Yesterday I attended a great event put on by the Surrey Public Library at the striking new City Centre branch. It was part of the Write Here, Read Now program and featured the inspiring Martin Crosbie, author of How I sold 30,000 eBooks on Amazon’s Kindle, a self-publishing guidebook. In the 75 minutes that he had he did an outstanding job of presenting a plethora of useful steps to how aspiring authors can self-publish and not bankrupt themselves in the process. In the past, I have attended workshops and presentations on self-publishing and to be quite honest, mostly what I took away from them was how difficult it would be and how little success I should realistically expect. Add to that the fact that I am not great at the technical aspect of it. Martin Crosbie, on the other hand, makes it seem so achievable that it lit a fire in me once again. The best part of it is how encouraging he is to writers who are just beginning their journey. I also met the fabulous Lorna Suzuki, author of The Imago Chronicles. She was one of the writers in Authors Among Us, an ongoing event at the library where you can listen to various writers give readings from their books and then ask questions and interact with them. I was able to spend some time with her afterwards and share some of my concerns. Ten minutes with her and once again I was on a motivational high. We’ve all been there, in that place of self doubt, of insecurity and frustration, when it feels that we’re stuck. Which brings me to my main point. I feel extremely fortunate to live in a city where the public library puts on multiple events that bring together successful authors of different genres and at various levels of success, so that aspiring writers can connect with them, learn from them and most of all be inspired by them. We all know that writing can be a somewhat lonely activity, but events like these make you realize that there is a community of writers nearby, where you can find guidance and encouragement and where hopefully, one day, you too can pay it forward.
The process of editing has me so frustrated that I have decided to turn to other bloggers for advice. I am having several plot issues and over the next few weeks I will be writing posts about these in the hopes that I will get some feedback from other writers and bloggers out there on how to handle these. Let me just say in advance that I will appreciate any and all thoughts and comments. At this point I feel that I am ready to just give up, but I know that I cannot and that I must finish this novel and publish it. I tried to do it alone and I feel that at this point the opinions of others who are not so attached to this will be a great help.
So here is my issue of the day:
As some of you may know, I am writing a Young Adult Paranormal Romance novel based on Hindu mythology. Although the heroine is from North America, obviously a lot of the action takes place in ancient temples and the jungles of India.
My question is this: How much explanation should I provide of terms and actions etc, that might be unfamiliar to North American readers? For example, Namaste is a traditional Indian greeting. Having lived in North America myself for over twenty years now, I feel that many people know this. Of course I plan to weave an explanation of many things related to Hindu mythology and Indian culture into the story, but some of the terms aren’t really that unfamiliar in today’s ethnically diverse population. I also don’t want readers to think that they are reading a lecture on cultural issues. After all, this is a Young Adult novel. I would love to hear what you all have to say.
I was thinking about ways to improve creativity, so I did some research and here’s what I’ve come up with:
-Keep an open mind about…well pretty much anything…what you read, who you talk to, what you watch. You never know what will inspire you and help you create the next great piece of art or literature.
-Use all your senses when you go about your daily activities. Observe the people on the bus, in line at the coffee shop and grocery store. Listen to how they talk to one another and what kind of hand gestures they use. The next time you go to a restaurant, an art gallery or a farmer’s market, take in all the colours, flavours and scents that surround you. You never know where inspiration might strike.
-Put judgment aside for some time. When we look at something in our usual way it may colour our perception.
-Determine when and where you are at your creative best. It could be quiet mornings at your regular coffee shop or your local library. Or it could be in your favourite chair at home with soft music in the background.
-Add creative and inspiring people into your social circle. It rubs off.
Don’t let a slight lag in creativity let you give up on your dreams. Find what works for you and let the creative juices flow.
What do you do when you’ve finally finished your novel, but you look back at it and hate most of what you wrote?
I’m sure most writers have at some point in their careers looked at their completed work and decided that it would never see the light of day. A few months ago I just stopped writing. I didn’t write any posts, I didn’t want to look at my chapters and I didn’t want to read other people’s writing. In fact, even in the grocery store I avoided the book aisle like the plague. It was as if I was angry with writing in general and wanted to have nothing to do with it. Then a few weeks ago I decided to take a peek at the opening chapter of my novel. I read it as if it had been written by someone else. And I really liked it. So I read a little more. Then I read the comments from the editor I had sent my novel to . He had a lot to say, some good, some not so good, but all very helpful and encouraging. Then I remembered something I read somewhere and I realized that instead of just dropping this project which I had worked quite hard on, I could work at it some more and make it really good. I was already on the right track and all I needed was to stick with it. But that was the hardest part for me. I have a history of not sticking with things, not because I can’t do them, but because when something doesn’t turn out perfectly the first time I tend to give up. It turns out that I’ve been standing in my own way. So my new goal is to fix what I can fix and then send it out into the world and hope that people like it.
