You Think Your Writing Sucks? That’s Okay; I Know the Feeling

Currently listening to: Die Vampire, Die!, from [title of show]

We all know the feeling. That moment when you think “my writing sucks”. And it might suck, but that’s okay.

I’m having one of those days where all of the sudden, everything I write is terrible. Like, I write a paragraph, glance back at it, and think “What the hell is this crap?”. And it’s not just one particular piece: I’ve worked a little bit on four different WIPs today, and I’ve gotten the same feeling on every single one of them. I literally cannot write anything I’m satisfied with today. My fingers are itching to delete every unsatisfactory word.

But I can’t let myself do that. Why? Because I need to learn how to give myself permission to suck. I’m not the only writer who’s ever felt this way–I know that. Sort of like how I know that there are other writers who refuse to edit anything out of their first drafts; they just get the words down and don’t worry about whether the words are brilliant or mediocre or anything in between. All of that concern comes later, during revisions. It’s what often separates a first draft from a second draft (from a third draft, etc.). I’m a perfectionist, though, and I always edit as I go. I’ll reread a paragraph, a page, a chapter, or even the entire piece and edit as needed before moving on with the next bit of writing.

That’s an awful habit, and I need to break it. It’s the same habit that throws me into the swirling pool of self-doubt that I’ve been in all day. Is my writing genuinely awful today? Is it ever really “awful”? Probably not, but I can’t see anything good in it right now. All I can see is the stuff I think is terrible. Maybe the only problem is that I’ve made a poor word choice or two, and fixing that will clear up other issues in the passages. Maybe there are no issues at all, and I’m just getting weirdly paranoid about it.

So all day, I’ve been sitting around staring at my WIPs and thinking how terrible I am. And then I remembered something: I may have a lot of discarded manuscripts that I never want to see the light of day, but I have one piece that I have written and polished and I want the world to be able to read. I am damn proud of that manuscript. So what am I doing now? I’m going through and re-reading feedback I got from beta readers on that manuscript. I’m reading about everything they liked about the story, I’m reading about how upset they were when I killed off a character they loved, how they like my writing style…Basically, I’m giving myself a much-needed boost of encouragement.

What I’m writing today might suck. It might not suck, of course, but if it does, that’s okay. Because I know I can do better, and maybe I’ll take another look at what I’ve written in a week or a month, and I’ll see the problems and fix them. Just because I feel like everything is crap today doesn’t mean it is. Sometimes, it’s more important to get some words out, in the hopes that they don’t all suck, than to sit around fretting about how the words aren’t up-to-par. I’ve written better, and I’ll write better in the future. I also need to remember that I can’t compare my current WIPs to the completed manuscript I’m looking to publish. That manuscript has been polished and polished and polished; it’s unfair to myself to put it side-by-side with anything that’s still in-progress.

So today’s lesson: Don’t obsess over every word in a rough draft, and don’t try to compare it to completed works. Just remember that you are a skilled writer, and you can fix things later. We’re all constantly growing in our craft; we can’t expect everything to be perfection from the beginning.

~Sofia

P.S: Click the link and listen to the song. It’s from a really fun musical, and also really appropriate. Talks about all the things that can sap a person of their confidence in their art, and also basically tells all those things to screw off.

Writing Out the World

Currently listening to: Perfectly Flawed, by Otep

Sometimes, you have to find a way to tune out the real world for a while. I’m one of those people who needs to do that…most of the time. And it’s been a pretty rough summer for me (being totally honest, it’s been more like a rough decade or so), so I find myself needing to tune everything out pretty often. No, I’m not trying to be pathetic–just stay with me a minute. So when I need to block things out for a while, the question becomes: how do I do that?

I know people who drink when they don’t want to think, people who go to frat parties or head to the bars. Others go to a movie or zone out in front of the television a while or take a nap. I can’t do most of those things. I’m not huge on drinking (and I definitely don’t drink the cheap, watery-tasting nonsense that tends to be available at frat parties. plus I just got out of undergrad, so a frat basement is pretty much the last place I plan on going ever again). Sitting around watching tv doesn’t really take my mind off anything–I usually just start multitasking: brooding over whatever’s bothering me while playing Spot the Plothole in Doctor Who or something*. Then I just think more and more about whatevever I’m upset over until I’m not even playing Spot the Plothole anymore; I’m just blankly staring at the television, trapped in a loop of thoughts I’d rather not be thinking. And I’m not much for napping. I sleep when it’s dark out (or, sometimes, when we’re in that hazy in-between time when it’s not quite dark anymore, but it’s definitely not daytime) and no other time. The only exceptions are when I’m really ill, or when I hit that fun point where you’ve been sleep deprived for too long and your body decides on your behalf that it’s going to shut down to keep your brain from melting. Or something.

