: That's not what it means.

You should absolutely write the important and interesting scenes so your reader can see your characters in action. You should absolutely not spend a crap ton of words dumping world building and character backstory on your readers. But that's not what show, don't tell is really about. At least, that's not what people were saying to me when they gave me that particular piece of advice.

You have to give the reader the details they need in some kind of context, rather than just info dumping. Here’s a somewhat clumsy example: take a look back at my introductory post.( Obviously, I still have a lot to learn and this isn't the best example out there, but it's mine and it's what I'm going with.) After reading that post, what do you know about me?

Well, you know right away that I've started at least one new novel, or I'm at least passingly familiar with the process. You can probably tell this isn't the first blog I've set up either. It sounds like I've read a few things about how publishing works and how novels are supposed to begin. I went to college and while I was there I took a marketing class. I have imaginary friends. My name is Renee Elizabeths (that's my pseudonym anyway) and I don’t find standard bio pages very interesting. I'm familiar with Twitter and a couple of products offered by the good folks at Google. I'm married to a guy I knowingly heap quite a bit of guilt onto and I have kids. I write very early in the morning before my kids wake up.

If you read it a little more critically  you'll discover I'm fond of run-on sentences and I like to write with a relaxed, somewhat conversational style. For the most part I write in complete sentences with correct spelling and proper grammar, but I'm not totally rigid about those concepts. I make a couple of references to SF/F tropes, so I must have at least a basic understanding of that particular genre. I clearly have no understanding of what goes on during fishing trips. I'm probably going to spend a lot of time on this blog relating things to the mechanics of writing a novel. I try and fail quite frequently at being witty and interesting. And none of my critique partner's advice about slashing out adverbs stuck.

Now, I'm not setting myself up to brag here, but I think the way I wrote the original post was more interesting to read than those last two paragraphs. I didn't detail the college experiences that made me realize the business world wasn't for me and I wanted to write professionally. I also didn't give you a full history of my previous and failed attempts at reaching this goal, share far more information than I should about my marriage, or overload you with fun facts about my children.

And yet still I showed you who I am. I didn't just sit down and tell you.

But I obviously still haven't fully mastered the concept, because I couldn't just let that post stand there and speak for itself. I had to hold it up here and shout "Look! Look at this cool thing I sort of did!"

Oh well. It's a process.