Monday, June 23, 2014

Getting Through the Middle

Recently, I’ve been helping a friend go through the first few chapters of a draft.  The characters were solid, the story interesting.  I couldn’t wait for the next chapters.  Then, the momentum slowed, and I started to notice her get a bit discouraged. 

She’d reached that dreaded middle section.  The part where it’s not the shiny new beginning, and it wasn’t the exciting climax and end.  For some reason, I’ve seen that middle get so many people.  Instead of continuing, they stop, go back to the beginning and revise.  And revise.  And revise.  Because there’s no reason continuing until you’ve got the beginning down, until you’ve got it polished.

She’s not the only one I’ve seen do that.  I’ve worked with multiple people who get to the middle and start to wonder about their ability to finish.  They get distracted by the call of shiny, new ideas.  There’s always something easier than writing the sagging middle of the story. 

Beginnings are fun.  That’s where you’re just starting out on the journey.  You’re refreshed, invigorated, and ready to go.  Imagine a long car ride.  You start out, throw everything in the car, get on the highway and blast music while you rush to your final destination.  But somewhere along the way, it’s not so fun anymore.  Your seat starts to hurt, your legs get tired.  You just want to stretch.  You start asking that dreaded question:

“Are we there yet?”

I like to take pictures out the window on road trips

I’ve found that writing’s very similar.  It’s not as fun and glamorous as it looks.  I have so many unfinished novels, they could fill a shelf.  It wasn’t until I finished my first one that I realized that it could be done.  Here’s what I learned with that novel.

Finishing is even better than starting. 

There’s nothing like it.  It’s exhilarating staring at a completed manuscript and knowing that you wrote the entire thing.  You started out on a project with just an idea, and now, it’s here, complete, in your hands. 
So for all of you that struggle with that middle, I have just a few words of advice.

1.       Have a plan in mind. 
      I know that not all writers are the same.  Some people like to have detailed outlines while others like to write by the seat of their pants.  But that doesn’t mean that we all need to know where we’re going.  A roadmap can help immensely.  Or even just those signs at the side of the road: Milwaukee turn right, Houston turn left.  Know at least the direction you need to go.  It’s very easy to give up and go back to start when you’re lost.

2.       Skip to the next section

This is how I finished my first novel.  I actually got stuck at the beginning.  I had my plan in place, but for some reason, I couldn’t write it!  I didn’t want to just leave it at the beginning, so instead, I jumped to a section I was excited to write.  The point where two of the main characters meet.  I wrote from that point until I got stuck.  Then I skipped to another section.  I was always working on the story, but whenever I got stuck, I moved somewhere else in the plot.  I found that it was almost like starting a new story, and it gave me the energy to keep working on that specific novel.  At one point, I had five different sections of my story written, and in the end, they all came together.  Not exactly seamlessly, but that’s what revisions are for, right? 

3.       Just keep writing

That’s really the most important.  Writing isn’t going to be easy.  It’s going to be hard.  Life gets in the way, the words don’t come out like we want.  I’m a big fan of getting the words on the page now and fixing and revising later.  Force yourself through that section you don’t want to write, or the one that you just can’t figure out.  It’ll come to you.  Tell yourself that giving up is not an option.  Then treat yourself to some cake once you finish.  There’s no incentive like some yummy food to get through the hard parts.

Do any of you have advice for getting through those sagging middles?  I’d love to hear it!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Why We Like the Underdog

For those of you not watching the World Cup, something pretty spectacular happened a few days ago.  The USA is in the same group as several very great and well renowned teams.  Most people thought the USA’s chances were about zero.  In fact, the coach didn’t even have any expectations of winning.

That’s why it was so spectacular when the USA beat Ghana.   No one expected it, and somehow, that team overcame everyone’s doubt.  My husband watched the game at his school, and took a video of the reaction when the game ended. 

The overwhelming response is actually quite overwhelming, the shouts, the flags, the celebration – it shows that when someone can overcome the greatest of challenges, the response is even greater. 
Who wants to root for the winning, obvious champion?  Probably a lot of people.  But does the victory mean the same thing when they’re already expected to win?   The constant struggle, the uphill climb is something that everyone can relate to.  We all understand that feeling.

I remember my first semester of college, I was in the lowest Spanish class available.  I wasn’t too concerned, I’d already taken three years of Spanish in high school, and I’d studied on my own.  The first day, we were given a pretest to determine our knowledge of the language.  Needless to say, I failed.  I couldn’t even figure out what the test wanted me to do.  A few days later, my teacher pulled me aside and told me that it would be better if I just drop the class, because there was no way that I could keep up.


I probably should have listened to her, but for some reason, I took that as a challenge.  I studied on my own, I went to the park and practiced speaking with complete strangers.  I read books in Spanish, and I spent every spare moment trying to get a handle on the language.  My first midterm, I failed.  But I still didn’t drop the class.  My second midterm, I got a C. 

