Chasing After Motivation

Recently I was struck with a great motivational quote from what some would say is an odd source–a tweet made by a member of O-Town.

You remember O-Town, right? MTV’s Making the Band reality show where attractive and talented young men lined up to audition for their chance at stardom…back in the good ole days of Boy Band Supremacy.

(Are you singing “All or Nothing At All” right now? You should be.)

Yes, O-Town is still making music and touring. And yes, I have a ticket to see them in Vegas. YES, I am insanely excited about that. But this isn’t a post in which wax poetic about how amazing this particular boy band is. Maybe I’ll do that another time.

This is a post about motivation.

Last Wednesday O-Town member Jacob Underwood so aptly tweeted the following:

If you wait and want, you’ll spend a lifetime waiting and wanting. GO GET!!!

It really struck me because he’s right.

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a child. It was one of those unattainable dreams that I answered when adults would ask me “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I never really thought I would actually do it.

Fast forward to adulthood: (I promise I am an adult) After having tried this writing thing seriously almost four years and not finding that big break yet, I can get a little discouraged. I have writer friends that are securing agents and getting book deals, indie publishing and I am thrilled for them. But sometimes it becomes difficult to not land in the “But why not meeeee?” zone. When I get there, it’s hard for me to pull out the WIP and make myself make it better.

But that’s what I have to do if I’m going to succeed.

Just this morning I emailed my crit partner whining about needing to finish line edits on this manuscript, and rewrite my pitch for another. I didn’t want to do either of those things. It was too daunting to think about it. To me, the fun part is the first draft where the words and images come easy. The rewrites are challenging. But the rewrites are where the magic happens.

So I ignored my huge pile of new books that I got at the RT Booklover’s convention and focused on Jacob’s tweet that’s been post-it noted in between my “We Bought a Zoo*” inspirational quote and “JSS**” reminder. I turned up the music (O-Town’s Chasing After You, specifically. I defy you not to love that song.) and I set about GOING and GETTING.

I’m pleased to say that I got a lot done and I’m even closer to my goals.

If you’re a writer that’s struggling with motivation, I challenge you to find your own boy band. Or heavy metal band. Or classical orchestra. Whatever you’re into. And if music doesn’t work, use magazine photos or poems or inspirational quotes with cat pictures. Whatever you find, grab onto it and don’t let go. Keep writing through the hard stuff, keep querying, smile through rejections and write some more. Don’t sit back and wait for something great to happen to you. Like Jacob says, GO GET!

 

*From WE BOUGHT A ZOO. (Imagine Matt Damon saying this): Sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty second of just embarrassing bravery and I promise you, something great will come of it. 

**Just Survive Somehow from THE WALKING DEAD

 

 

Water Day

Today I’m celebrating World Water Day. I’m taking a moment to be grateful for all the good things water gives us.

I wrote about the water crisis last week, so I won’t start spewing facts and statistics at you again. They’re available on water.org if you’re interested. I recommend taking a look as soon as you can. Check out the introduction video on the site. I hope it’ll open your eyes like it did mine.

I’ve been aware of water.org for a few years now but only recently after doing some research for a couple of novel ideas that I have, did I come to fully understand what the organization does and how it impacts communities across the globe. They’re doing good work to provide lasting solutions to the water crisis.

Personally, I’ve found myself very grateful for my toilet. Seriously. It’s not something we talk about in civilized conversations, but maybe it should be. Because I have a clean toilet I can use any time I want. (And I use it a lot because I pretty much mainline Diet Coke.) But what if I didn’t have a white porcelain throne and instead had to squat in the mud where seventeen other people have squatted today? Suddenly a new role of Charmin seems more precious than gold.

Millions of people are dealing with this every single day. And it breaks my heart. And that’s why I support water.org and celebrate World Water Day. Because how can I turn a blind eye to something so fundamentally important to every living soul on the planet?

Visit WaterDay.org to celebrate Water Day with me. You can create your own photo to share what water gives you. I’d like to share a couple with you- mine and Matt Damon’s.

