Balancing Act

On Monday, I blogged about maintaining good mental health by treating yourself well. We discussed various things we do to feel better, destress, and practice wellness.

One thing that I didn’t highlight enough was finding BALANCE.

I fully believe that balance means different things to different people. Some people are naturally more active while others are naturally less active. I’m not talking Type A personalities versus lazies, but let’s face it, some people are hares and some are turtles.

Another way to look at it is some people are racers and some people are pacers.

For instance, I tend to be a racer. I work at something and work at it hard until it’s done. My dad is the same way. Whether it takes 1 hour or 12, we work at it and work at it and work at it…sometimes regardless of exhaustion or frustration.

My mom, on the other hand, is a pacer. She’ll break down a task into manageable chunks, do some one day, feel satisfied with that, and do another piece the next day, and so on.

Over the past months, I’ve come to realize pacing is much healthier.

Seriously.

Why?

Pacing forces me to:

  • Take my time
  • Give the task careful consideration
  • Not feel the pressure of rushing
  • Improve the quality of what I’m doing
  • Enjoy the process and not just the finished product
  • Avoid burnout
  • Appreciate growth and learning
  • Feel more content
  • Feel more BALANCED

So, what strategies do you use to obtain balance? How do you know when you’re unbalanced?

Check out Deb’s response to genre crushing, the Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog topic for this month. 😉

WIP Wednesday–The Love Triangle

*****Don’t forget to enter my 300/500 followers contest to win a crit and book of your choice! The deadline is July 31, 2011 Midnight EST, so please spread the word!*****

I’m about 1/3 of the way done with the first draft and I’m still quite ecstatic with my new WIP. I’m particularly stoked about the love triangle that’s forming between my main character, a long time friend, and the mysterious hottie she’s just met.

Okay, so the love triangle concept isn’t new, BUT it IS new for me. I don’t generally go heavy on the romance angle. I mean, it’s there, but it’s not the main focus of my novels. I tend to go for much more action oriented stuff. So I’m treading new ground here.

Anyway, I bring it up because I see a lot of love triangles in YA fiction (need I mention Twilight? Yeah, didn’t think so). As with all things, I suspect there are people who like the  love triangle and people who abhor it.

So tell me, friends, are you PRO or ANTI love triangle and WHY? Do you write love triangles? Why or why not?

Don’t forget to check out Deb’s response to the Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog topic of maintaining patience during the query process!

Every Wednesday

Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog–New Month, New Tour!

Woot! Welcome to February!!! Those of us who live in the northeast are breathing a sigh of relief that January is O-VER! How ’bout the rest of you?

Along with a new month is a new tour of the Traveling Blog Sisterhood. I’ve started this round off with the following question:

How do you approach critiquing someone’s manuscript? For instance, do you focus on one thing at a time, or do you “let ’em have it” all at once? And once it’s out there, do you ever regret sending off a critique because it moved the person in a direction you didn’t intend or anticipate?

Critiquing is as much an art as writing, IMHO. In fact, the more I grow as a writer, the more I grow as a critter. (Seriously, if I didn’t have to leave my house to go to the day job, I’d look more beastly with every passing day, LOL!)

Anyway

Look, we all know it’s hard work, putting strings of words together on hundreds of pages and making them seem cohesive. And it’s no lie that every single one of them comes from days, weeks, and months of painstaking decisions, blood, sweat, and tears! (Not to mention hair-pulling, caffeine-chugging, chocolate-eating, flailing-at-your-cat-while-she-watches-you-smash-your-computer…oh, I may have gotten ahead of myself. Ahem.)

Critiques. How do I go about them?

First, I keep the above in mind. No matter what the quality of the piece you’re critiquing, I think it is UBER-IMPORTANT to remember the person who wrote it went through a hell of a lot of crap to get it where it’s at. Yes, there’s a lot of joy, elation, and lurve going on too, but I still think it’s easier to get stuck in seeing only the negatives.

Second, I try to keep in mind the intended audience. Is the piece YA, adult, romance, sci-fi, etc? Am I well-versed in the genre? If not, I may point that out (either in comments dispersed through the piece or in my “cover” letter summary of strengths and weaknesses).

