I was on vacation in Spain! Not really.

I have been working on this blog post for weeks. WEEKS. I started some kind of “top 10 characters!” list four times. I tried to find a recently-written excerpt that didn’t make me cringe. There was enough failing going on that one might call it epic failing. I’ve never been a fast writer, but up until this, blog posts have only taken me between two and four hours to put together. I attribute that to a combination of my nit-pickiness and all those distractions I can’t resist, but this is different. If I change tense a few times in this post, it’s because I feel like this is still going on even as I type these very words rather than being a thing of the past.

This has not been a matter of hemming and hawing over my diction or an inability to stay away from Buzzfeed for longer than 30 seconds. It doesn’t even have to do with the fact that it’s been a perfect 70 degrees and sunny lately. This is the utter doldrums. I just have nothing to say.

I think it started when I had one of those paralytic, I-think-this-is-worthless-shit-why-am-I-even-bothering moments regarding Untitled P.O.S. I say “had” like it came and it went but it’s still going on. I should soldier through my doubt and just finish it (it’s only 20K words, for Pete’s sake), right?

Right?

I don’t know.

I’m not one of those people who believe a story is worth something just because someone put time, energy, and love into it. I’ve read plenty of things people have put their best efforts and purest intentions into that have also been complete crap. I’ve never handed anyone back a piece and said, “I think you should go into construction instead,” but I’ve thought it. Cruel? Yeah. But my best friend just sent me a text saying she saw a crow kill a little songbird and start eating it. It’s just a cruel world.

My point is, I don’t want to be taken in by my own fantasies of writing a great story. I don’t want to another person who pours their soul into a book just so a better writer or thinker can tear it to shreds. I’m not afraid of criticism, but I am afraid of writing something that is legitimately, utterly worthless. I’m not afraid to bleed a little in my writing, but it’s hard to make that commitment when you have the sneaking suspicion your characters and themes will do nothing but alienate readers. And even worse, I can’t tell if I’m being the world’s gloomiest, most cynical pessimist, or if I’m just showing good judgment for once.

People are always willing to rush to my defense (against myself) and say, “You’re a good writer! You’re too hard on yourself! You’re overly critical!” I appreciate the vote of confidence, but I already know I can string a sentence together more or less correctly. I can probably put a few of them together and make a paragraph. But that doesn’t mean I have a good story. A grammatically correct story doesn’t equal one worth telling.

I don’t say any of this to suggest anyone should adopt my mindset. It’s crippling and unproductive and generally no fun whatsoever. I say it as a preview to the following revelation and most excellent advice.

*dramatic pause* *slow-motion blink* *dawn breaks over the mountains*

Wait. I don’t have any.

I’m still in the damn doldrums, and beyond that, I’m still not sure whether to keep on this story or look for a new one. How do writers know when to rewrite and edit and rewrite some more and when to start fresh? When do you admit you’ve bitten off more than you can chew and start over with a simple hero or heroine? When do you abandon ship? Is the fact that I’m unsure if the story is worth writing a sign that it isn’t?

Well, anyway. That’s where I’m at. That’s where I’ve been for this long hiatus from the blog. I don’t plan on taking any more breaks in the near future (then again, I didn’t plan this one), but with school starting up again soon I’m thinking it’ll be one post a week. So if I don’t post anything by next Friday, somebody yell at me!

One last thing: I know this is a grumpy-sounding post that doesn’t contribute any positivity to the world. Here is an absurdly fluffy kitteh to clear the air.

Look at how happy and unburdened by bad storytelling she is!

IT’S LIKE SHE’S WEARING LITTLE FLUFFY PANTALOONS. OH LORD.

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The return of the half-assed writer person

I’m baaaaaaack!

This is the longest I’ve been away from the blog since I started it. I don’t have any good reasons for my absence but I have some pretty bad excuses, e.g. “I can’t think of anything worthwhile to write about” or “I just don’t feel like it.”

That pretty much sums up my mood this past week. The things I’ve wanted to write, that have come bustling into my mind saying, “’Scuse me, I need to be written right now, immediately,” have not been blog posts or book chapters. I’ve piddled around with some personal things that I think are well-written but too personal to share, I’ve played with my horse (and other horses), I’ve gone running, and I’ve halfheartedly worked on the Untitled P.O.S. You may have noticed that I added a word count meter for said P.O.S. in the sidebar and that I’m quite behind schedule.

So yes, it has been slow, unproductive, uninspired going. If you believe that the only way to write is to sit down and write as much as you can every day, then I have failed quite miserably. However, I don’t feel like I’ve failed. My word count may not be rocketing up like the temperature has been lately, but I’ve learned quite a bit about myself as a writer.

