I needed a laugh.

I am not a professional writer. I can hardly call myself an amateur writer. As such, I have absolutely no right to poke fun at anyone who has actually managed to attain the golden pedestal of Published.

But I’m going to, anyway!

https://hotteaanddarkchocolate.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/06610-protectingthepregnantprincess.jpg

This cover makes me laugh. It’s so ridiculous, on so many levels… the alliteration in the title, the hilariously buff man-hunk, the cheesy mood lighting from the stove in the background, their pose, it just… it just… it just IS! I can’t even begin… just… look at it! I don’t care how brilliant or schlocky the writing inside is – I’ll never find out because of the absurdity of the title and cover.

<here endeth the fun-poking> Here’s hoping y’all don’t look at the cover and immediately think it’s the most beautiful piece of artwork you’ve ever laid eyes on. If so, mea culpa – feel free to poke fun back!

Wishful

I’m not the adventureful type.

I might be the type to make up a word when the whim strikes hard. Adventureful – added to my vocabulary. It puts an instant image into your head, doesn’t it? Maybe your image isn’t the same as mine, but I immediately think of ‘an adventureful person’ as strong and bold, confidence in their stance and stature, with a grin on their face and a shrug ready on their shoulders. Effortless, in control, and seeking some new thrill at which the rest of us will marvel while they just take it in stride.

I might be the type to daydream. You know, let your thoughts just wander for a little while, go wherever they want, and in fifteen minutes or thirty seconds or two hours later, your thoughts are someplace you would never have guessed? I like that notion, that your thoughts can run away with you. Maybe that’s why I write, or one of the many reasons why I write – I can turn my mind out to play, sift through what it gives me, and then let it continue to play with those little quirks that catch my attention. It sounds like a game when I think of it like that.

I might be the type to focus. There’s a point when you can’t daydream anymore, did you know? I let my thoughts play and wander because they need rest and play just as much as I do (even if I convince myself I don’t), but when they’ve had their breath of fresh air and stretched their legs, they go back to work. I enjoy single-mindedness; there’s something refreshing in leaving the rest of the world behind. Leave it, lose it, let it disappear, forget everything and go.

I might be the type to throw myself in headfirst. Who doesn’t, sometimes? It’s a bit of a rush – think something through first, but in so many instances, the answer isn’t a cut-and-dry one-size-fits-all, and the scales are evenly balanced. I hate these and love these, but I can’t take them half-heartedly… I love that rush, seizing one choice when everything’s been considered and contemplated until the dead horse is in smithereens, and then diving headfirst into the moment with a whoop.

I might be the type to be spontaneous. Why not? Give it a split-second of time and thought, make sure it isn’t wildly moronic, and then go with it if only for the reason because. Sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes, though, the spontaneity drops me places I’d never have gotten to on my own, or shows me a hidden door I’d never have found, or runs me face-first into someone I’d never have met or even conceived of meeting. It’s a little terrifying, sometimes, but it’s like diving in headfirst – there’s that little thrill that overwhelms the part that’s a little terrifying.

I might be the type to be curious. My last words will be the question what does this do? Pushing buttons (and, oh yes, all kinds!), putting things together, reading a new story or journal or report… I can’t help it, really. There’s always something new to find and different to do, and why box yourself up when there’s exploring to be had? True, some things are better left alone and unknown. Some things…

I might be the quiet type. I speak in whispers more often than shouts, and this is when I speak at all – why are my words so important? The art of listening takes time and patience to perfect, and I have a long way left to go. Let others do the speaking while I stand back and watch, listening, because their words have more value than mine. I am the young one, the ignorant one, the inexperienced one, and so I have nothing to say and everything to learn.

I still have that image, that adventureful, playing the back of my mind. Effortless confidence. Strong and bold and brave, the thrill so usual that it has become ordinary. Grinning, shrugging, not worried about their next moment or their next adventure, taking all things in stride and navigating with ease. It’s a pretty image, and I can’t let it go.

I might be the wishful type.

Dragging, Flagging, Falling Behind

It’s a Sunday night. Again.