Third, I look for flow–this comes across to me in two parts: Plot and Pace. I’ve seen some marvellously written sentences, paragraphs, scenes, and chapters, but if they don’t advance the plot, have good pacing, develop characterization, or keep up the tension, I generally recommend nixing them. Sorry. But it makes the piece stronger.

Fourth, I check in with my feelings. Do I “connect” with the main character or feel distanced? Do I think the characters are being consistent to themselves in their thoughts, dialogue, and actions? Do I have trouble picturing them or keeping them straight? Do I understand their motives? If any of these are wonky, I point it out.

Fifth, I keep track of sentence structure. I can’t help but be a grammar nerd. I don’t think ALL sentences NEED to be PERFECT, but sentence structure, if wonky, can make a piece seem stilted, jumbled, jarring, and even slow. If my mind and eyes are “reading” two different things, then that’s a hint something went awry in the prose. I point that out. Having nice, tight sentences can also help pacing–a subtle, but powerful trick.

Sixth, I highlight what I like!!!! Seriously, it’s easy to get caught up in, “this and that and the other really needs work.” What about the great things about the story? What holds my interest? Is there a humorous moment that made me laugh out loud? How about a painfully beautiful, bittersweet interaction between characters, or a lovely scene description? Give the writer props for these things!

Now, this is not an exhaustive explanation of what I do when I crit someone’s work. Often, I listen to what the person is looking for in terms of feedback and tailor it to their requests. For instance, someone may not want a line edit to catch spelling and punctuation errors, so I don’t “bother” with that. Others just want to check in with the “tone” of a piece, so I focus on that.

Now, what happens when I send a critique?

I send a silent prayer off with it.

Why?

Because I know what it’s like to receive critiques. I know the hopes and fears and worries that accompany letting someone else look at my work. As much as I WANT–really WANT–the critter to tear and rip and hack apart my words, a little part of me also hopes they’ll come back and say, “It’s PERFECT! Query that sucker!” (I haven’t heard those words, yet, by the way…and I’m sort of realizing that may not happen because my work can ALWAYS be improved upon, but that’s a different post entirely and I’ve already gone on and on and on…)

One thing I can promise is my crits are intended to better the person’s work. On the other hand, I also know that each person must do what they will. What *I* think improves a piece, may, in fact, not. Or it may take the work in another direction entirely.

My biggest fear is the person taking a crit from me and deciding to quit writing. (That hasn’t happened, either, thank goodness!) What if I discourage them so much that they think it’s too hard to keep going? Demoralization is a toughie to overcome.

All I can say is that I’m thankful for the honest, sometimes tough to hear, crits I’ve recieved from others. Yeah, I’ve considered quitting after hearing them, but I haven’t thrown in the towel yet.

And I don’t plan to.

So, there’s my extremely long winded answer to a complicated question. For those of you who lasted through, whaddya think? How do you approach critiquing? What concerns to you have when you send a crit off to someone?

Check out Lydia’s response next week, Sarah’s on the third Wednesday, and Deb’s on the fourth.

Every Wednesday 

Oh No, She Didn’t! Oh, Yes She Did!

Writers must always be mindful of why and how characters handle certain situations. Otherwise, characters’ actions come off as forced, contrite, inaccurate, or artificial. In other words, a wonky response is the kiss of writerly death.

So, a writer must follow the rules of logic. If X, then Y. If Johnny loses his father’s favorite watch down the drain pipe, then Johnny has to go after it. Makes sense, right? We, the reader, can go along with it. We can follow Johnny into the sewer…erm, well maybe not, but we can certainly cheer him on or at least wish him luck!

But what happens when, “If X, then Y,” gets boring? For example, Sally is angry at Alice, so Sally tells Alice she’s angry. It’s straight forward. Expected, Predictable. Bor-ing!

Writers, then, have the job of adding, “The Twist.” (AKA Tension.) HOW???

Let’s use the Sally example. She’s mad at Alice. Maybe she’s mad because Alice stained the shirt she borrowed. Maybe Alice forgot to meet her at the movies. Maybe Alice asked the boy Sally likes to the spring fling! (Oh no, she didn’t! Oh, yes she did!)

