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.

Have a free sample!

This is a very short excerpt from my current project, the working title of which I dislike so much I’m now calling it Untitled P.O.S. Feel free to tell me what you think! In fact, please tell me what you think.

Leilah’s trembling hands skimmed the ornate carved lid of the chest and she longed for a cigarette but she knew even one, short drag would betray her. Adrian would smell it in the air and taste it on her breath and then it would be over. He had only let her smoke once while they were married and that was when Mr. Westwood’s blood was still staining the floor and their house was a den of analysts and forensic detectives. He had taken her out on the balcony while police boots tramped up and down the stairs, pulled a single Dunhill International out of his breast pocket, lit it for her, and disappeared back into the house.

And now she knew where the little red box was, tucked in his desk drawer with only one missing. She knew that even now when they were under siege he would smell the smoke and ask her if everything was all right, and she would be unable to lie. Even now when he thought at any moment the telephone could ring its shrill herald of their ruin, Adrian would wonder how she could be so bold or so desperate as to take a cigarette without his permission. Then the nicotine would not still her shaking hands or thundering heart and the truth would come spilling out of her mouth like blood out of a severed vein.

She had never been able to lie to him, not even on the first date when he said “How about sushi?” and she smiled and said yes and he smiled right back and said, “Italian, then?” She hadn’t been able to lie to him about his friends or the color of the drapes or which guests she could bear to be seated with or she couldn’t, and now she wondered if that hadn’t been the point all along. After all the things he’d said about her being more beautiful and more intelligent than the rest and how she really understood him when the other girls didn’t, she wondered if he had chosen her because she couldn’t lie to him.