Monday, April 22, 2013

A Map for That

Well, I made it. I've finished William Bernhardt's Level III Writing Seminar and I'm still alive. If only just.

In Level I, we covered the beginning third of our books and focused on structure. In Level II, we worked on the middle section and focused on plot and character arcs. In Level III, we finished the book.

I do feel reinvigorated about my ending. Until now, no one except my mother (and spectacular editor) had read it, and like I talked about in my previous post, I was a bit nervous about how it would be received. But on the last day of the seminar, as per tradition, Bill took us all out to lunch. There was something so final about sitting around a table eating fish and chips. Something melancholic. It was done. We'd made it.

Now what?

I've got a couple of scenes to write (or add to) in the middle of my book, but that's pretty much it. After I get those done, I'll be sending my manuscript off to agents and my beta readers. This book I started a year ago has come full circle and is ready to be sent out into the world.

I would like to say that my experience writing my first novel has been made infinitely easier thanks to Bill's seminars. When I first attended his Level I, I only had thirty or forty pages written. Because I had so little on paper and the Level I lectures focused mainly on structure and outlining, I was able to fix any major structure/plot issues before they happened. I also don't have much in the way of excess scenes. Neither I nor my editor (or readers) have run into any scenes that need to be deleted. In fact, I've got to add a couple in. My very thorough outline has given me an easy map to follow.

And now I've reached my destination. I've got a finished product and I'm preparing to send it out into the world.

I wish I had a map for that.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Violence in Young Adult Fiction

Hey, guys! I'm in the middle of William Bernhardt's Level III Small Group Writing Seminar and it's crazy intense. It's also the first time anyone aside from my editor has seen the more violent scenes in my book, and it has been interesting to say the least.

Whenever anyone talks about violence in the YA genre, most people immediately think of The Hunger Games. After all, what could be more violent than putting 24 teenagers into an arena and telling them to slaughter each other? But in many ways, The Hunger Games does a good job (at least in the first book) of having most of the violence be off-camera.

In my book, it isn't. It's up close and personal. It's intimate. And, yes, it is pretty graphic. The violent scenes weren't easy to write and they shouldn't be easy to read. I'm not condoning torture; I'm condemning it. I want my torture scenes to be harsh and realistic. Torture shouldn't be candy-coated.

My very wise teacher started a discussion about this in our class today. Is my book too violent for YA?

Overall, the answer was no. Yes, it's horribly violent. Yes, it's traumatic. But no, that shouldn't stop it from being considered YA.

Some people may not be able to handle the violence, and that's okay. I definitely don't think anyone younger than High School age should read it. But I'm not going to change it. It's part of the book. A very dark, terrifying part, but integral nonetheless. And I know people are going to tell me to change it, but part of being an author is standing behind your work.

What are your thoughts on violence in the Young Adult genre?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

100 Writers: Inspired by Revision

Introducing Alexis Lantgen

One of the things that you discover when you're writing your first novel is that the internet is full of advice. Write quickly, they say. Self-Publish! No, find an agent! Be yourself! But write something marketable! Books are dead! All your stories should contain at least one vampire! Don't write about vampires unless you want to make an agent gag!

There are tons of lists everywhere you look on twitter and blogs. Top ten mistakes most authors make. Top ten things you should do to promote your work. Top ten reasons why your book isn't selling. Ten top ways to get a billion twitter followers. Blah.

This advice starts to get tedious, especially when you realize that it's all A) completely contradictory B) not your style and C) boring. I suspect that anyone who has a fascinating story buried inside them somewhere can't stand reading these goddamn lists after a while, much less writing one. So despite the mountain of advice out there for new writers, actually getting your book on paper for the first time feels like forging an entirely new path.

This probably shouldn't surprise anyone who knows about what actual writers are like. Ernest Hemingway probably never wrote anything until he'd had at least three glasses of scotch, while Jane Austin wrote on her dining room table. Douglas Adams wrote while listening obsessively to music like the Beatles. In other words, no one does it the same way, and what works for one writer may not for another (although I'd be curious to see what Jane Austin would write after three glasses of scotch). Maybe you write best early in the morning, and maybe there are no workable thoughts in your mind before noon. Maybe you work differently on some days then you do on others. Whatever feels like the right way to work, that is the right way to work.

So writing my first novel has ultimately been about discovering how I work best. Some of my discoveries so far? I can't NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I tried, I really did, but I...must...revise. I can't just write and write without fixing things. In fact, I get hopelessly stuck when I try it. On the other hand, revising my previous chapters inspires me to write more. Why? It helps me to remember some of the fine details I've included in my story thus far, and I can rewrite characters or scenes to give my later chapters more impact. Most important, it helps me keep my entire story in mind, so that every scene feels like a part of the whole. I understand that for some people, NaNo helps them get out their first draft, but it doesn't suit everyone, so don't feel bad if you're a NaNo dropout like me. It doesn't mean you can't still finish your novel.

So revision helps me find my inspiration. If that works for you, great. If not, try something else. No matter what anyone on the internet or elsewhere tells you, it only takes one thing to become a writer, and that's actually writing things. Find your story, and you find your core. That’s what’s worked for me--I love my story. I want to finish it, whether it’s published or not, or critically praised or not, or even if no one reads it but me. If you’re not in love with the story you’re writing, then write something else and keep writing until you find a story you love. Because chances are, if you love it, someone else will too.