School tomorrow. There will be hours of practice, snarls at the music when it refuses to sink into my fingers, a deep breath when it feels hopeless, swallow down the despair and keep pushing until there’s that sudden click and it falls into place…

There will be the driving. Hours spent in the car on a daily basis. I love the driving, a quick shift and a neat turn, but traffic has a way of stealing souls and leaving them to wither and crinkle in the gutter.

Survive the drive, endure the practice, and then there is homework. Busywork, mostly, the sort that takes an eternity to complete and a moment to understand – the sort that makes you wonder what the point of life is, and how in the name of all the good and true that this pointless piece of paper is somehow relevant to any part of your life at all. An eternity to complete, a moment to understand, and so every moment you spend on it is a moment spent wishing you could snatch the moment back and give it to something else. Something better.

Sunday night. Again. Deep breath, ready for the plunge?

Another week of this. Snatching moments and sprinting through the practice – because it may be what I do, but isn’t always what I want to do.

I count the days until the semester is over. Until I can breathe again, ease the frenetic pace… not snatch away the moments that are being stolen away by pointless things. Is that bad, or do I know my priorities well?

I love the music. I love the driving. I love the learning.

I will never love the endless practice, the miles of traffic, the busywork that serves only to ingrain my hatred of a concept after it has already been learned and understood. I cannot love that.

It’s good, it’s bad, it’s wild and insane and wonderful. I hate it and love it, sometimes at the same time. In spite of that, though… in spite of the intensity of commitment, the emotional swings and the dedication required, I have to wonder. Maybe this entire experience isn’t about the music, maybe it’s not about school at all. Maybe it’s not about what I am or what I’m doing, but about what I’m not and what I’m losing.

I have to wonder… maybe the best part is that I’ve learned just how much I loved the writing.

Then again, maybe that’s the worst.

I miss it.

Ever wish books had ratings?

I’d like to think it would be convenient. Not just the entirely unhelpful “Recommended for ages 16+”, either – I’m talking a movie-style review, not just R or PG or whatever but a semi-detailed “Rated such-and-such for X, Y, and Z.”

Really. How many times have you picked up a book – or worse, gotten halfway through it – and been turned off by something you weren’t expecting? Maybe it sure seemed like a paranormal romance, but it’s looking gorier by the minute. Or how about an action-flick style novel with an engaging story and great characters, but way more swearing than you bargained for?

I like being able to open a book and have a rough idea of what I’m going to get. Do you all have any idea how excited I’d be to open up a fantasy book with a little blurb on the back: “Rated R for violence, mild gore, and intense fantasy action.”?  Or how much time it would save me if I saw a fantasy novel that said “Rated PG-13 for some sexual content.”?

I know I’m Maybe I’m crazy, but I have specifics likes and dislikes, and I wish there were a good way to tell in advance what the likelihood of a book catering to those likes/dislikes would be. I know that books are highly subjective, but hey, so are movies, right? If we can establish a standard rating system for film, why is it so lacking in books? “Recommended for ages 16+” says… well, absolutely nothing.

I’ve been considering this lately for two reasons: firstly, reading. Would be nice to have a vague idea of what to expect when I crack open a book. Content varies so widely from author to author, book to book… different people emphasize different things. Sometimes it clicks and I love it. Other times, it’s just not my thing.

Secondly, though – my writing tends to vary. (Yes, yes, I know. My author name is my brand, reader expectations, consistency, blah blah de blah. Sorry, I write for myself, and realistically, my writing will probably never be my livelihood!) I have stories that swing the pendulum in all different directions: I’ve got a story with no swearing at all, and a story where “f—” is in every other paragraph. I’ve got a story without so much as a kiss, I’ve got a story with a character who is sexually abused. And we won’t talk about violence or gore…

In sum, it depends on the character cast. I like variety, but that plays against me in the consistency department – and, yes, I do consider that. The first story I’d self-publish, Everfire, is very tame in regards to swearing and sexuality, but pretty heavy in the violence department. Recommended age, maybe 16+?  My other stories, though… I might push the age up to 18. But then, who am I to judge? What does saying “recommended age” really mean? When I was sixteen, I’d have gobbled up any of the stories that I’ve written so far, but nothing fazed me as a teenager. Or ‘almost nothing’, at least.

