Writing Techniques: Feedback

There is one aspect of writing that I have always feared the most, and that is receiving feedback on my work. It’s a dangerous beast, one that can either make your spirit soar, or tear your heart out. Any time I send any piece of writing out for a fresh opinion, the butterfly factory never fails to start pumping in my stomach. And though it’s an integral part of the writing process, it also raises a relentless battalion of “What ifs?”

What if they don’t like it? What if they tell me I should change everything? What if they say I should just give up? 

Of course, the big one is the first one, and, well… maybe they won’t like it. So what? Not everyone is going to like what you write, that’s impossibly idealistic. And sure, a critique partner or editor or beta reader might tell you that there are things that don’t work, or things you should change, or things that need to be cut so others may be salvaged. But most of the time – if they’re truly trying to be helpful – they’re also going to tell you why they think that. They’re going to give you reasons to back up their criticism, whether you ultimately follow it or not, and it might help you realize flaws or recurring issues in your writing before it reaches a wider audience.

Basically, feedback – positive, negative, and the in-between – is vital, no matter how nervous it makes you to ask for it. And trust me, the very thought of someone else reading my unpolished writing makes my anxiety rocket through the ceiling, every single time, without fail. It’s natural – I’m certainly not the first to feel that way.  But without a handful of outside opinions to steer you in the right direction, can you really improve your writing, or recognize what can be changed for the better?

Though it’s not quite the same as a beta reader, I have worked on my current MS (YA fantasy) with a freelance editor who has been immensely helpful. I was terrified to do it – to have someone I don’t know look over my work – but once I received her feedback, I knew I’d made the right choice, and I’m so grateful she was willing to work with me. She pointed out inconsistencies, pinpointed areas that needed clarification, and advised me on certain tidbits that needed anything from a complete overhaul to some minor tweaking, and she did so in a professional way and had reasons to back up each point. Plus, she told me what did work, so it didn’t feel like a laundry list of errors being hurled at me. I didn’t feel torn down or attacked by her critiques, I felt inspired to fix what needed to be fixed, and I have much more confidence in the current, more focused version of my manuscript than the first one I sent her, all thanks to her valid guidance.

I also sent off my MS to be copy-edited my my godmother, who is a retired English teacher. She not only taught me the proper use of a semicolon, which has consistently eluded me, but sticky-noted and marked all of my errors and then explained them. Plus she gave me her overall opinion and impression at the end, so her feedback was doubly helpful! I’m super happy to have her in my corner, and her support means the world to me. Now, I can recognize recurring grammar pitfalls and tread around them instead of tumbling into them.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had any luck finding a writer’s group in my area (maybe I should start one?) that has fellow YA writers, so mostly, I deal with my writing solo. I haven’t had a solid “workshop” group since college, and even then it was mainly for class. I don’t like inconveniencing people by asking them to read my work, an issue I need to work on, and I’d like to reach out to fellow YA writers online and build or join some kind of writing circle. But, in an effort to grab some fresh opinions, I’ve recently asked for feedback on my query letter from two friends of mine from college, whose work I’ve admired and opinions I value. And it was so incredibly helpful to have their feedback I can’t believe I didn’t think of asking them sooner. I’ve even asked one of them to take a look at the first few chapters of the manuscript, and I look forward to hearing back from him.

As someone with a history of (extensive) dabbling in fanfiction, and who has released an independent book, I’m not a stranger to feedback, though I am still looking to broaden my horizons before any future projects are released. Some feedback will be helpful to writers, some won’t – but it’s worth it to glean fresh opinions, no matter how fearful you are of what they’ll say. It’s still difficult, at times, to put myself out there – a feeling I’m sure that many writers share, because not all feedback will be glowing praise of your work. Some folks will gladly kick your ass rather than kiss it. But I firmly believe that constructive criticism is a necessity if you want to improve your skills, and write the best story you can.

On a side note, if you’re a fellow YA writer looking to possibly connect with a freelance editor, please drop me a line and I’ll let you know how I went about it!