But that’s not enough!!!!

To really maximize the tension, what if Sally has a hard time sticking up for herself? What if her mom taught her not to express anger or disappointment in others (and nobody, I mean nobody, can diss Miss Manners!)? How about Sally turns into a fire-spewing dragon whenever she loses control of her fury? (Had to throw in something for us paranormal/fantasy types.)

How might this play out? Well, it could be as simple as:

Sally is mad at Alice for asking the cute boy to the dance, so she thinks about how often her best-friend-in-the-entire-world-always-gets-what-she-wants-and-never-thinks-about-Sally’s-feelings. This thought triggers a physical reaction (her fists clench, her jaw tightens, her ears burn, her head pounds, her stomach twists). But something stops her from speaking. Her throat tightens. Her voice squeaks. She says, “Oh, you’re a great couple! I can’t wait to see your dress!”

End result: Sally’s seething and Alice has no idea.

Suppressed. Anger. THAT’S tension!

Anybody bored? I didn’t think so. 😉

A fine example of this set-up (where a character has a particular thought/physical reaction, but says something entirely different) occurs throughout Maggie Stiefvater’s Linger.

What other examples have y’all come across? Have you used this technique in your writing?

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Be sure to check out Sarah’s debut post with the Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog where she shares her writerly goals for 2011!

Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog–Writing Goals

 Can I get a woot-woot for the New Year? *Woot!*

This month, Deb asks the pertinent and timely question:

What are your writing goals for 2011?

Last week, I featured two posts on goals. One focused on how to’s and the other focused on my approach to goals. Today, I’ll actually share my list of writing goals for 2011.

Drum roll please!

  1. Get feedback for rewrite of TALENT’S BLOOD while tackling the dreaded query letter. (Already in progress.)
  2. Get *much* better title for TALENT’S BLOOD, THE REWRITE. (I’m thinking ENDURE…?).
  3. Revise TALENT’S BLOOD, THE REWRITE.
  4. Take a Xanax (maybe several), then query agents for TALENT’S BLOOD, THE REWRITE.
  5. Ignore the sting of the R’s. (Again, the Xanax will help with that.)
  6. Rewrite TALENT’S BLOOD, THE REWRITE again. (Um, I’m hoping NOT to have to do this one.)
  7. Finish MG adventure. (It’s 1/2 done and the outline is there for me to resume when ready!)
  8. Outline and write a MG (as of yet untitled) adventure with a twist. (This one will require a lot of research.)
  9. Do you think I’ll have an agent yet? Show of hands, please.
  10. Have my writerly buds pull me back from the brink of quitting. Again.
  11. Revise DARK PRIDE–the kitty shapeshifter one…I miss Nickie and Xavian. There, I’ve said it.

In reviewing this list, I’ve noticed a few things.

  1. My goals start out very concrete and logical–get feedback, revise, etc. Then they become larger the further along I go (relatively distant goals tend to do that, I guess).
  2. There’s a lotta excitement–and stress–heading my way, LOL!
  3. You gotta have a sense of humor in this game.
  4. Writing buds are a NECESSITY!

So, what’re your writing goals for 2011? Be sure to pop in next week for Lydia’s goals!

Work In Progress Wednesday

First, let me ask: Who’s REALLY ready for Christmas? Cause it’s FAST approaching! Anybody out there who still needs to go shopping? If so, may God bless you.

Second, it’s Deb’s turn to give her social media confessions for the Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog! Check out her response, then come back here. (Or finish reading this post and check out Deb’s. Either way. It’s up to you. I won’t get mad. I pwwomiss.)

Okay, back to writing.

So, back in late October, I had the shocking realization (thanks to my writerly buds and crit partners) that I had to MAJORLY restructure my YA Dystopian—like to the point of needing a clean slate.

With a bunch of support to give me momentum (and confidence), I brainstormed a new plot, using the Three Act structure for my outline (my first “for realz” outline, by the way!). As a result, the same characters and the same world went from “nice story” to “epic.” My main character discovered what made him unique. My antagonist found his reason to help my main character. And because of this, my main character realized why he needed to help the antagonist—namely, to get what he wants while still being able to save the world. (Whether or not he survives or he actually gets what he wants is still to be determined. Just sayin’.)