Plotting: consider me converted

The first thing I’ve realized is that all my plotting has paid off. The plotting is the best thing past me ever did for present me. Without my outline this project would be dead in the water, because when I don’t feel like writing, I really don’t feel like writing on the fly. Nothing is more intimidating to unmotivated me than not knowing what’s going to happen next, let alone figuring out how to write it. It feels like I’m building a bridge as I’m trying to cross it. Or something. Whatever. Anyway, sitting down to an outline rather than a blank page gives me a sense of security and confidence, and I think that improves my writing.

If you put enough snowflakes on a roof, it caves in.

I use “even” way too much. I used “even if,” “even now,” and “even then” in the same paragraph. It seems like a small thing, but small things add up. I notice repetitive diction when I’m reading stuff other people wrote, so I’m glad I caught this one fairly early on. Hopefully it will keep me alert for other noticeably repetitive phrases that may crop up.

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

I struggle with this. I aspire to this. How many words are enough? How many are too many? This paragraph is exposition; is that inherently bad? If I were a better writer, would I say this differently? It’s a nagging insecurity, but I think it’s kept me vigilant and aware of describing things to death. My slow writing pace this time around has allowed me to consider my words more carefully.

Put me in the mood, baby.

Another thing I’ve learned is just how super duper important my playlist of “mood music” is. I chose the songs to help me get in the frame of mind necessary to write my characters, and it has been invaluable when I’m begrudgingly sitting down to write. Some of them are “Adrian songs,” some of them are “Leila songs,” and some of them just capture the general overtones of the story. If you have any interest in listening, it’s over there in the sidebar.

 The puzzle is done, but I still have these pieces.

I’ve realized that I don’t have to put every single detail of back story in the book. I have probably thought out almost every single detail and I do think my characters’ lives leading up to the actual story are pretty interesting, but they’re not necessarily…necessary. The temptation is to shoe-horn them in because I’m so cool for thinking up intriguing back stories and I want everyone to know how cool I am. Because I am extremely cool.

Well, that’s that. For now, at least. I’m sure by the end of this project I’ll have learned lots more fun things about my writing and I will bless all of you by sharing all of them in my infinite writerly wisdom and coolness. Aren’t you excited?

For lack of a better title, [insert Latin phrase here]

Things I am good at: talking to cats, annoying my brother, discussing the finer points of Tom Hardy, remembering exact quotes.

Things I am bad at: being sensitive and empathetic, returning texts promptly, cooking, thinking of titles.

Today I’m going to talk about titles, because that’s what’s annoying me right this very second. As I’ve already mentioned, I’m working on a novella this month. I’ve posted an excerpt from it, and as of right now it’s labeled “Untitled P.O.S.” It is so called because I struggle with titles.

At this point in time, I shouldn’t be stressing over the title of this project. I should be fussing over actually writing the thing. While I am most certainly fussing over the writing, its lack of a name is nagging at me. If nothing else I’d like to have a working title; at least that way I could stop calling it “that piece of shit” because how is anyone supposed to differentiate it from the other untitled pieces of shit I’ve written?

This certainly isn’t the first time a title has been a significant distraction to me. Back when I was writing my failed NaNo project (notice that’s become an unofficial title) I called it Inferos. “Inferos” is a Latin word and, according to the ABSOLUTELY INFALLIBLE Google translator, it means “hell.” Before settling on that, I was scrawling title ideas on everything; napkins, sticky notes, other people’s foreheads, wherever. It drove me nuts to open a file named “something_something_Idunno_draft1.” When “inferos” popped up, I thought it fit. Heaven, hell, and lots of other religious themes were present (by “present” I mean “sledge-hammered in the reader’s face”) in the story, so the language and the meaning of the word seemed logical. I also liked the look and sound of the word, as I do many Latin words.

After “winning” NaNo, I had the fantastic opportunity in the form of a free consultation with The Book Doctors (Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry). I had already purchased and read a good portion of their book (I seriously can’t tell you how insanely helpful this is to an unpublished writer hoping to get published), so when it came time for my consultation I thought I had a pretty good handle on the situation. After we talked about my pitch, David kindly told me what I needed to hear: The title was bad. It wouldn’t tell the prospective buyer or reader anything unless they knew Latin, which practically nobody does. Even if they did, it was vague to say the least.

If you think that’s the end of Carly’s adventures in dead languages, think again. When I wrote the short story that spawned my current project, I called it Veritas without a moment’s hesitation. The idea of truth is a strong element, the main family motto is in Latin, and it was 5 a.m. so I didn’t even give a rat’s ass. However, I knew the title wasn’t there to stay. Once I started planning the novella, I mentally unnamed it.

And that brings us to now. I still don’t have a name for it.

Obviously I’m not going to die if I don’t think of a title right now immediately ten minutes ago. If I had really had my priorities straight I would let it go untitled until such time as I actually needed a title or one appeared from the story itself, but nothing I’ve written on this blog suggests I’ve got my priorities straight and I’m certainly not going to start now.