 

And because I like to put feet to my words, I’ll share something I was inspired to write after seeing a water.org photo on Instagram. It’s not easy for me to share this because it’s not a complete scene or story, or even fully edited, but it’s what came to me.  I hope it inspires you to do something. Share. Donate. Celebrate. Think. Give thanks. Act.

 

Six hours. Six hours isn’t bad as long as she begins in the morning just as the dew is starting to form in the fields. Six hours over dusty, rock-laden paths beat down by the footfalls of a thousand other women who came before her.

Six hours. Three each way.

Every day.

Without ceasing.

A yellow plastic jug trails behind Darsha, leaving a chalky mist in its wake as she trudged from the outskirts of the slum she calls home toward the place where she will gather today’s water.

As the sun peeks over the horizon creating a hazy golden glow on the fields, Darsha temporarily forgets where she is and what she’s doing. For a brief moment, she rests on the shore of some nameless crystal lake with her toes dug into the mud and the cool water trickling over her shins. But as the odor of the men squatting in the field beyond her assault her nose, she remembers and picks up her feet.

Six hours for her family.

Six hours for life.

Only six hours.

The day has twenty-four. 

 

The Tides of March

When I first hopped onto the internet today, I was met with several “Beware the Ides of March” posts and references. And that was great because it’s absolutely the first thing I thought this morning when I saw the date. Who doesn’t love a good Shakespeare reference? In fact, I was going to blog something about the Ides of March today, but I changed my mind after I saw this video.

Hey there, Matt Damon, most talented and brilliant actor in the world, whatcha talking about?

Please allow me to explain.

In September 2015 the UN General Assembly set 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) meant to further the gains made worldwide in stamping out poverty and injustice. You can see the complete list HERE.

It includes things like eliminating poverty, ending hunger, quality education for all, renewable energy, sustainable cities and communities, good health, and economic growth. All lofty and worthy goals that we NEED to support.

As I was looking over the list of SDGs something struck me. Most of the goals on the list are not really obtainable without first conquering SDG #6 – Clean water and sanitation.

With a background in education, I’m invested in seeing quality education for all. But how can we teach children if they aren’t in school because they have to travel miles every day just to reach a clean source of water? Moreover, how can we end hunger when there’s no water to grow sustainable crops? Or how can we keep everyone healthy when entire communities live in fear of the bacteria invading their water supply?

We can’t.

If you’ve ever taken a Gen Psych or Sociology course, you’ll remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs. (Are you picturing a triangle? You should be picturing a triangle right now.) Maslow stated that people are inherently motivated to achieve certain needs. At the very base of the triangle lies BIOLOGICAL and PHYSIOLOGICAL need. It includes air, food, water, shelter, warmth, sleep. If those needs are not being met, there’s no way anyone is moving up the triangle where you find safety, love, esteem and self-actualization.

Did you catch it? Access to clean water and proper sanitation is a basic human need. According to water.org 1 in 10 people lack access to clean water. And 1 in 3 lack access to sanitary toilets.

I’m not okay with those numbers.

I know I’m starting to sound “crusadey” with this. (And I’m okay with that, by the way. I will never apologize for who I am and what I think.) But I’ve been researching the water crisis and specifically water.org for months now and it’s given me a new perspective that I want to share with as many people as I can. While I don’t have the fans that Matt Damon has to bring awareness to this cause, I do have voice. And I’m using it.

Think of it as trying to change the tide on the water crisis. (See what I did there? Tides of March. *nods*)

If you’re interested in more info, check out water.org

And join me in celebrating Water Day next Tuesday. Water Day

And you can help for FREE by donating a photo here. Johnson&Johnson DonateAPhoto

 

YOU KNOW HIS NAME

No less than 14 people texted, emailed, messaged, called or Facebooked me on Sunday regarding my reaction to the trailer for the new Bourne movie. Since I’m currently simmering my WIP and have no new writing things to share today, I thought I’d use today’s blog to become a movie critic.

Er, movie trailer critic

I tuned into the Super Bowl to wait for this trailer. No, I am not ashamed of that. I was in the movie. I think that makes it okay. I had done enough research to know that Universal only bought 60 seconds of air time, so as soon as I saw the Universal logo pop up on the screen, I knew this was it. I literally jumped up off the chair and screamed. (My poor long suffering husband. I love him a lot for putting up with my enthusiasm.)

