Betsy Whitt

I read. I write. I think. I live.

Category: On Writing (page 2 of 3)

Early Morning

I have to say that I feel a little bit nuts for being awake at 6:40 on a Saturday morning – and I feel even crazier for having been awake for an hour already.

Ostensibly, there are three reasons for this.  The first is that throughout the summer my sleep schedule slipped farther and farther toward “bed at 1am, wake at 9”, which is lovely for late-night reading (nothing like finishing a book in the middle of the night and sneaking into bed) but horrible for my productivity.  My brain begins its shut-down process for creative endeavors at about noon, and by 2pm I’m usually toast if I’m trying to write.  If it’s a really good day I might last until 4.  This is regardless of what time I start working.  I’m not saying I can’t work on creative projects (like quilts or editing) after that time, but the designing or creating bug just goes to sleep.  I can continue projects in process, but have a hard time coming up with new material.

So if I wake up at 9, by the time I’ve eaten and dressed and done everything else that needs to get done before I get to work, I have maybe four or five hours of productive creative time.  That just doesn’t cut it.

Also, I have to be at my day job by 7:45am, which conflicts with sleeping until 9.  And I do best waking up at roughly the same time every morning.  It’s annoying, but I’ve tried all sorts of things and I just work best on a regular sleep schedule.  So.  Here I am at 6:45 on a Saturday morning, awake for my own good even though my body says “Please, please let me go back to sleep!”

Oh, and I missed the required SHU chat session on Tuesday night, so I’m waiting for 7am to log in this morning and talk to someone about something.  I’ve never actually done one of the make-up chats, so I have no idea how many people might be there.  Lucky east-coasters get to make up their chat at 9am, but that means 7am out here.  I’m betting pretty much none of the west coast people ever miss a Tuesday night chat, just so they don’t have to get up at 6am to make it up.

And since I’ve officially slipped into rambling, I think it’s time to go make me some breakfast and tea before the chat.

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Fickle Emotion

In perusing my Documents folder today, I came across a file with my thoughts from the middle of the night after a particularly horrible day last fall.  I’d almost forgotten about the incident(s) that this writing responded to – it was something too personal and interconnected with everything in my life to have been posted in an online journal, where it might have a chance of being let out into the open even if it was originally set so that only I could see it.  But I had so much spinning around in my head that night that I needed to get it out, put it down, and step back from it to see what was really going on.

It’s like my own personal pensieve, for all you HP fans.

The funny thing is, as I read through the two pages of writing, I really feel like I’ve fallen into the memory.  I can hear and see things that happened that day as if they were still fresh, and I feel all the emotions I felt then.  I was deeply hurt, from a direction that I’d never expected.  I catch myself worrying about how the other people involved in the incident view the issues at hand now.

I’m anxious and depressed, all because I read something written in the depth of depression and anxiety.

Now, of course, I have to snap out of it and get to work – but I’m amazed anew at the sheer power of words to evoke resonating feeling.

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I Enjoy Critiques

I really enjoy getting the emails from my critique partners and my mentor every month with their thoughts about my writing.  No really.  I do.  Maybe it’s because the SHU program is geared so that we encourage one another rather than poking holes in perfectly good balloons, but I get excited about constructive feedback from a reader.

That’s not to say that I always agree with everything, or that I don’t have my moments of outrage or feeling like a total failure because I thought I’d conveyed something clearly and it becomes apparent that no one got it.  But I derive great enjoyment from little comments about how someone likes this turn of phrase or thinks that detail was well placed. I find myself challenged to improve rather than being cowed into dejection by the notice of an awkward phrase or – and Scott will haunt me with this forever – flights of whimsy that slipped past my usually ruthless editing cursor, of which I believe “horse thrall” will always be the prime example.

I’m not a goal-oriented person, which seems odd for someone who’s working on publishing novels.  I’m not a competitive person most of the time. I’ve found that it actively detracts from my healthy state of mind – and when my competitive streak does kick in, you’d better watch our because I draw blood.  Yeah, not so good for mental stability. Heck, as long as we’re talking about what kind of person I’m not, we’ll establish that I’m not a people person either.  Oh I talk a good game but when it comes down to the wire my gut reaction to large crowds, especially containing people I don’t know, is to run away screaming.

I’m more of an “I can do better than my last effort” kind of person.  I work well alone, or in a small group of people who I’m confident will all pull their weight as I pull mine.  But oddly enough I don’t often motivate myself to do better, which is why SHU critique groups are so perfect for me.  They give me the little extra kick in the pants I need to keep moving through this novel, improving all the time.

I’m willing and eager to show myself up – as long as someone else can watch me do it.

So, how strange am I?

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Nope, No Spoilers….

I finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows earlier this evening, and I have to say that although it isn’t the best book I’ve ever read (and I mean that in the nicest way possible), it was quite enjoyable. Like visiting old friends, if you will – and really, they are old friends, characters I’ve known and adventured with for five or six years. I haven’t even known my husband for that long, which seems strange to say. It’s always a comfort to see Hermione pulling completely ridiculous facts out of thin air, Ron bumbling his way through and coming out winningly in the end, and Harry wondering the whole time if he should be going on without them, to spare them the danger.