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If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

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Worth 1000 Words #12: Monochrome

Despite my complete lack of fashion sense, which is an affliction I have suffered from for the duration of my life, I watched Project Runway for a handful of seasons, binged my fair share of ANTM back in the day, and have seen enough episodes of What Not To Wear that I should genuinely know what not to wear by now. I admire seeing folks with an eye for fashion piece outfits together, craft incredible looks out of bizarre materials, tell someone what clothing works for their body type and comfort level, or strut down a runway in unique garb with palpable confidence. I was also a huge fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race for the first 5 or 6 seasons, and it’s a bandwagon I’ve been meaning to climb back on, because those queens know how to make a look.

img_20170405_133629_423113918457.jpgHowever, listening to Tim Gunn’s irreverent “make it work!”, inspirational speeches from Tyra Banks, and Stacey and Clint clapping at the results of their handiwork has not been enough for me to take any meaningful risks when it comes to my personal wardrobe. My clothing choices often trend in a more… monochromatic direction.

Almost every day, I wear something black. If not black, my next choice is gray. If not gray, a different shade of gray. Then, if I must, I go for white. You get the picture. Mostly, my outfits consist of some combination of those three colors (or lack thereof) on a day to day basis, though I am known to add a splash of color (I love a good pink or green, and especially purple) and even a floral pattern if I’m feeling especially wild. Upon a recent purging of my drawers and closet, I counted 15 black shirts, including 2 black 3/4 sleeve shirts, 2 black long sleeve shirts, 2 black v-necks…the list goes on. Though, I will say I am not opposed to a blending of these options. A black and gray shirt is more or less my ideal, because then I don’t have to choose between them.

I don’t quite know when this happened to my sense of fashion, where my appreciation for color dulled and I strayed in a significantly more monochrome direction. I’ve always liked wearing black, I suppose. I mean… it goes with everything, except most shades of blue, so what’s not to like? Black, gray, and white are super adaptable. I can coordinate my wardrobe so easily because approximately 85% of it looks like it’s being broadcast before the days of technicolor.

But I can’t pinpoint when this started. I used to wear much more color, and I usually see brighter and more vibrantly-patterned clothing in shop windows or on sales racks that I’m drawn to, but can’t bring myself to even consider trying on. I’ve gone so far as to buy some “risky” clothing but never summoned the courage to actually wear them, so they sit in my closet and collect dust. Now, several colors have been shunned from my closet and drawers entirely…keep orange, yellow, and most pastel shades away from my pale, pale self. But whenever I go shopping, if I’ve got someone with me (usually my mom) when I start pawing through all the black, grey, and white clothing, I get asked, “Don’t you have enough of those shades?” And I inevitably buy more, anyway. Even my graphic tees usually have a black base, though it helps that my favorite is Batman and black/gray are key colors for him.

I know I’m not the only one with this habit. I work with some folks who wear a lot of black as well – some days, 4 or 5 of us will be wearing similar outfits – but I doubt our reasons for doing so are the same. Some folks just genuinely like black, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Although I do prefer dark and neutral colors overall just as a matter of preference, I think I started dressing in a monochrome scheme because it’s safe. Nondescript. Bland. I don’t like drawing attention to myself, and that color scheme helps me achieve that goal. Wearing drab, uninspired colors makes it easier to blend in, to make it through the day without standing out, to more or less ensure that no one will pass me on the street and say, “What is she wearing?” with an accompanying look of disgust and/or horror. I mean… in reality, no one would do that, because they have lives and more important things to do than critique the clothing choices of strangers, but it’s easy to project onto others when you’re feeling insecure. When I select an outfit for the day, one thought that passes through my mind before I give it the go-ahead is, “Will other people think this looks stupid?” and this habit has made it so there is very little variety in my day-to-day appearance.