I can’t imagine what I’m going to be like when I’m sitting in the theatre waiting for the movie to start on July 29. I’d apologize to my friends who’ll be with me, but I don’t have to. They’re used to me and love me anyway.

For the record, the scene which I was an extra in, is not in the trailer.

Check out the Jason Bourne trailer for yourself HERE.

Here are my thoughts from beginning to end, as I saw it the first time–breaking it down, frame by frame, if you will.

  • Opening chord: Ominous and dark. Just like Jason Bourne. I like it. It sets the mood perfectly. And it makes my heart race because it just feels like something big is about to go down.
  • Bam, Bam, Bam: Massive dude goes down in the three strikes! I stinking love the beats of the music matching Bourne’s punches. Wait. Is Matt Damon not wearing a shirt? I’m going to have to investigate that upon second review. (2nd review: Nope, he wasn’t wearing a shirt.)
  • YOU KNOW: I love the font. Yes, it’s weird to have a powerful opinion on a font, but I do. It’s my favorite kind of font—strong and graphic. I even like the regular/bold aspect of it. At this point in the trailer, I started holding my breath. I was thinking, “What do I know? What? What do I know?”
  • HIS NAME: Yes, I do, movie trailer. I know his name. As far as taglines go, I think this one is fantastic. It reads as almost a mic drop before the movie. YOU KNOW HIS NAME.  (The purist in me would like to remind everyone that we learned his name is actually David Webb in The Bourne Supremacy. But he’s not David Webb anymore now, is he?)
  • And the intense drumbeats build up to “My God, that’s Jason Bourne.” I made a sound that was somewhere between a squeak and sigh because I couldn’t do anything else. I was out of breath! I loved the delivery of this line. He may have just as well said, “Well, crap. We’re in trouble now and e’rybody gone die.”
  • Matt Damon’s face inside a cool graphic. What I enjoy about that is that it hints at the technological thread of this movie. I’m okay to confirm that since Matt Damon has said in interviews that technology and privacy in the “Post Snowden Era” are featured in this film. Which certainly matches up to what I saw on set.
  • Oh hey, Tommy Lee Jones. You look like the requisite embittered CIA official that (incorrectly) thinks he can match wits with Jason Bourne. Oh well, it was nice knowing you.
  • Jason Bourne gets physical with a chair: My prediction is that he wipes the guy out with only one leg of the chair. He just really doesn’t need the whole thing.
  • “I know who I am. I remember everything.” Just check out the intensity of those eyes. Jason Bourne simply has nothing left to lose. Everybody needs to run and hide. Oh Matt Damon, how I adore your delivery of these lines. You really are an Oscar-worthy actor.
  • “Remembering everything doesn’t mean you know everything.” That’s Julia Stiles’ voice! I’m excited that she made it into this one. I think she’s going to be key in this film. It was hinted that they had a “connection” and past in Supremacy and Ultimatum due to her role in Treadstone. I hope they have several scenes together.
  • Nighttime car chase down the Las Vegas Strip thankyouverymuch: I was there literally minutes after they finished filming that scene. That’s where it first hit me that I was actually doing something pretty monumental by just showing up to be in this movie.
  • “The world is at war. We need the perfect weapon.” I feel like these lines are the pivotal call to action for Bourne. Matt Damon has said that the movie will pick up in real time and we’ll find out what Bourne has been doing since 2007 and the end of Ultimatum. I suspect that something or someone will make David Webb put the Bourne persona back on. (And whomever that is, I’d like to shake your hand.)
  • And Bourne’s in the desert (I hope he’s wearing sunscreen. Wouldn’t want his exceptionally ripped abs to get sunburned.) This time…this time y’all, it only takes one punch to bring a fella down. Proving that in the time between 2007 and 2016 Jason Bourne (consequently Matt Damon) has indeed, been working out.
  • Close up on Bourne. Oh, he is not happy. And the thing about that shot is the intensity of it. Shudder. Now, normally I am not a fan of lens flares. (Looking at you JJ Abrams). I tend to find them distracting. But look at that end shot. He can’t even help it. When Matt Damon is not smiling, that smile is somewhere deep inside him longing to come out. The result is a beautiful rainbow. I am so thankful that the lens flare made it in the trailer. I already wanted to hug you, Paul Greengrass. Now I want to hug you and give you cookies.
  • Title card: JASON BOURNE: There’s a lot of opposition on the internet about the title. People don’t like that it fails to follow the formula. But I love it. I think it’s powerful. And as I said above, I think he’s going to choose to be Jason Bourne instead of running from it. And that’s a new development. Matt has said this film will be the conclusion of the first three. Well, I’ll let him say it for himself instead of paraphrasing. This is from EW.