One little grade just gave me so much hope.  I’d actually been able to pass.  I kept going, and I ended up getting an A on my final, and with homework, I managed to pull an A- that semester.  Not only that, I became fluent in the language.  I probably wouldn’t even remember that much about the class if I hadn’t have struggled and worked so hard.  And I wouldn’t have been so proud of my grade if I didn’t have to raise it from a failing grade.

I hope that I put my characters through the same thing.  I hope that life isn’t so easy that there’s never a challenge.  I want them to grow and struggle.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Why Writing is like Playing Soccer

I’ve been trying to focus on quite a few projects recently.  Between finishing up a revision of the Yellow WIP, doing a beta read through for a friend (I’ll let you know when it gets published!), preparing an activity for church this Tuesday (very excited!), trying out some new recipes for cakes and starting the prewriting for my newest novel, I’ve got quite a bit going on. 

The prewriting has been one of my favorite parts this week.  It’s been exhilarating and terrifying all at once.  As I was thinking about it, I started comparing it to soccer.

Probably because our house has been inundated with soccer ever since the world cup started.  There’s really no way to escape when you’re married to a South American.

Hubby playing soccer.  He's the one in the blue.

Since I started writing, I’ve always begun writing, I’ve always written the same genre.  I love reading YA fantasy, whether it be dystopian, medieval or anything in between.  Naturally, that’s the kind of stories that float around in my head.  I started writing, working on improving my skill.  I spent years learning the different ins and outs, what to do, what not to do.  I practiced, I sweat it out, and I worked daily on my skills. 

Now, I can see the effect of my practice.  The type of writing that took 3-4 drafts to produce now only takes 1-2.  I know how to create believable characters, settings, and it takes much less work to really develop them. 

My husband has a similar dedication to his hobby.  Since he was a child, he’s played soccer.  Often hours a day.  Since we moved to the US, he joined multiple teams, indoor, outdoor, professional, recreational, and probably more than I can keep track of.  He’s almost always played defense, and he’s good.  (I promise that’s not just me being partial.) 

I remember going to one of his games.  He’d been sitting on the bench due to a previous injury he’d been recovering from.  I’d gotten a bit bored, and I’d brought a book along to read just in case.  I’d gotten so engrossed that I forgot to look up every few minutes to see if he was playing.  Then, I heard someone shouting his name.  I looked up and to my surprise, he was playing, not just playing, but he was one of the strikers up front.  And he looked completely lost.  It’s not that he’d never played soccer before.  It’s just that he’d never been in that position. 

That’s how I feel right now.  I know how to write, and I’ve done it for years, but this is a completely different position.  The use of sentences, verbs, punctuation, that’s all completely the same.  The importance of deleting extraneous words and focusing on showing, not telling.  The difference is that the story is a completely different section of the field than I’ve played before.  I’ve never written a contemporary book where my research is grounded in real life.  I’ve never written a character driven story.  Most of my stories are more plot driven.  Focusing on the character throws everything in a brand new light.

As I’ve watched my husband play soccer, I’ve seen him improve, especially now that he’s becoming more versatile.  I can’t wait to see myself improve as I push myself to learn a new position, or in this case, try a new genre.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Starting New

In my last post, I mentioned that I’m starting to think of a new novel.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about November.  I like to plan in advance.  Since I’ve already polished The Orphans of Jadox, and I have betas going through the King’s Councilor, and I’m 2/3 through revising Rowell’s story, that means that it’ll be time to start on something new.  Though I love writing YA fantasy, and it’s always going to be my go to genre, I’ve decided I want to branch out.  I’m going to try writing contemporary, adult, character-driven fiction.  It’s a bit of a 180 spin from where I usually am, and it’s actually quite exciting.

Which means that all of the prewriting process is completely different.  Writing in contemporary means researching real things.  Instead of creating new, eccentric names, I’m researching top names (first and last!) in the US, including Spanish names. Has anyone realized how many Hispanic last names end with a z? 

Adding to that, I’m researching real places as well.  It’s been an incredibly interesting experience, blending truth and fiction.  Real places – a real city, but at the same time, I can’t really use the names of real schools or nursing homes.  Not without getting into trouble if I don’t portray them correctly. 

There’s so much more needed, and I’m just on the top of the iceberg.  School teachers, employment, everything needs to be planned before I can start. 

Though it’s a completely new experience, it’s still one of my favorite parts of writing.  I love the planning stage.  I get to discover so much, and it’s the moment where I can experiment with just about anything. 

How about the rest of you?  Starting any new projects?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


I know I’m a little late on the bandwagon, but there has been a lot of talk about needing more diversity in books.  I love that idea, and I love reading books with different cultures in them.

My mom was born in Japan, so I look much more Asian than I really feel.  I wish that I knew more about that piece of my heritage.

After high school, I moved to Madrid.  That was one of the most eye opening experiences I’ve ever had.  Living in a completely different culture really taught me a lot about learning to see things through different perspectives. 