Alexis Lantgen
Alexis Lantgen is a musician and writer who holds a master’s degree in music performance from Florida International University, as well as a Bachelor of Music in viola performance and a Bachelor of Arts in Letters (Magna cum Laude) from the University of Oklahoma. She performs on violin and viola in orchestras including the Wichita Falls Symphony and the San Angelo Symphony. She currently teaches private violin and viola lessons, and in the past taught eighth grade English and ESL in Dallas public schools. Her first novel is a YA Urban Fantasy about a young African American boy with special powers who must save his sister from an evil voodoo sorcerer and his demonic feathered serpent. She hopes to finish editing and revising her manuscript by this summer.

For more from Alexis, you can follow her blog or catch her on Twitter

If you are interested in participating in the 100 Writers Project, comment below or contact Grace Wagner on her Facebook page or Twitter.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

100 Writers: The Black Hole After the Great American Novel

For our first installment of the 100 Writers Project, more information on the project here, I'd like to introduce Trisha Schmidt.

So I finished it. I did it. I finished my first ever novel. Now what? I’ve finished the second draft edits of my novel, but I need to set it aside in between edits to clear my head and come back with fresh eyes.  So the question is: what do I do now? I have other ideas. Quite a few of them, actually, but none seem to want to slide into place and get off the ground. Writing this first one was too easy. I sat down during Camp Nano last August and the words flowed. They really flowed. When I had struggled to get 2000 words on most days with other projects, I was kicking out 3k-4k words on most days during that month. Sixty-five thousand words in a little over 30 days. A complete rough draft.  And now? Now I stare at the screen.

What’s different now? What changed? I think the greatness of having that first one finished, for starters. That constant flow of words that happened almost every time I sat down to write was amazing and freeing. I would worry for a few minutes and then, when I started to type, it flew by. I would realize I had my 3 or 4 thousand and knew it was a good day. I’m not sure if I’m psyching myself out because those words flowed so easy. I also second guess my ideas. They’re boring or have been done before. I strive to be original and have stories that are different. There are only so many stories to tell out there before they have similarities. I just need to convince that part of my brain to let go and just write.

How does one let go of that first novel? I can’t 100% let go because it isn’t finished in the sense that it still needs a lot of editing, but I need to move forward with my writing. I have successfully written blog posts along the way. I’ve done plenty of rewriting with at least 10k words added to the first novel. I have written, just not a new story.

At this point in my writing career, I am still learning every day. I hope that I will always learn, but, being a newer novelist, I have learned so much in the last year. I’ve learned that I’m capable of finishing a novel. I’ve learned that editing is as awful as I first thought it was, but that it is also thrilling to see the first draft mutate to something else, something more. I’ve learned that publishing a book is even harder than I thought and that getting an agent requires more writing still.

All these things have more than likely added to my case of writer’s block. I keep learning and the more I know, the more I can overthink. I can really psych myself out now. What if I picked the wrong POV and that turns all the agents off? What if I don’t get the YA voice correct leaving teenagers not wanting to read it let alone anyone else? Now I really get what they mean when they say writing is hard. It’s hard to have faith that you wrote something fresh and new. That what you’ve written is the next big thing. And when you doubt the first, how can you move on to the second or third?

Thank goodness for the shower and its magical power of persuasion. I am working through my block. I realized that a great story is great no matter what POV you choose. Yes, I realized this in the shower. I’ve also come up with bits and pieces of the story I hope to turn into a novel in the shower.

Then there’s Nano. Camp Nanowrimo is again upon us and they have changed the rules. You can change your writing goals. For those who don’t know of Nanowrimo, It is a crazy writing challenge where people sign up to write 50k (or whatever you choose for this lesser offshoot called Camp) and join other writers to accomplish this goal. The main challenge is to get you in the habit of writing consistently for 30 days and also to help people finish a project they start. Many don’t finish their story but hit the word goal and writing daily is a great start to finishing a project.

I am surrounded by plenty of writing friends who are also participating in Camp which helps me to move forward. Nothing like a little competitive spirit to get things moving. Nano believes in  getting the words on the page. No inner editor allowed here. Just write. I can work out the problems when I edit since all writing is really rewriting anyways, right? Who knows if I will finish my next novel during Camp or if I will abandon it to come back another day, but at least it is a goal and having a goal is the first step.

I know that I will get my mojo back eventually whether it is now or 5 months from now. I just have to relax and have a little faith that I can tell a story no one else can tell. I certainly like to believe my ideas are different. Regardless if they are different or not, I need to find the fun again, and maybe throw my characters into a bad situation or two. Who knows what will happen?

Trisha Schmidt
I'm a writer who is plugging away at my first novel and stumbling through the whole process as I do! Draft one is done and I am learning editing as I go with the drafts 2 and 3 and who knows what number I'll stop at! With a great love of movies, I also write screenplays. 

I can be random (as are my posts!) and my filter seems to be broken so I say what is on my mind. Exclamation points are one of my first loves!!!! Feel free to love them with me!

Becoming a published author is my goal so strap yourself in, it's gonna be a bumpy, crazy ride!

For more from Trisha Schmidt check out her blog seeredwrite or follow her on twitter @seeredwrite.