That leaves me with comparatively few options for just shutting everything out. So back tot he question: how do I do it? I write. I take my laptop up to my lounge, shut the door (my signal to the other inhabitants of my house that I need them to not be where I am), put in my headphones, and write. I’ve spent ten hours straight just writing on my own in my lounge. That’s where “flow” comes in; you know–that phenomenon where time seems to start moving differently because you’re so involved in what you’re doing? Writing is the only time where that happens for me. I’ve started jotting notes on my phone after going to bed before, and the next thing I know, three hours have passed and I’m still writing. Writing–or plotting or worldbuilding or any of the other things that go along with creating a story–is the only thing that can really shut out all of the other thoughts bouncing around in my head.

Of course, that’s not going to be the same for everyone, and this post isn’t one of those “THIS IS A QUIRKY THING ABOUT WRITERS” posts. I’ve a friend who’s a poet, and if something’s bugging him, he can’t write a word. Writing is most definitely not his go-to happy place when he needs to get away from unpleasantness. But for me, writing really is the thing. Bonus if I’ve got music blasting at the same time.

So I’m writing today. And writing and writing and writing. And also trying very hard not to think about Pitch Wars because I’m afraid I can already guess what the outcome is going to be for it, as far as my own entry goes, and I’m not sure how I’m going to feel about it if I’m right. We’ll see; I mean, none of us really know what’s happening until Sept.3, which is a painful 8 days away.

 

~Sofia

*I adore Doctor Who, but you could fly a TARDIS through some of the plotholes. Or several TARDISes.

Winding Down from #PitchWars (Or, “What to do While We Wait”)

Currently listening to: Counting Stars, by OneRebuplic

If you’re like me, you submitted your entry to #PItchWars a few days ago, and you’re anxiously waiting for the mentors to make (and reveal) their mentee picks.

Also if you’re like me, you’ve been looking for ways to distract yourself. Because seriously, this is some stressful business. Why did we even enter to begin with? Well, because we’re writers and we have a manuscript we want the world to see, and we’re eager to take whatever opportunities we can to try to make that happen. But leading up to the submission deadline, and in the days following it, it’s been a huge bundle of stress. Waiting sucks. Waiting for responses on query letters to agents, waiting for the Pitch Wars mentor picks, waiting, waiting waiting.

I have never been a patient person. Lacking that particular virtue means that anything involving my manuscript is basically hell, and that hell is just wearing a different pair of high heels depending on exactly what I’m waiting on. So I’ve spent a lot of time thinking of ways to distract myself when I have to wait for things. Might help a few fellow stressed-out potential-mentees.

  1. Write more. Seriously, I always have between 2 and 6 works-in-progress. This is because I get a lot of ideas at random and don’t like to let go of them, and because I have a nasty tendency toward writer’s block. When I get blocked on one project, I need to have another project I can jump over to. I’ve never had a day go by when I can’t think of anything to write at all, even though I’ve had entire weeks go by when I couldn’t figure out what to do for a single, specific project. Writing anything at all helps keep me sane during the waiting. Right at this moment, I have four WIPs open on my laptop. Two are related to the MS I entered to Pitch Wars, playing around more in the world I created for that story, and the other two are connected WIPs–a story and its sequel. I’ve written quite a bit on all of them, today. Lots of inspiration flowing, and I think it’s because my current options are either that, or go completely mad wondering about Pitch Wars.
  2. Listen to music. I’m one of those people who basically subsists off music. I can’t even get my makeup on in the mornings without slipping my headphones in at some point, let alone get to work. I mean, I can, but God help anyone who interacts with me before I’ve listened to some music. I’m basically a zombie, but angrier. Music also doubles as a wonderful distraction. Any time I don’t want to think about something, in go the headphones.
  3. Find a new series to marathon on Netflix. Or rewatch one. I’ve made it through Lost Girl, and Sherlock again so far.
  4. Stalk the #PitchWars feed on Twitter. Or, alternately, stalk the mentor feed. But do this sparingly, because it will seriously drive you batty. Every time one of your mentor picks says something about an entry, you’ll wonder if it’s yours. Or you’ll know it’s not yours, and wonder if they read yours, if they liked it, if they hated it…And God help you if you see one of your mentors talking about having found “the one”, or having their picks narrowed down. You’ll either get ridiculously hopeful, daring to dream that it’s you, or you’ll spiral into disappointment, fearing that it’s not.
  5. Read. Go find a new book or an old favorite and dive in. Don’t think about any of your writing, and just enjoy someone else’s display of skill for a while.
  6. Watch a movie (like a movie based on a book!)

Good luck to all my fellow Pitch Wars contestants! We still have about a week and a half to wait for the official mentee announcements, I believe, so try not to go too crazy!