It just frustrates me that there’s no standard, succinct way to tell potential readers “Look, here’s a general idea of what you’re going to get. Don’t like violence? Don’t read Book X. Don’t like swearing? Don’t touch Book Y. Trigger warning for Book Z.” Fellow authors, what do you do? Just stay consistent in your writing, assign a ‘recommended age’ or some such thing, and go from there? Or something more detailed in the book description? Or…?

Smack me with it. What do you do – or do you even think about it?

How to annoy your beta readers in 7 easy steps

(Before I launch into the “meat” of this post – heh, as if I ever have this thing called “meat” – here’s a belated Monday update: I’m going to USC. Money might dry up after a year, so there’s a distinct possibility I’m not completing a Master’s – but I’m going to take the plunge and give it a shot. Grab life by the horns, yeah?)

I’m now working more intensively on Everfire revisions, and that means both my beta readers are getting new reading material. Yes, I only have two readers, but I’m all right with that; one of them is a brilliant writer and reads with craft in mind (she needs to be published. It’s killing me that she isn’t yet – I want to share her writing with y’all and show you how amazing it is!), and the other is brilliant when it comes to clarity (in wording, structure, and character). Polar opposites, but both relevant. I get very different types of feedback from each one, and both kinds are helpful.

Two readers. It’s great.

Usually.

Except on those rare occasions when both fixate on one thing – and one absolutely loathes it, the other is absolutely in love with it. One of them has offered some very cutting criticism, almost impossible to swallow, and the other has bathed the section in sparkling glitter-speak. And, to make it worse, both have legitimate reasons.

So, after trying to navigate that interesting little situation, I present: What not to do when your beta readers disagree (Or: How to Annoy Your Beta Reader in Seven Easy Steps)

1) Tell yourself that it’s all right, the one who loved it is the one you should listen to. They’re the one that understands you, they know the effect you’re going for, they actually see your writing as you want it to be seen. The one that disagreed… you know, they just didn’t get it, and that’s their problem.

2) Respond immediately to the criticism. You need to know why, how, what – it’s so that you know why this person misperceives your writing, and you’ve got to know now. Yes, that’s just it. It wouldn’t be that your ego is injured and you want an excuse to write off what you don’t want to hear? … No, thought not. Moving on.

3) Argue. Well, now you know what they think – but they’re just so wrong, you can’t help yourself! They’ve missed (Insert Point of Your Choosing Here)! Don’t they see, they were reading too quickly, or they weren’t paying attention, or they’re biased because their brother’s sister’s cousins’ dog had a nervous breakdown that morning! … It’s not about justifying your writing, it’s that this person is misinformed and you have to enlighten them!

4) Say you aren’t changing anything. This is your baby, and it’s perfect just the way it is! (“Excuse me, I’d like to order a replacement pair of rose-colored glasses? Extra thick? Thank you!”)

5) Start re-reading the piece in question. How could they perceive it that way, you ask? Maybe you should take a look at it again… what if they had a point? What if you are being as stupid as they say? Just a quick look to refresh your memory, look at those words again…

6) Get paranoid. What if they’re, heaven forbid, right? You’d never admit it – but what if they are?! What if… what if… what if… no, it’s not working, why are you writing in the first place, you clearly don’t know the first thing about the art of storytelling, what were you thinking?! Idiot! How dare you call yourself a writer?!

7) Seek reassurance from the beta reader who loved it. They understand you, and they loved your writing for what it was – they’ll set all that paranoia to rest, now, won’t they? They’ll gently take your hand and assure you that you know what you’re doing, that your writing is the divine offspring of whipped cream and starlight, that you are the Stephen Hawking of literary craftsmanship… and you soak up all the compliments like a sunbather in Miami. (Stop when you’re glowing with writerly radiance, taking care to desist before reaching the boiled lobster stage.) You may be paranoid, but at the end of that reassurance session – never mind that they’re probably rolling their eyes at you, you feel wonderful now!

… There. You have now successfully frustrated both beta readers! Trust neither, irritate both – congratulations!

Note to my future self: try these alternatives.

1) Remember that you have two beta readers for a reason. Both know what they’re doing. You value their opinions for a reason, even when it hurts. Granted, they can’t both be right all the time – but that’s why you have two. Deep breath, acknowledge.