I still don’t get how the magic system works, because even within this book there are discrepancies and entirely new features, but oddly enough in the end it doesn’t bother me much. I feel like it ought to, since I’m trying to put together a coherent, consistent magical world of my own and should be offended that something this well-known doesn’t seem to have been entirely thought through in terms of magic use, but there you have it. It doesn’t matter.

That’s not to say, when I get around to putting all my thoughts down for my personal reference that all my comments will be glowing and positive – just that I am satisfied by the ending of a good story.

Oh, and as I was waiting in the store for my copy of HP I found a copy of Melissa Marr’s debut, Wicked Lovely, and picked it up. Finished it this evening after HP and was very impressed. But then, I’ve always liked stories about faeries, too.

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Plagiarize Your Cares Away

I’m far from the first to comment on this story, in which a frustrated British author recently sent chapters of various Jane Austen books to eighteen different publishers to see if she’d have more success than he, but I have a few comments to add.

First of all, sending a published author’s work in to see “whether the classics would do better than your book in today’s market” isn’t exactly a productive route to actually having your work published.  It might be mildly informative if you’re imitating that style, but I don’t recommend that anyway.  Better to spend your time and money writing and sending out your own work.

And then there’s this quote at the end, from the man who sent the frauds (and thus will likely never be published at all now, but that’s another discussion):

Getting a novel accepted is very difficult today unless you have an agent first. But I had no idea of the scale of rejection poor old Jane suffered.

If eighteen rejections represents a devastating “scale of rejection” then it’s no wonder this guy’s frustrated enough to plagiarize.  By my understanding, eighteen’s just warming up, whether submitting to agents or publishers.

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Who are you writing for? -or- For whom do you write?

John Scalzi, who almost always has something interesting to say over on The Whatever, has posted some interesting thoughts on simplicity in writing today. People have left plenty of comments, and I feel the urge to add my thoughts on this particular section:

The point of all this is that I think simplicity, for want of a better term, is very often underrated relative to craftiness, which is to say when writers (be they songwriters or authors or playwrights or whomever) say things in a purposefully complex way to show off their skills to a relatively small group of people who will get the joke. That’s all fine and good if all you intend to do is to entertain that small group of people solely. If you’re planning to get your words out to a larger group, filled with people who don’t know your jokes, however, it presents, well, a problem.

Now, I have a friend who is a literature buff, and I mean that in the sense that she’s studied all the literary theories and criticisms and although we are good friends, half the time I just smile and nod when she talks about Literature. It’s intimidating, to a certain extent, and sometimes makes me wonder if I’m cut out for this whole “author” thing until I remember that I’m not aspiring to be that kind of writer. I don’t mind knowing the “jokes”, because I’m not catering to the people who know the punch lines.

My friend, whose name is Kristina, and I often wander through bookstores together, and I always find it interesting to take note of what each of us finds interesting in a book we might potentially read. At one point we were in the spec fic section, which is like a giant candy store for me. I was pointing at books saying “That one was good, ooh and I know that author, and this one’s supposed to be one of the best books out this year.” Kristina found one with a clever title (and no, I honestly don’t remember what it was, but I would have picked it up, and I might go back to that store and that shelf so I can find it again to read it at some point) and pulled it out. Me, I would have flipped to the back cover copy to see if the story looked interesting, but she opened to the first chapter and read the first paragraph. Then she commented on how it was very clever of the author to have used a variation of iambic pentameter for the phrasing, because it complemented the offbeat tone of the content.

I blinked. And, though I hadn’t heard of the author, I didn’t have the heart to tell her I very much doubted the writer had consciously thought, “Hey, I’ll play off of the reader’s expectations of iambic pentameter as I play off their expectations of what this sentence will say.”

This is not to say that fantasy or science fiction writers or even genre fiction writers in general don’t put thought into their craft. It is simply that in my experience, most of us are more concerned with entertaining a large group – to the point that we don’t even consider that smaller (more literary? I cringe to use the term…) groups might read their own “jokes”, as Scalzi puts it, into the material when it really wasn’t intended. The sentence was funny. Catchy. Very witty. Thoughts of what poetic meter it was or wasn’t didn’t even flit at the edges of my mind. Craftiness only registers with those who go around looking for it.

Which is all to say I still intend to pay pretty much no attention to things like literary theory, and if someone chooses to comment on my brilliant use of iambs when my work is finished, they’re welcome to do so. I just hope everyone else thinks it’s a good story.

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Writing Space of the Day

Have you ever noticed that sometimes working in a certain space works, and other times it doesn’t?  I’m telling you, I have an office with a desk and reference books and all sorts of other useful things.  It’s well lit and I have a comfy chair that rolls, and honestly there’s no reason I should ever want to leave, but sometimes it just doesn’t work for me to try to write there.