I remember the first time I met my mother in law.  She was a very sweet woman, but she said things that I just wasn’t used to.  Blunt things.  She didn’t mind saying that someone looked fat or that someone was wearing too much makeup.  It took me by surprise at first, but then I realized that was normal for them.  They’re not so worried about being politically correct.  They say it how they see it.

Most of his uncles have nicknames associated with how they look.  Chino, Negro, etc.  In fact, I still don’t know most of their names because they’re always referred to by their nicknames. 

My Wonderful In-laws

Of course, there was also adjusting to new foods, a new language and new hobbies.  Before I met my husband, I couldn’t have told you a thing about soccer.  Not anymore.  The World Cup starts in a few days, and I’m actually excited for it.  I may not know all of the players, but I have picked up on quite a bit since we got married.   I've also learned that Hispanics know how to have fun parties.  Wherever we meet, we always had something to dance to and food to eat.

I love delving into his culture.  Learning more about who he is and what he knows.  We never run out of things to talk about because we don’t have that much in common from when we were growing up.
There’s a reason why there’s so much of a push.  The world isn’t black and white.  Every country has immigrants, and we’re mixing more than ever.  It’s time to reflect that in literature as well. 

It’s been inspiring to read the posts of others who want to read more diversity.  And whenever I come across a Hispanic character, I get excited.  I love reading about them, they really deserve more time in literature.  It’s made me decide to use the knowledge I have and really try and portray my husband’s culture more as I write.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Let Your Writing Simmer

Last week, I invited some friends over for dinner.  Nothing special, I’d just been feeling like the hermit and wanted to spend some time with other people.

I’d had the entire meal planned out.  I decided to go with a Chinese theme: pork and cabbage, stir-fry, sweet and sour chicken.  I was excited.  Honestly, I’ve always been of the opinion that if you’re not cooking for a lot of people, why cook at all?

Unfortunately, because of circumstances I couldn’t control, I had to go into work that afternoon for a little while.  I got home with about an hour before everyone arrived.  And I hadn’t prepared a thing.  Sure, the meat and vegetables had been cut, but there’s still the time that it takes to cook it all.  I began working like a madwoman; I had three pans on the stove, stirring them all at the same time.  I forced my husband to stop doing homework because I needed help frying the chicken.

Surprisingly, I finished by the time everyone arrived.  Everything was ready, the food was cooked, but it just didn’t taste right to me.  Later, talking with my husband, we both agreed that in my rush, I hadn’t allowed my food to simmer and for the spices and juices to really permeate through the entire dish.  That’s probably why the leftovers taste so good.  Yum!

Last night, I was thinking about the entire experience, and it reminded me of writing.  There’s a reason why we can’t just write a first draft and bam!  Send it out without a second thought.  There’s a simmering process to writing that adds just as much flavor as leaving something on the stove for an extra few minutes.  Allowing the writing to sit, to really coagulate can help when we come back to write.  I know that when I finish a draft, I can read through and think it’s brilliant.

After a few weeks of sitting, it doesn’t feel like it’s the best I’ve ever done.

Then it’s time for the fun part.  Adding the spices, the flavor.  Cut out the unnecessary words, add more vibrant verbs.  Show instead of tell.  Each ingredient adds to the dish until it’s something that I want to share with others.

Isn’t that what writing’s about anyway?

Monday, June 2, 2014

Emotional Senses

Over Memorial Day, my sister and her husband invited us to go to a park with them for some roasted hot dogs.  We were excited because it was finally warm enough that was an option!

When we got there, we started the fire, and I’ll admit that the little girl in me did a giddy dance.  There’s something about campouts and smores and just sitting around the fire that brings back the best of memories.  Everything from Family Reunions to Girls’ Camps to activities with friends in high school.

Picture taken by me

Sure the burning of the fire was a great visual, but that wasn’t what triggered the happy feelings.  It was the smell.  I’m a sucker for the smell of campfire.  Random, I know.  When we got home, my husband wanted to shower right away because he thought we stunk.  I wanted to bask in the smell for just a bit longer.

When writing, there’s the tendency to focus on sights.  After all, most of us are very visual learners.  I tend to remember faces much better than I remember names.  (Okay, maybe not just a tendency.  I can’t remember names at all.)  There’s a reason why teachers use chalkboards, whiteboards and PowerPoint Presentations.  We all want to see it for ourselves.

But is there any sight that can evolve the same memories and emotions as a smell?  In my own humble opinion (and feel free to disagree), I think that smell and taste are the two most emotional of the senses.

Remember the scene in the Parent Trap?  The really old one?  The first time Susan meets her grandfather, she smells him.  Then she says, “All my life, when I’m quite grown-up, I will always remember my grandfather and how he smelled of tobacco and peppermint.”

In one of my favorite animated movies, Anastasia can’t remember anything about her past.  At least, she can’t until she catches a whiff of her grandmother’s perfume.  The smell is enough to open up the gates.

I’ve been working on using more smells in my writing.  Smells that the readers will know.  Ones that could set the scene better than if I described every piece of furniture. 

What’s your favorite smell?