 This is the completion of this journey that started in the Bourne Identity. It’s part of the first three [movies], it’s not a whole new chapter. It feels like the conclusion, even though we’re not saying it’s the conclusion, it feels like the conclusion of my identity journey. It goes deeper than Ultimatum, basically

(Note: when I read that, my little fangirl heart pitter-pattered at the possibility of more Jason Bourne movies in future. Gold stars for effort to Jeremy Renner for The Bourne Legacy, but Jason Bourne is just in a class by himself. And so is Matt Damon. If the story is good and Paul Greengrass agrees to direct another Bourne, I, along with millions of others, will show up for it. Like, I am totally fine with The Bourne Declination, where Jason Bourne spends his golden years in an retirement  home chasing pudding-stealing curmudgeons on his walker, then taking them out with a bedpan.)

jason-bourne-poster

Maybe you’ll see me on July 29. But even if I don’t make the final cut of the film, I’m grateful that I got to do something amazing and witness a couple of the most talented filmmakers around and had a blast doing it.

Not Just Another Tuesday. AKA That Time I Was In A Movie With Matt Damon

I pride myself on using clever titles, but try as I might, I couldn’t think of anything that fit the epic scope of what I did last Tuesday other than to simply say it like it is.

Last week, I crossed something off of my bucket list. I was a movie extra. And not only was I movie extra, but I was a movie extra in what will probably be one of the biggest movies of this year. And I was a movie extra in a movie starring my absolute favorite, most talented and well-deserving-of-any-kind-of-accolades-you-can-give-him actor of this generation, Matt Damon.

It’s been a few days now and I’m still grinning, well as wide as Matt himself.

MD smile

(NOT MY PHOTO. Sadly. Credit: Giphy)

I can’t publicly post where I was, what I was doing, or anything having to do with the movie. And I wouldn’t. That’s not solely because of the nondisclosure agreement I signed, but also because of the respect I have for Matt, Paul Greengrass, and the production itself. I’ll be able to share a few details after the movie premieres, but until that happens, I can tell you what it was like for me to be enclosed in the same space as one of the biggest most recognizable movie stars on this planet. (And you know, Mars.)

To begin with, I did not meet Matt, speak to Matt, take photos of Matt or otherwise engage personally with Matt. Nor did I meet any principal actors or production crew involved with the movie. What I did do is get to see them work for two days. And I think that’s the greatest Blessing from this whole experience.

There were a lot of extras to deal with in this particular scene. And not once did I see any person from the Director down to the poor PA who was tasked with getting us water dismiss us or treat us with anything but respect. In fact, Paul Greengrass and his Asst Directors went out of their way to explain what shots were being filmed, pump us up for the scene and regale us with stories while the cameras were being repositioned. I can’t say what it’s like on other movie sets, but I’d bet all the money it’s taken to rescue Matt Damon in movies that it isn’t like that on every movie set. To Director Paul Greengrass, every single person in the room was just as vital to the movie as Matt Damon. And that says so much. I felt it every time he spoke to us and the crew.

And then there’s Matt. Anyone who knows me knows I have had straight up genuine respect for Matt since Good Will Hunting. (I even blogged about Matt. More than once.) Last week it was very rewarding to be able to look at the guy and KNOW that every ounce of respect, every award, everything he’s ever been given is absolutely deserved. He’s got the reputation of being the nicest, hardest working guy in Hollywood because he is the nicest, hardest working guy in Hollywood.