Here is what I have learned from the last few months of wallowing in self-doubt:
I may truly just be a bad writer.
My internal editor may be taking control of my creative side.
I may be a perfectionist, which is pretty much a death sentence for a writer, because who can produce a perfect first draft?
I might be afraid of failure and it’s easier to just give up.
Lastly, I might just be a whiny pants who needs a swift, hard kick in the butt to pick up my novel where I left off and work at it until it’s the best that it can be.
So, today I’m deciding to do that last one. Hope to hear from you about your moments of doubt.
I realized that my tendency to procrastinate reached a new low when I had a very interesting dream last night. The short version is that the characters from my yet-to-be-finished novel were telling me to get off my butt and finish the damn novel already because they had things to do and places to be. Now, I realize that this is some latent attempt by my inner writer to guilt me into getting back to work, but I must admit that I was a little freaked out. I woke up in the wee hours of the morning wondering who had given my characters permission to talk to me like that and came to the conclusion that it was a good thing that they took it upon themselves to admonish me, since clearly I wasn’t doing a good job of it myself. I have managed to waste an entire summer doing nothing and now I feel as if I might as well give up. Thankfully, I won’t be doing that anymore because there is nothing like having a seventeen year-old protagonist giving you a reality check to get you back on track.
Since I started writing a couple of years ago I realized that there are some occupational hazards of being a writer. These include :
-Your sleep being hijacked by your characters as they live out the scenes from your book.
-Your friends no longer sharing intimate details of their lives with you as said details inevitably find their way into your book.
-Being unable to go to any social functions without mentally categorizing people and their quirks for future use in your book.
-Listening with disturbing intensity when coming across anyone with an accent, in case you can use it in your book.
-Shushing people at the movies because they dared to fidget as you are trying to mentally record a scene that might help you with your book.
-Having difficulty concentrating on what your friend is saying at lunch because you are fascinated by the way she chews her food and you might be able to use it for a character in your book.
-Developing an unhealthy habit of imitating grimaces and other facial expressions as you try to write them, but forgetting that you are in public.
-Mentally practicing combat moves for your fight scenes, not realizing that you are acting them out while sitting at a Starbucks and people are beginning to stare.
If anyone wants to add weird habits they’ve picked up as writers, I would love to hear about it.
I have been having this on and off relationship with the Prologue for my novel. I feel that it needs one, but then everything I read tells me that agents and editors hate them. Well at least the majority of them. Because the lives of the characters in my novel are intertwined with the gods and goddesses from Hindu mythology, I feel that it is important to set the scene, so to speak. I personally love prologues and I find that for certain stories they can provide valuable background details. I decided to delve deeper into what people are saying about prologues and here is what I learned:
1. Never use your prologue as an information dump about your characters or the setting. It is better to cleverly work that into scenes and dialogue.
2. Don’t use your prologue as a hook. That’s what the first chapter is for. Also readers will feel cheated if the prologue reels them in, but the chapters don’t deliver on that promise.
3. Your prologue should not be overly complex. This will just confuse readers and possibly turn them off the book entirely.
4. Never, never write a prologue that doesn’t connect with the main story. It will leave the reader wondering and not in a good way.
5. Ask yourself whether your prologue can just be the first chapter. If yes, then that’s what it should be. Apparently many people don’t even bother reading prologues. In that case, if the prologue contains information vital to understanding the story, you’re royally screwed.
Clearly there is no single answer to the question of whether or not to write a prologue. But at least there’s a lot of good information out there on how to do it right. Since I am the boss of me and I love prologues, I will keep mine. I have a strong gut feeling that my readers will appreciate it.
Here are a couple of links I found helpful:
The Prologue – When to Use One, How to Write One by Marg McAlister: An excellent dissection of the prologue, its advantages and disadvantages by Marg McAlister. She lists several questions to ask when deciding to use or not to use a prologue.
http://www.writing-world.com/fiction/prologue.shtml: An interesting take on the multiple roles a prologue can play in your novel. If your prologue is not doing any of the jobs it’s supposed to, then it doesn’t belong in your novel.