In recent months, I have been making an effort to add some life and color into my clothing choices. One of my favorite new shirts is technically black, BUT it has colorful stripes on it! Baby steps, right? In the same shopping session, I also bought a blue sweater with tiny gold stars sewn into it, and I am obsessed. Sadly, now that the weather has gotten warmer I can’t wear it until autumn, but still…

Now, when I pass a bright shirt or colorful cardigan in a store that piques my interest, I don’t just shrug it off. I might try it on, give it a chance to sway me. Because it doesn’t matter what other people think – all that matters is what I think. I will never eschew black or gray from my wardrobe – in fact, they are likely to remain staples for the foreseeable future – but I’m trying to make a more sincere effort to include colored shirts, patterned pants, and other clothes I would typically ignore into my options. Some risks, even if they are small, are worth taking, especially if they might aid in boosting confidence and self-assurance.

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If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

The Dolphin Statue

Every day, on my way to work, I pass a house with a dolphin statue featured proudly in the front yard.

It’s a curious thing. I’m pretty sure it’s made of wood. It’s cute, and the dolphin looks friendly.

But most of the time, when I glance out the window at it as I drive past, I can’t help but wonder, “….Why?”

I mean, it’s not a conventional choice for a lawn decoration. It’s no garden gnome, or one of those goose statues, or one of those fake deer used for archery practice that I constantly think are real. But how did the person who lives in that house come to own such a curious thing?

Is the person a hero to porpoises, and he was gifted the statue for some commendable deed?

Did the person receive it as an unusual present, and, unsure of where to put it, just stuck it in the front yard for passersby to admire?

Is the owner a carpenter of some kind, and the dolphin is a work they are especially proud of, so they put it on display?

Or… does the person just really like dolphins?

I may never have the answers to these questions, and that’s okay. Though, really, I am very curious to know the origins of the dolphin statue.

But even if I’ll never know, it gives me reason to wonder. And when I find things to wonder about – to theorize endlessly on the countless possibilities – I know that it’s still possible to find inspiration, even in such little things, and great stories can come from simple curiosities.

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If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Paperback is also $9.99 on BN.com.

 

Writing Techniques: Stuck

What is one of the ultimate nemeses of a writer, and the occasional downfall of their productivity? That’s right; Writer’s Block.

There are writers out there who don’t “believe” in Writer’s Block, and while I understand that perspective, I don’t agree with it. Because I’ve fought that horrible, soul-gouging feeling of being “stuck” many times before, especially in recent months. I’ve actually been feeling “stuck” for a long time and it’s taking me longer than usual to work through it, due to a combination of different factors.

Sometimes, the words just… won’t. And what can you do to battle it?

The factors contributing to being “stuck” can be external, internal, or a wonderful combination of both, and over time, they take a toll. There are some days where I cannot even manage to form a coherent thought, never mind write one down.

It’s hard. And when a day – or days, even – pass by, and my fingers barely grace the keyboard, it’s enough to make a writer, aspiring or otherwise, feel worthless. Like a failure. Those are difficult emotions to work through, and they aren’t so easily resolved, so if you’re feeling stuck, there’s no need to feel down on yourself and make things even worse.

There are ways to combat it, though I’ve often had to attempt two or three different methods before something sticks.

1.) Free writing. If you’re stuck on a specific project, it helps sometimes to dabble with some unrelated writing prompts, to try and get the gears grinding again. Or to take a breather from a major work and just write whatever comes to mind for a few minutes, to try and prevent burn-out.

2.) Take some space. Go for a walk, get some fresh air, or take a time out to do some other activity. It’s okay to step away for a while, if pressure or lack of inspiration are bogging you down. Battling through it isn’t always an option, as forcing yourself to write when you are feeling stuck can be a detriment rather than a boon.

3.) Switch projects. If your bout of Writer’s Block is specific to one particular manuscript or screenplay or whatever, then switch over to something else until the creativity starts flowing again.

4.) Indulge in the things you enjoy. To try and break free of the doldrums, I typically engage in the things that help to ignite my passion for creativity – for me, that’s reading and watching movies. After seeing a great movie, I usually have a hankering to get home and sit down at my laptop for some writing. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s a worthwhile strategy.