Initially, I was able to rework some original scenes (in a radically different order, LOL!) and that helped me get to the halfway point within a couple weeks. Then I hit the slogs of “mid-point of the novel-land.” I hesitated, unsure of my up-til-that-point trusty outline. As a panster, the emotions and dialogue I plopped down to stick to the outline felt…contrived (gasp!). It totally slowed me down.

BUT, I marched on. Whether it was 500 words or a 1000, I tried to write every day, with the provision that if I just didn’t have it in me then I wouldn’t berate myself.

I typed THE END on Sunday! Woot!

A long road, but totally worth it.

Why?

Because now I have a REAL story. A structured plot. Stakes that matter. And characters whose stories are intertwined to the point where protagonist and antagonist have both positive and negative attributes that draw them together to an inevitable climax.

Man, I love it when that happens!

Dear friends, what’s it like for you when you face major revisions? How do you handle it?

Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog PLUS Thanksgiving Eve

Welcome to Deb’s debut as a contributor to the Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog! Check out her response to this month’s question. Then come back here to share in some Thanksgiving Eve fun.

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And now for some Thanksgiving Eve fun! Are y’all hungry yet??? Who’s cooking? What’re your favorite side dishes? (It’s stuffing and sweet potatoes all the way for me!)

Clips from A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving:

Snoopy and the Lawn Chair

Does your Thanksgiving dinner look like this?

Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog PLUS I Need Your Feedback…Yeah, That’s Right, You!

Hey gang! I hope you’re having as much fun as I am reading about the sisterhood’s all time favorite books from childhood! I kicked the month off with this post, Lydia shared her fav last week. Danyelle is up today and our newest member, Deb is up the following week to round out the tour.

Okay, so check out the links and then come back becuase I’ve got a question for you. Seriously. I need all y’all’s help! (Plus, I believe periodic self-assessment and checking in with others leads to opportunities for self-improvement and progress.)

In an effort to keep the ball rolling (er, that is, to continue bringing entertaining and informative posts to yous guys), I’d love to hear from all y’all what kind of topics you’re just DYING to read about!

So, lay it on me!

*grins and hopes I don’t hear crickets*

Well, okay, maybe I’ll start the ball rolling then…

Show of hands please (erm, that is, lemme know in your comment):

  • Are Mental Health Mondays working for ya?
  • Do personal writing posts draw your interest?
  • Do ya get a kick out of Flake-out Fridays?
  • Would you prefer more “how-to” or “tips” type posts regarding writing techniques?

Thanks a bunch!

Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog–Kids Books

Every Wednesday

We’re doing a bit of a throwback this month on the traveling blog.

I ask: What was your favorite childhood book and why? (Is it still on your bookshelf?)

I have a few books from my childhood (and yes, they’re still on my bookshelf, LOL!). The first one that came to mind for this question, though, was Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss. Oh yeah, I loved that one! I’d read it and re-read it and re-read it.

“I do not like them, Sam-I-am, I do not like green eggs and ham!”

Okay, so Dr. Suess is just plain cool, but why did I favor this one???

Because Sam-I-am believed in what he knew and he persisted with gentle confidence. All right, so he practically beat his friend over the head until he tried green eggs and ham, but really, he just never. Gave. Up. And guess what? He was right. His friend really did like green eggs and ham. He just had to be flexible enough to try it. And Sam-I-am was patient enough to wait til his friend came around.

Love. It.

green-eggs-and-ham

I would not, could not, in a box.
I could not, would not, with a fox.
I will not eat them with a mouse.
I will not eat them in a house.
I will not eat them here or there.
I will not eat them anywhere.
I do not eat green eggs and ham.
I do not like them, Sam-I-am.

 

Alrighty, folks. What’s your favorite book from childhood and why?

Be sure to check back next week when Lydia shares her favorite childhood book and the week after for Danyelle’s answer.

*****ANNOUNCEMENT!*****

Please give a warm welcome to Mantua-maker, Magic Seeker, blogger, and writer extraordinaire, Deb Salisbury! She’s joining the traveling blog and will be posting on the fourth Wednesday of every month. Welcome Deb!!! 😀