2) Respond immediately, but not to the criticism. Understand exactly what the reader is addressing, make sure you know what their concerns are, and how they feel the writing didn’t measure up. It’s hard to take an opinion into consideration without knowing exactly to what they object.

3) Don’t agree or disagree. Sit on it. Let it stew. Odds are, if they reacted so strongly, something isn’t working quite the way you want – give the writing time to settle and the opinions of your readers time to meld.

4) Don’t think about editing yet – whether it should stay the same or change. Again: let it stew. Don’t tell yourself you won’t change anything. Don’t tell yourself you will. If the criticism is that painful, you’re not in any position to judge yet; you’re still grieving over that poor, wounded little whipped-cream angel-baby.

5) Don’t re-read until the next day. Odds are, the writing is still fresh in your mind. Let it distance a little before you come back to it so that you can at least pretend to be objective.

6) Ponder, but don’t worry. Resist that temptation to read again. Ponder what you wanted to achieve with the section, what you wanted to convey, and how best to convey it. Put it on a back burner and just let it simmer.

7) Understand why the other reader loved it. Very different from seeking reassurance. Know what they liked, what they thought worked, what they thought was effective, and that’ll give you a few more ingredients to simmer on that back burner. Take the options, throw them together, and then sleep on all of it. It’s quite a comfy nest, albeit one that might keep you up at night if you let it.

And, whether you’ve already successfully annoyed two readers or have just successfully learned from a painful critique – one last thing to remember:

8) Go with your gut.
You know your audience. You know your writing. You know what you want.
So do it.

“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.” – Stephen King

I just want to know.

Today, USC (finally) updated my financial aid package: they added the amount of music scholarship I’d be getting. Now, this should be a good thing. Right? Right. Not necessarily.

The amount that’s showing up is not the same amount that was discussed. It’s oddly linked, though… exactly half of what I was told I was getting. This means one of two things:

1) The amount is correct, and there was a miscommunication between the professor working to get me a decent fin aid package and the music department. Instead of the amount that he wanted to get me per semester, they gave me that amount per year.

2) The amount is wrong, and someone input the amount I should be receiving per semester as the amount I should receive per year.

To be entirely honest – at this point, I don’t care whether it’s 1 or 2. Option 1) means that I’m not going to grad school. Option 2) means I will. I don’t care which it is. At this point, now that it’s mid-May, I just want to know. I’d like to know which state I’ll be living in come August. I’d like to be able to start planning for what I’m doing over the next year or two. As of right now, I can’t, because I have these pretty little numbers hanging over my head.

I don’t care which it is. I just want to have some vague idea of how to proceed with my life. I want to be able to not spend my time trying to get these numbers sorted out when I have reading, writing, practicing, and working to do. I just want to know.

Changes in attitude

My mental age may still be stuck solidly at 9 years or so, but my writing isn’t. While looking over my writing today (two finished stories, what the heck, when did that happen, huh?), I realized that, though there are some incredible similarities between what I wrote as a ten or eleven year old, I’ve broken multiple of Ten Year Old Me’s cardinal rules.

I started writing for very concrete reasons: namely, the books I read at the time irritated me, and for a variety of reasons. Too much romance. Characters all felt the same. Worlds need expansion. Not enough gore. (Some things never change, heh.) Me being me, there was only one solution: write my own flippin’ stories, ’cause no one else could do it right!

So, just for kicks and grins, here are some of the reasons I started writing, and how I’ve stuck or broken with them.

Reason #1: My favorite character always died.

Then: I couldn’t stand it. It drove me to tears and to insanity. Why did my favorite character always have to die?! I didn’t understand, I was a child, why did these sadistic authors inflict such emotional trauma upon me?!

Now: It still bothers me to some degree, but for a specific reason: so often, when my “favorite” character dies, it’s a cheesy or unnecessary death. I dislike it when the author specifically builds reader attachment to a character, only to destroy it for no apparent reason except for making things “realistic” (or some such excuse). I call bull. I’ve read so many character deaths that were entirely out of character – situations that were so contrived they became laughable. Call that realistic? No. However: I will write character deaths now, and when done well, I can only object to them so much in others’ writing. Death can be a very useful plot tool, it can make sense in the story, and it can work. As long as it’s not pointless, I’m… *sniff* … okay with it.