There are 10,000 word count days, 5,000 word count days, 1,000 word count days…. and sometimes, 0 word count days. People get “stuck” – and not only with writing. It’s natural. So if you’re struggling with Writer’s Block, don’t let feelings of shame or worthlessness drag you down. You can fight it or ride it out, so long as those feelings don’t become permanent, or else, other intervention might be needed. Passion for writing waxes and wanes, but Writer’s Block, while frustrating and agonizing at times, is not meant to last forever, even though it sometimes feels that way.

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If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Paperback is also $9.99 on BN.com.

A Strange Thing to Fear

Fear is a common conversation topic this time of year, as decorated pumpkins take residence on porches and stoops, season lattes feature on every coffee shop menu, mainstream and hipster alike, and Freeform starts airing Hocus Pocus seventy times in a week.

Personally, I’ve got a couple of common fears. Spiders/insects. Open ocean. Mascots. The potential for an alien invasion. Clowns, for the most part. Talking on the phone. You know, the usual. One, however, might not be considered so… normal.

I just recently found out it has a name: kosmemophobia, the fear of jewelry. I’m reluctant to officially say I have this phobia, because I’ve never been formally diagnosed, but jewelry really does skeeve me out, to the point where it occasionally infringes on my life. I don’t want to touch jewelry, I don’t want it to touch me, I would prefer to be nowhere near it, and if I do have to touch it for whatever reason, I wash my hands numerous times afterward. Shaking hands with people who are wearing rings makes my skin crawl. Hugging people who have earrings on freaks me out. Just the word “earrings” makes me want to gag. I also don’t like little pieces of metal like paperclips, but that is far more manageable. My sister is getting married next year and I’ve already told her that, although I’m in the wedding party, I will not be wearing any jewelry.

This has been the case since I was a child, which is corroborated by my mother. I briefly had my ears pierced (thanks, peer pressure) and that was a traumatic experience I hope to never re-live. I will go the rest of my life without wearing any jewelry and I will be 100% a-okay with that. I lived a good portion of my life thinking that this fear is “weird” and I should grin and bear it for the sake of appearing “normal,” but now, I don’t really apologize for it. It’s not so extreme that I can’t handle it on a daily basis and I’m not really crippled by it, but I’m also not going to put myself in situations where I am massively uncomfortable just to keep up appearances. Honestly, I could have it a lot worse. I truly feel for the folks who have a strange fear who can’t function in certain situations or environments because of it.

I think people with uncommon phobias can at least take comfort in the fact that they are not alone, and someone somewhere out there likely endures the same type of spine-tingling apprehension they do toward the root of their fear. This time of year might be tough for some who fear the thought of Pennywise in the drains or Freddy Kruger in their dreams, but I have no fear of ghosts, goblins, or ghouls… unless they’ve got a necklace on.

Stress

Stress is my mortal enemy.

…Well, stress and woodpeckers, but the former occurs far more frequently than the latter.

I am always curious to know how others folks handle their stress, because I struggle with it and have yet to find a solution that sticks, especially now that I’ve more or less kicked my caffeine addiction (3 cups a day is my max, now) and can’t rely solely on coffee to soothe my nerves. I know coffee should have the reverse effect – for me, it’s more of a tranquilizer than a stimulant. It even makes me fall asleep.

I envy the “water off a duck’s back” kind of people, who don’t let negativity and pressure get to them – or, if it does, they are able to channel it in a productive manner or not show how badly it irks them. If I go into a day with a smile and good intentions, one stressful situation can throw me totally off-course. My fitbit often starts registering an accelerated heart-rate when my stress levels bubble up, and my natural expression is one of anger – I’m not even mad most of the time, but I assume it’s just my inner stress making itself known.

I guess those fidget spinner things that recently popped up are meant to help with that sort of thing; to assist with stress and anxiety. I tried it out, and let me tell you, it made me even more irritated. And when I see someone using one in public I feel the intense urge to slap it out of their hands. However, I used to carry a stress ball around in my purse and and it worked pretty well if I was on the go, especially while waiting in line at the grocery store or whenever I was forced to be in the presence of obnoxious children. Or adults. Recently, I’ve discovered shimmer pillows – and they are SO SOOTHING. I have no idea why or how it works, but I find them extremely calming.