At this point, I’d like to ask something a little more specific than “Hey hey hey, whaddaya guys think about titles?” because we all know titles are important and blah blah, great stuff, Carly. I would like to ask my readers about the title of my book. Something like, “If you saw these three titles on the shelf, which would you choose and why?” I would also like to do a book giveaway.

Hint, hint.

The only problem is, I don’t know how to connect those two yet. Thankfully, I have a team of experts working on it (or something), so with any luck I’ll have some kind of a naming contest/giveaway going on in short order.

In the meantime, do feel free to share your thoughts on titles, fonts, colors, page numbers, dead languages, et all ad nauseam. See what I did there?

Now just give me fifteen minutes to think of a title for this post.

Excerpt: The Snowman

This excerpt is quite old and the larger project it belongs to languishes in a folder along with my other abandoned, unfinished works. I think I probably did an awful job conveying a male perspective but the dynamic could’ve been interesting. I may resurrect Adam for something else.

“I dunno, I guess he’s an albino or something?”

“I really don’t give a damn what color he is, Rich. What do his stats look like? Skill set? Experience? Language? Other potentially useful bits of information?”

The secretary shrugged. “I didn’t get a file.”

“Didn’t get a file? What is this, summer camp? No, actually, even the kiddies at summer camp have a file, even if it only says they’re allergic to nuts. But nothing on the guy who’s supposed to help me catch a war criminal? I’m about to lose my shit.”

“Well maybe you better lose it after you meet with Dr. Pearce. She’s been waiting.”

“Yeah, well that’s the least she can do.”

Rich only shrugged again, and Brad stormed down the hallway to the doctor’s dark, wooden door. He rapped three times, heard her lilting, sing-song, “Come in!” and twisted the door knob so hard that the metal squeaked in protest.

“Dr. Pearce, I am fully aware that you are in charge of this agency and you have the right to do whatever you want, but as a member of this team I just have to say I’m incredibly insulted at how—”

Brad very nearly bit through his tongue as the door slammed behind him and his eyes registered the figure slouched in the chair in the far corner of the room.

He was white all right, but he was not albino. He was all white. Whiter than the average line of coke. Whiter than Brad’s grandma’s porcelain tea set. Whiter than the core of a lightning bolt. From his lips to his ears to the roots of his cropped hair there was not the barest hint of color; not a single touch of human pink, not one blue vein, not a solitary dark hair. His snowy eyelashes framed eyes that were as blank as paper except for the dark, inky slits of the pupils.

Brad was aware that he had allowed a choked gasp of horror to escape him and now the sound seemed to be echoing around the room. He knew he was staring but he couldn’t stop his eyes from darting back and forth and up and down over the white face as they tried to make sense of the picture before him. He realized he was backed up against the door, his hands behind him and clutching the door knob, but he couldn’t bring himself to step away.

If the white man was offended he didn’t show it. The glance he gave Brad showed no curiosity or anger or any other discernible human emotion, and after a few seconds he looked down at his hands.  His long fingers and china-white fingernails looked absurdly bright against the deep red fabric of his shirt.

Dr. Pearce, hair as blond and lipstick as pink as ever, was scribbling something down and didn’t appear to have looked up at all. “Mr. Ortega, while I realize Mr. Varrow’s first impression is somewhat startling, I had hoped you would have the decency not to act like a schoolgirl.”

Brad opened and closed his mouth. Opened it, closed it. He saw the white man looking between Dr. Pearce and himself, only the flickering movement of the pupils betraying him. Brad sorted through the questions pin-balling through his brain and realized that, since Dr. Pearce had referred to the white man as “Mr. Varrow” and not “it” or “the robot” or “the alien ambassador,” none of them could safely be considered appropriate. He opened his mouth, closed it again. Dr. Pearce raised her head from her scribbling and gave him a look that suggested he drown himself in the nearest toilet. The white man waited.

“Varrow?” Brad finally said. “As in, Varrow Enterprises? I wasn’t aware Mr. Arnold Varrow had a, um…a…” Dr. Pearce’s pink fingernails were tapping impatiently on her desk. “…any living relatives.”

“He hasn’t,” Dr. Pearce said, rising from her desk. “But this is his company’s project. Mr. Varrow, this is Mr. Ortega, who is far more competent than he presents himself.”

Brad felt something like panic rising in his throat as the white man stood. What did she expect them to do, shake hands?

But the white man clasped his hands behind his back and simply stood, his shirt stretching tight over his muscular shoulders and chest. He knew Brad didn’t want to touch him, didn’t want to move an inch closer to him, and Brad imagined he saw pity in the impassive white face.

He marched across the room, hand outstretched like a jousting lance, and stopped a few feet from the stranger. Even at Brad’s six feet the white man had a couple inches on him, but he was close enough now to see the barely discernible looping pattern of the eyes’ colorless irises.