Reason #2: Fantasy all felt the same.

Then: Everything felt like a LotR ripoff. Same world, same species, same interracial and cultural dynamics, same problems… blah! Who wants that?  So, I set to work making my own worlds, and they’d sure as heck better not be straight out of LotR.

Now: It’s still a major complaint. Too often, a new fantasy story feels like LotR slightly reimagined… I’m sorry, but Tolkien and Tolkien alone did his world best, now can the rest of the world get off the bandwagon? So, it’s still driving me to write – but I’d like to think that after over ten years of practice creating my own worlds, I’ve started getting the knack for not dishing out the same thing over and over again. I’m not sure I could even enjoy LotR style fantasy as much as I did before; exploring new worlds and new ideas sounds far more exciting than revisiting a Tolkien-esque world not done by Tolkien.

Reason #3: Too much romance.

Then: Cut the kissing and go kill the demon!

Now: Okay. I let you hug. You acknowledged your emotions. Now get moving and kill the demon!

Needless to say… I’m not into the kissy stuff. I had a minor identity crisis when I realized that Icewriter opened with a proposal scene – but the guy got cursed less than thirty seconds later, so my psyche escaped undamaged. 😀

Reason #4: The main characters were stupid, to the point that I, a ten year old, could have strategized better.

Let me start out by saying this: as a ten year old, my estimations of my own intelligence were slightly exaggerated.

Then: Plot holes, predictable beginnings, middles, and ends, and stupid battlefield tactics. Couldn’t stand it! … but, looking back, my writing wasn’t exactly brilliance in action, either.

Now: If I’ve got a character screwing things up out of their own stupidity, it’d better be for a darn good reason. I’d like to think I’ve gotten better about evading plot holes and ensuring that characters act rationally and intelligently (but always within character)?

Reason #5: The creatures bored me.

Then: if I had to deal with another stock vampire, werewolf, or dragon story, I would have chucked the book across the room. I hated the lack of originality, and even as a ten year old, I came up with an entire zoo of my own mythical and magical creatures.

Now: if I had to deal with another stock vampire, werewolf, or dragon story, I won’t even read past the description. I’m twenty-three, and my zoo has turned into a menagerie so large I have species sheets to keep track of everything within each story so I don’t accidentally mix story-worlds. I’ve learned that I do enjoy utilizing undead, werewolves, and on rare occasions, vampires; however, I still can’t bring myself to use the stock style critters in my writing. Example: in Everfire, the undead can be killed by breaking the skull, snapping the spine, orrrrrr…

by consuming chocolate. Yep. Chocolate. Yes, there’s a reason behind that, I swear! (And, just so you know, coffee works, too, but not as effectively. Want to drop an animation fast? Throw cocoa powder at it!)

Reason #6: I wanted characters with spunk and fire.

Then: I don’t mind characters who are mellow and softspoken and consistent about it. I do mind when characters are supposed to be tough, strong, zippy, and wild – but then they are faced with adversity and collapse in tears and shudders (in the case of female characters, there’s usually a convenient male character waiting to catch them and support them and provide awwwwwwwwwww material). I don’t want to know about this girl who’s a fighter and brilliant swordlady and efficient and matter-of-fact and generally awesome… and then she kills for the first time and promptly dissolves into sobs. For no reason. Ugh.

Now: I just want solid characters. That’s all. Whether they’re spitfire and lightning incarnate or a mouse who would rather interact with others only through books, I want them to be consistent and have their own unique personality. Spitfire and lightning does tend to make the mix more interesting, though…

After reading this little list, one more thing struck me. When I was a ten year old, I had a fundamentally different approach to writing itself. Is that surprising? No, hardly – but I still find the shift interesting, and it’s easy to sum up. Basically:

Then:

I wrote because I wanted a story to read that didn’t frustrate me.

Now:

I write because I can’t help myself.

So, that’s me when I started vs. me now. All you other writers – how about you? Why did you start writing? Why do you keep writing? Has your approach drastically changed over the years? I’d love to hear!