~Sofia

Down the Rabbit Hole and Into a Writer’s Mind

Currently listening to: Her Name is Alice, by Shinedown

Writers are weird. Think about it. By and large, we’re caffeine-fueled lunatics writing down the stories that characters in our head are telling us. Some of us stay up until 5am because we’re struck by an idea that is just too good to wait until morning. Some of us work on our latest manuscripts while we’re supposed to be writing a research paper or conjugating verbs in foreign languages or socializing at a family function. Some of us participate in things like National Novel Writing Month, and write for thirty days straight on a mad mission to hit at least 50k words. Bonus points if you re-read what you’ve written on December 1 and the words have formed coherent sentences with things like plot points and punctuation.

I belong to a few of those groups. Especially the “caffeine-fueled”, “up until 5am”, and “writing while supposed to be doing something else” groups. I would put myself in the NaNoWriMo group as well, but even though I’ve participated about 3 times, I’ve only “won” once. I don’t count Camp projects because I almost never make my goal as large as 50k words for that. But anyway, every now and then it strikes me just how strange writers are. I talk about my writing habits with people who would probably sooner scoop their own eyes out with a melon baller than spend their time writing a novel, and they look at me like I’ve got six extra heads.

But then I take to Twitter, or to the NaNoWriMo facebook page…and almost everyone gets it. Talk about how you accidentally stayed up until 6am writing a few new chapters? At least a few people will raise their hand and assure you that they’ve been there. Some of them were right there with you this morning, in fact. And even the ones who manage to accomplish miraculous feats like steady sleep schedules and not mainlining caffeine (actually…the caffeine usage might be directly related to just how late/early some of us stay up…) at least get the idea. They know what it’s like to have something you just have to write down, and they know why you can’t keep yourself from editing your MS for the fifteenth time or why you agonize over whether or not you really want to brutally murder that character.

Writers are weird. And I love it.

~Sofia

Getting Into Your Characters’ Heads: Building Character Soundtracks

Currently listening to: Heaven Knows, by The Pretty Reckless

When I create a new character, one of the first things I do is dig up some songs that I feel correspond to that character. Actually, sometimes I hear a song first, and the idea of the character hits me. That song up there, “Heaven Knows”, is actually an example. In one of my WIPs, I knew I wanted the protagonist to be more of a villain. “Heaven Knows” was the song I currently had on repeat on my iPod, and as I was commuting to work one morning, it hit me. That song embodies the character I wanted to write. There’s a certain irreverence in it, a kind of “fuck it all” vibe, and that’s my protagonist. She’s in a situation that she freely admits sucks, and she knows the role she’s expected to fill. She doesn’t like it much, doesn’t necessarily want to do it…but she will, and she’ll damn well do it her way. If that makes her the villain, so be it; she’s probably going to Hell, anyway. The song gave me the initial burst of inspiration; I can see her singing it, or blasting it through headphones as she walks down the street. Without that first burst, I never would have managed to write that character at all and my WIP featuring her as the protagonist would have been scrapped long ago.

I also have songs that “represent” most of my other characters. Some of them have very little to do with the characters, thematically, but the tune reminds me of the characters. Others, it’s the lyrics that draw the comparison for me.

Then there are songs that represent moments between characters, or specific moments of conflict in the story. Whenever I get ready to write those scenes, I blast the songs I’ve picked. And it really, really helps.

For one WIP I’ve been sadly neglecting, I’ve even got a full playlist that sketches out the plot. Which is really odd for me, since I’m not one for plotting, generally (if you participate in NaNoWriMo, I’m a “pantser”). I don’t plan much before I write, if at all. I just grab a pen or open a Word document or my phone, and I start writing. And I hope that what I write ends up being coherent when I review it later.

So how about you? Do you have “theme songs” for your characters? Or maybe some other exercises help you get into your characters’ headspace?

~Sofia

Writing “Exotic” Locales (Or, “Always do your research!”)

Currently listening to: Pageant, from the KÀ soundtrack (Cirque du Soleil)

 

I live in the middle of a cornfield. Not literally, but really. I can see a cornfield from my window, and no, I don’t live on a farm. This makes it a little bit difficult to draw from my environment to create interesting settings for my writing. Or, interesting to me. I suppose there are some people who would be fascinated by something set in Middle of Nowhere, Midwest United States. Probably mostly people who don’t live there themselves. So there’s a serious impulse to set my writing somewhere–anywhere–else. So I’d like to talk a bit about doing just that.

Not too long ago, I read a work set in Italy. In a part of Italy I’ve been to a couple of times, and really enjoy visiting.

There were so many inaccuracies. I ended up having to put the book down. It would have been fine, perhaps, if the novel dealt with some sort of alternate-history, or alternate-Earth or something like that. But it wasn’t. It was just Italy.