“Brad,” he said brusquely. “Pleasure to meet you.”

The white man took the proffered hand; Brad couldn’t stop himself from blinking when he made contact, but the white hand felt like any other human hand.

“Adam,” he said. His voice was deeper than Brad expected but otherwise unmemorable. What stuck was the flash of chalk-white tongue behind his teeth.

“Writing” time

If you were my computer, this is what you would see 70%-80% of the time I'm "writing."

If you were my computer, this is what you would see 70%-80% of the time I’m “writing.”

I once said that if coffee is fuel for writing, I have the fuel efficiency of a Hummer towing a boat. By “once said” I mean “said a few months ago” and no, that hasn’t changed. I don’t know what the acceptable cups of coffee/words ratio is, but I guarantee I’m not hitting it. Every time I sit down to work on something, I say to myself, “Okay, Carly. Today you’re going to focus and be professional. You’re going to write for as long as the words are there. You’re not going to check Facebook or Twitter every 20 seconds. You’re not going to fuss about the song that’s playing. You’re here to write.”

I almost never succeed. I do check Facebook or Twitter every 20 seconds. I drink coffee and make more and drink more and make more. I play with the dog. I get distracted nailing down minute and unimportant details about characters, places, and scenes. I waste an absurd amount of time even when I’m under pressure; I once spent all night writing a short story due the next day (yes, yes, I procrastinate, one flaw at a time) when I probably could’ve finished it in three or four hours if I hadn’t given in to distractions.

When I participated in NaNoWriMo, this was not the case. I hit those 1,667 words a day and damn, I was proud of myself. I didn’t check Facebook and I didn’t lose sleep over it. I wrote a few pages for every cup of coffee rather than a few words. “You’re almost like a real writer,” I said to myself. “Look at all these words. Look at that word count meter go up. You are successful because more words.”

As I’ve already discussed in an earlier post, my NaNoWriMo project was a mess. But that’s okay! That’s the point of NaNoWriMo! You just write and write and write and edit later! You squash that inner editor for a whole month and at the end you have something you can turn into a novel! Right?

Meh.

As I also mentioned previously, that project had more problems than I knew what to do with. I did spend several months on second and third drafts before deciding to rewrite the whole thing in first person, and even then it was hot mess of angst, plot holes, and unnecessary complexities. Sure, I discovered first hand how difficult it is to write a novel, and I’m thankful for that, but what else did I gain? There are probably a few other cutesy little things I could say about it (“it was psychologically beneficial to see it start to finish” or “it taught me about myself”), but in the end I spent months on something that will never see the light of day. And yeah, I write lots of things that will never see the light of day, but I don’t even appreciate my NaNo project. I can’t even read it and think “Well, no one may ever read this, but it’s valuable to me.”

In contrast, I was happy with the short story that took four hours longer to write than it should have. I loved it. I was proud of it. I had thought about every single event and paragraph and damn near every word in that thing, and according to my professor and classmates, it showed. It certainly wasn’t perfect; in fact, in the grand scheme of written works, it may have only been halfway decent, but I turned it in without any qualms or insecurities.

Perhaps the most common writing advice I hear echoes the theme of NaNoWriMo. It’s something like “Write stuff, even if it’s utter crap and you end up throwing it out. Just write stuff. Write a lot.”

Now, I don’t want to sound like I’m knocking NaNoWriMo or people who write 2,000 words a day, because I’m absolutely not. I love the idea of NaNoWriMo and I love the community of writers surrounding it. I respect people who have the discipline to write 2,000 words a day. But for myself, I’m not sold on the idea. If I write a mess of words in a month and take two months to edit it (more or less successfully), is it better than taking three months to write something that’s pretty good in the first place? Am I not hindering my own creative process by forcing it to be something it isn’t?

I’m also not saying my writing habits are good, even for myself. There are days when I dither away my writing time and in the end am dissatisfied with what little I accomplished. A little structure and accountability would do me good. Therefore, I’m giving this NaNoWriMo thing another shot.

If you weren’t aware, the lovely people at the Office of Letters and Light also provide writers with Camp NaNoWriMo. It has the same purpose as the original NaNoWriMo but it’s a bit more laid back and a smidgen cozier. This July, writers will be able to set their own word count goals (rather than the standard 50,000), which couldn’t be more perfect for me. I know my current project won’t end up more than 30,000 words (I’ll be surprised if it makes it to 20,000), which means I can still set goals for myself without frantically spewing any and all words that come to mind. My hope is that my creative process will be focused but not rushed; I certainly don’t want to be getting sidetracked by BuzzFeed and YouTube, but if I want time to bicker with myself over word choice, I’m going to blinking well take it.

If any of my readers are doing Camp NaNo, let me know! Maybe we can even be in a cabin together.