Stress is a good thing sometimes, because it does, in a way, show dedication and perseverance. It shows that you care about doing a good job, or that you want a certain outcome and are bothered by the aspect of failure. But in large doses, it is a detriment – a productivity-killer. A blood-pressure raiser. Because in the throes of stress, it’s all to easy to plummet down the negativity slope and end up wallowing in a pit of frustration and despair, surrounded by “What ifs?” and worst-case scenarios.

I’ve been trying to make more of an effort to channel my stress and negativity into something productive or useful, and I’ve had some minimal success thus far. Stress often manifests itself into discouragement, for me – which, as a writer, is a total killer. But I’ve found that forcing myself to face my fears and confront the stress instead of hunkering down into a ball of blankets and waiting for it to pass, opening up a blank document and pounding out a free-write or some new chapters instead of throwing my hands up in failure, is the way to go. Stress is natural – I’ve faced the fact that I’ll never get rid of it entirely, because it’s just who I am. But I can learn to adapt and handle it better than I have in the past, and I’ve resolved to do just that.

And thus, I am curious – how do you handle stress?

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If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Paperback is also $9.99 on BN.com.

Writing Techniques: Multitasking

I’m going to admit this straight up; I cannot multitask. It is a persistent challenge for me.

I also don’t know how people can multitask. I’m not talking about multitasking in everyday life. Like, I can juggle laundry and chores with life stuff and all that…. on a good day, anyway. But I cannot do other things while I’m writing. Like, this is my screen right now:

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I’m watching a UK panel show while writing this blog post. As such, it is going to take me approximately 489 hours to finish this post, because I will inevitably watch something else after this video is done, which will reduce my writing pace to a crawl. And for maximum productivity, I have found that I cannot multitask like that if I want to accomplish anything.

I used to watch TV or Youtube or Netflix or whatever while I was editing or working on a manuscript, but I’ve come to realize that I can’t do that if I want to get things done. I end up paying too much attention to one thing and not enough to the other, and it flips back and forth and back and forth until it destroys my concentration. Even if I do manage to slog through an editing session while catching up on my stories, my attention is never focused 100% where it needs to be, which makes for less than satisfactory results. I can pop on some music to help fuel the inspiration; anything else and I’ll be working at a snail’s pace with frequent distractions. Some people might be able to multitask like that, or watch a movie while working on writing, but I cannot divide my attention in such a way and still produce my best work.

Multitasking by juggling multiple writing projects at the same time, however, is a different story – but still a challenge. Inspiration is fickle, and the well of ideas can run dry after being dipped into too often. For example, I currently have a primary project that is in the revising/pre-query stage, but there are times where I feel burnt out on it; like all my motivation is spent and I can’t muster the right level of attention needed to achieve my best work.

To combat this, I can’t throw myself into a massive new project – if I do that, I’ll get too focused on something new, and alas, I am not an octopus capable of extending eight limbs to divide my efforts in multiple directions. When motivation starts to fray, I either walk away for a bit to clear my head, or I’ll draft out some blog posts. Sometimes, to help encourage myself to return to that main project, I’ll jot down some freewrites about the characters to examine situations in a different way, especially when I hit a wall and don’t know which way to take a particular plotline. Sometimes I’ll re-imagine a scene from a different perspective, to gain new insight on characters and relationships. Occasionally, I’ll work on preliminary stages or snippets for a new project, but I won’t go too in-depth with it – just the framework, to try and get creative juices flowing again. It’s like being a spider with multiple webs, but more work is put into fortifying one web until it is complete, while the others come together at a different pace.

Even if I am juggling multiple projects at once, which is generally the case, the majority of my focus remains on one of those projects… the danger of multitasking can stretch my attention too thin, and have a negative impact on my writing. I do wonder how other writers deal with multitasking – it might be a challenge for me, and effortless for another. But I do know for sure that if I want to do my best, I need to put emphasis on focus, and must minimize potential distraction in any way possible.

SIDE NOTE: I’m taking my novel I’m With You on a virtual book tour via RABT book tours next month! Stay tuned for updates!