Do not be that writer. If you’re going to set a work somewhere that you don’t live, somewhere that you’ve never been to or only been to a few times? Do the research. Get it right. Don’t just click a travel website about Rome, and assume that’s the most accurate picture of the entire city. Don’t watch some silly rom-com set in Paris and think you’re an expert.

Oh, and as far as languages are concerned: if you’re dealing with a country in which a different language is spoken from that of the novel’s protagonist, address that! It adds a little bit of difficulty for your character(s), but it also adds a little more authenticity. And I can think of few situations where a little bit of a language barrier is going to completely derail the plot. Unless you’re dealing with an alternate universe, your character’s chances of meeting someone who doesn’t speak English in a country where a language other than English is spoken is pretty high. Hell-I’ve been lost and alone in parts of France and Italy where–despite there being throngs of English-speaking tourists–none of the shopkeepers, waiters, or random passerby on the street spoke more than a few words of English. And as a general rule, the further away you get from tourist centers, the fewer people speak English. Not to mention the fact that sometimes, the locals just don’t want to talk to you in English, no matter how polite you are about it*. Or English isn’t the predominant tourist language (for example, there are places in Italy where most shopkeepers and such speak German, French, and Italian, and they’re a little surprised to find out you speak English because that’s not their usual tourist stock).

Basically, do your research before picking a setting. Venice might seem like a great locale for your WIP, but if you try to write that everyone travels via gondola, you should probably take a step away from your notebook or keyboard. Research is your friend, and you don’t want future agents, publishers, or readers, to roll their eyes and think you’re a fool for misrepresenting the geography, history, or culture of wherever you’ve set your work.

~Sofia

*I’m looking at you, mean French sandwich-lady at Place St. Michel. I even asked in French if you spoke English, and you act like you don’t until the moment I leave, and then you’re suddenly Miss Chatty McSpeaksPerfectEnglish

Villians

Currently listening to: The Anthropophagist Club, by Abney Park

 

Hello again! Or just “hello”, if you’re new to my blog! I didn’t post yesterday, did I? Well, that’s because I was busy finally finishing my submission for Pitch Wars! Yes, it’s finally done. So now I have until September 3rd (the day the mentee choices are announced) to sit and fret and wonder whether or not I’ll make the cut and end up among the lucky mentees for this year’s Pitch Wars.

So today, I do not want to talk about PItch Wars. Instead, I want to talk about one of my favorite topics: Villains.

 

As some of you might have seen in my Pitch Wars bio (that’s the last time I’m mentioning the competition in this post, I swear!), I like villains. All sorts of villains.

Except one.

I have to admit, I’m not a very big fan of villains who turn out to just be really misunderstood, or ultimately good guys…I mean, there are some great antagonists that fit that mold, but I can’t count them as being “villains”, exactly. As soon as I find out that all they needed was a hug, or something, I can’t look at them as bad guys without having a little trouble with the idea. Maybe I sympathize with them, or maybe not.

I really love villains who really are villains. Vllains who know damn good and well that they’re doing bad things, but either don’t care or can’t afford to care.

Basically, I just really like villains. The more brilliant and devious and complex, the better.

But you know what I’ve learned? Villains like that are damned hard to write. There’s a certain line you have to walk, where your villain is fallible, but not so much so that they’re not a serious threat.

For me, I’ve got a few different villains in the works (TvTropes is going to help me a bit here, because I love that site and routinely find myself trapped there for hours):

  • My current complete MS has a few different villains (I’d tell you who the real Big Bad is, but it would spoil the fun!). We’ve got sort of a Card Carrying Villain–one who’s just following orders, and is pretty amiable, all things considered. Then there are a few obvious foes–the ones really standing in the way of my protagonists and what they want. Through it all, though, there’s a bit of a wannabe Chessmaster. How successful that individual is (or isn’t) is up to interpretation. I’d say they get about 33% of what they were aiming for. The 66% he doesn’t get is…fairly important for him, though.
  • I’ve actually got two projects that involve a bit of a Circus of Fear. Only one will probably survive to become a finished project, but they’re both very different, and very fun to write.
  • A  villainess who’s a bit of a Dangerously Genre Savvy, Chaotic Evil figure. She’s great. Also very, very good at killing.
  • A Villain Protagonist Trapped in Villainy who’s up against a Master of Illusion and a Hero Antagonist who’s also kind of Trapped in Villainy. Most of the characters in this story are having a rough time in some way or another.

I like variety, obviously. But as I said: villains are hard to write well. Maybe it’s because they’re so dear to me; I want to do them justice. I want to create the kinds of villains I love to read in so many other works. And I’m not entirely sure if I always hit the mark; there have been some times when I’ve been absolutely sure that my villains were off, so I had to step back and restyle them entirely.

Then there are times when I realize halfway through a manuscript that one of my characters has been a villain the whole time even though it wasn’t a conscious decision. I love those moments.

 

~Sofia