Dining Room DeskToday I’m writing at the dining room table.  I have a mug of tea, a kitchen timer and my laptop.  I’m sitting on a very flat pillow in a straight-backed wooden chair, and the only light I’ve turned on in the entire house (yes, I’ve pulled all the blinds against the lovely Colorado sun) is the one directly above my head.

I honestly don’t know why this works, aside from the fact that there are cascades of reciepts waiting for me at my real desk that need filing and categorizing in Quicken before the desk will be clean.  Maybe that’s it – there’s nothing here to distract me from the writing.

So, where are you writing these days?  Do you find that one place or one type of place is more conducive to your writing, or do you need variety?

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Motivation… and Inertia

The Colorado Weather Gremlins smiled on me this morning. After a week of cold nasty rain/sleet/hail/snow, we’re sitting pretty in the mid-70’s with a high of 85 predicted for tomorrow. Everything’s green and glowing from all the rainfall, and there are still streaks of snow up in the foothills, which makes it all very picturesque. Apparently this is fairly normal for spring up here except that it’s about four weeks late. Who am I to argue?

In light of the beautiful morning, I broke out the new bike shoes and took that Brewing Ride I’ve been wishing for all week.

Unfortunately, half the Denver Metro area did the same thing – at the same time, of course. Since there were too many people on the path for the first part of the ride for me to talk out my plots (too busy dodging people with their dogs on those stupid extender leashes – seriously, who really thinks that’s appropriate for a bike path? Hiking in the woods in a park that mandates -and- enforces pets on leashes, I can see. Letting your animal run hither and thither potentially in front of passing bikes is just asking for trouble. I promise when my husband rides by he’s gonna hurt Rover if Puppy Shmuppy gets in the way, so get yourself a real leash. Sorry. End rant.) Anyway, as I was dodging pets and small children and NOT talking to myself out loud, I reflected on the fact that my work-at-home part-time job spoils me. Usually, I ride in the dead middle of a weekday. I wave at septuagenarians and secretaries out for a lunch break walks, and the occasional pair of moms pushing strollers. Weekends on the bike path are crazy. I’m swearing them off from now on.

At any rate, the traffic thinned out after I took the turn to ride up the hill to the top of the dam. I couldn’t believe all those families with pets and kids didn’t want to climb a mile and a half in the sun, either, but there you have it.

It gave me a chance to talk to myself about my book, and I figured out that the whole reason I was having trouble putting that scene into words is because it shouldn’t be shown at all. All the info can be conveyed in conversations surrounding the incident – I don’t need a whole meeting set up with me pulling puppet strings to make sure everyone says what they ought, and more interesting the other way, as well.

Now I just need to sit my tush down and write it…

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Fighting The Elements

Have you ever noticed that just when you get in the right mood to go outside and exercise, everything conspires against you?  I had so hoped to have a nice, long bike ride this morning, but when I got up it was 40 degrees and raining.  Not just raining, mind you, but pouring (for Colorado) with whipping wind.  Yesterday this storm system dropped golf-ball sized hail a bit east of here, and they’re saying it’ll turn into snow tonight.

It’s crazy.

I mention this primarily because I often brew while riding my bike outside.  Having the distraction of pedaling, steering (you know, not hitting any of the power walkers on the bike path), and that tinge of burning muscles frees my mind to really roll ideas around, see where the holes are with various potential approaches, and work through the best way to flesh out a scene or series of scenes.

And since I need more brewing at this point in my writing, a power-brew bike ride seemed like just the thing, until I woke up and realize I’d be very cold, soaking wet, and probably sick by the time I brewed enough to make it worthwhile.

Riding inside on my trainer never has quite the same effect.  I’d consider heading over to the elliptical trainer in the complex fitness center if I knew I’d have the place entirely to myself.

You see, part of the reason my power-brewing works is because I talk out loud as I work through things.  Most people on the bike path don’t notice because they’re walking and I’m riding, and I pause in my debates as I call, “Passing on your left!”  But in the fitness center I have the distinct feeling I’d make a fool of myself, induce someone to call the authorities to have me carted away, or both.

This doesn’t mean I’m stuck or blocked, just that it’ll probably be an extra day or two of back burner brewing until I’m ready to tackle this rather pivotal scene.  Would’ve been nice to bike through it a little faster, but I haven’t got much choice.

Do you ever use physical activity to channel or focus your mental activity?

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When Writing Days Go Awry

Having expressed my thoughts on writing each and every day, and the difference between my personal writing and brewing days, it’s worth mentioning that sometimes a writing day progresses through the pre-brewed plot at a faster rate than anticipated. In this case, a writing day must sometimes morph into a brewing day.

Your mileage may vary, but if I haven’t brewed my plot points at least a little bit before trying to write, anything I do manage to write is aimless drivel, and my time is better spent elsewhere.

Today, I decided to spend my unexpected brewing time tackling a quilting project I’ve been meaning to finish.

Creativity often begets creativity.

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