I look at myself in the mirror and wonder what has become of my skinny, energetic twenty-year-old self. I have a conversation with the stranger in the mirror almost every day. I miss the old me, that could fit into skinny jeans and wear a figure hugging outfit without the unsightly rolls of fat hugging my middle. Then this morning I read an article that my friend posted on Facebook. It talked about an issue that has been bothering me for some time now. As mothers we continue to hold ourselves to the same standards of beauty as we did before we gave birth. We judge ourselves harshly for the way our bodies change after we have children and as we age. This pressure to have flawless skin and the perfect body takes so much away from our experiences in life. Many of us are missing from family photos, when instead we should be at the centre surrounded by our loved ones. We are embarrassed to meet friends whom we haven’t seen since before the birth of our children. Sometimes we even suffer from depression and low self-esteem. This is not surprising since we are constantly bombarded by images of what society considers to be the standard of beauty.
The article was a poignant wake-up call for me that I must learn to accept the new me and honour my body for what it has given me. Two beautiful healthy children, who are my pride and joy and who remind me every day that each stretch mark is a memory of carrying life within me and that the ugly scar from my C-section is my personal trophy for bringing my daughter into this world. I have wrinkles now where there used to be smooth skin and dark shadows around my eyes that hide what used to be laughter lines. But these are monuments to the many sleepless nights I have spent when my children were sick or when I have been awake worrying about making the right choices for them.
Nowadays I watch my daughters, now eighteen and fourteen, looking at themselves in the mirror, fussing about a tiny pimple or imaginary fat thighs and I cringe at the thought that one day, years from now, they too will be sad at what they see in the mirror.
So I am making a promise to myself, to look at my body with eyes that are more kind than critical. And like the author of the article, I hope to teach my daughters to accept and love their bodies even when they are no longer skinny with flawless glowing skin, because life will leave its marks. I hope that instead they will learn to see that their beauty lies in the rich lives they have lived and in the ones they have created and nurtured.
Naming your characters is a lot like naming your children. You have a vision of what you want the character to be like, so you want to pick a name that they can grow into. But there are a few things you want to watch out for.
1. Your character’s age:
Pick a name that is appropriate for the era that your character is from. If your character was born in the 1960’s for example, don’t name them Jordan or Alyssa. Raid your aunt’s attic for her yearbook and check out the names in there. Or you could just go to your local library. But the attic seems like a lot more fun.
2. Your character’s ethnic background:
Keep in mind your character’s ethnicity as that exponentially widens the pool of names to choose from. You have to decide though if the character’s ethnicity has a role in your story. You don’t want to choose a name that overshadows the character. Do your research well, so that you don’t end up giving the character a name that will cause you problems later. In many cultures a person’s name, last and first, are indicators of other details, such as religion, caste and geographic origin.
3. Roots and meanings:
Make sure that you check out roots of names and their meaning. This way you can incorporate some of your characters’ personality traits into the name. If your heroine is a tough cookie you probably don’t want to call her Heather. Also when it comes to choosing the names of villains you might want to stay away from likable names, unless of course your story demands it.
4. Convoluted names:
Remember that if your readers don’t know how to pronounce the character’s name, it may take away from how well they connect. Sometimes, complicated names are unavoidable, so perhaps you could work the correct pronunciation into your story. For example, you could have your character meet someone for the first time and have them ask for the correct way to say the name. That way when your book is made into a movie your fans won’t be shocked to realize that they had been saying the main character’s name wrong the whole time. Of course by that time it may not matter, since you will be rich and famous.
The most important thing is to have a good time naming all the characters in your story. I can’t think of anything more fun than creating entire personalities and watching them grow. On a personal note, I am still trying to come up with names for two evil shape-shifting brothers for my story, so I am open to ideas.
I seem to have painted myself into a corner while attempting to edit my novel. I started out making small changes here and there. But then, like bunnies they multiplied and before I realized it, so much had changed that my characters started turning on me. One of them didn’t like the way I made her look, the other doesn’t like his personality. So what do you do if your characters refuse to be who you want them to be? In my mind I’m the boss, but just as it happens in real life, this is just a figment of my imagination. Which is really my point. They wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for me. It’s like I tell my children sometimes (read everyday) , I gave them life, therefore I get to make important decisions. But just like my children do to me, my characters lured me into a false sense of believing that I actually control them. It turns out that I don’t. Most of them are refusing to do the things that I ask, so I started making more changes to make them happy. So now I have to figure out a way to coax them all back into the little darlings they used to be when I first started writing this novel. Good luck to me.