Again, I want to stress I had no personal interaction with him, but I was there when he walked on set and told a room full of people how absolutely important we were for this scene. And how he’d been there as long as we had (HOURS) and that he couldn’t express how much he appreciated our work and our attitude and our respect. At that moment, he went from being one of the biggest celebrities alive to just a guy wearing a black baseball cap and carrying a Starbucks cup. He was there to work. We were there to work. So we went to work.

And it was thrilling to watch him do what he does. It was just as entertaining to see the crew operate and feel the love Matt and Paul Greengrass have for each other. Their commitment, and in turn our commitment–as seemingly unimportant as it was–to the creative process gave me an experience I won’t forget. Ever.

I have no idea if my face will show up on the big screen or not. Even if I end up on the cutting room floor, I’m thankful for experience.  It’s just not every day that you get to spend almost 12 hours with Matt Damon. And I have to say that Post-Damon Depression is a thing. The struggle is real, y’all.  I find myself thinking, “What do I do with my life now?”

MD what up

(Also not mine. Giphy again.)

Okay, maybe that’s a little extreme, but true nonetheless. I’ve been watching a lot of movies and tv in the past fews days and I’ve found that I’m completely fixated on the background players. Sometimes, I have to pause and watch again because I’ve missed something in the action due to focusing so hard on the extras.

This made me realize that Matt and Greengrass were right. The faceless people, the miniscule details, the minutia that encompasses “everything in the shot but Matt Damon” give authenticity. They add to credibility of the characters and ground them in reality so we can sit in the theatres and root for them. They build the world that we’ve shown up to see.

I’m going to apply that concept to my writing. And I’m going to notice it in movies. And I’m going to do my best to honor it, because I truly felt honored by having the experience of being one of them.

By the Numbers

I just finished the first draft of my YA Fantasy manuscript based on the ancient Mayan culture. (And inspired by an episode of Ancient Aliens!) I thought I’d let you in on the editing process as I experienced it this time. If you’re a writer, maybe you can glean some tips and ideas from my process. And perhaps even feel good about yourself as I reveal how bad my first drafts are!

After I typed “THE END” (Okay, I didn’t actually type that. I typed hashtags. The End just sounds more poetic) I let the MS rest for a day or two. Ideally I’d let it simmer longer, but I’m inpatient and have some time to kill right now, so I dove right back in.

My word count prior to this edit was 79,000 words. Word count after edit is 77,000.

The manuscript was started on March 21, 2015 and the first draft was completed Jan 2, 2016. Though there were about 4 months in that period where I relocated and worked on another MS.  So I’d estimate 5 months working time on this.

This story is told in present tense with 2 POV characters– a girl who lives a primitive life in a valley and a boy from a more advanced civilization who lives on a mountain.  That’s all I can share right now. Oh, there’s kissing. I can share that.

After I read through and tightened the MS overall, I went back and took advantage of that ever-so-amazing FIND button. Bill Gates (or whomever) deserves all the accolades for that little thing. It is my best editing friend. (Besides my crit partners, of course!)

I utilized FIND and REPLACE in 3 different instances. Two character name changes and one name that I inexplicably decided to spell differently throughout the MS. (Ah, such is the life of a pantser!)

For this manuscript, I researched the ancient Maya people and  culture. I tried to get as close to possible to authentic Mayan words or Mayan-sounding words without offending the Mayans who are still living today. As a result, I created 29 “magic” words and added them to my Word dictionary.

My last step was to go through and use that FIND button again, searching out those pesky FILTER WORDS and CRUTCH WORDS.

Crutch words are words the author uses often. I usually have 1 or 2 words that creep into manuscripts without my permission. In this case, I used a lot of “beautiful” and “strong” in the first draft of this MS. This is not surprising as these are the most prevalent words the 2 main POV characters use to describe each other! They’re still in there, but I managed to trim them down and use other descriptors like gorgeous, stunning, rugged.

Filter words are words that don’t add anything to your sentences. They often appear in manuscripts because people use them in their daily vernacular. But they serve no purpose and slow down the action.

Below are some common filter and crutch words and how I fixed them are:

  • Really – This word crops up when I tried to put emphasis on something. Oftentimes I can find another word that conveys the feeling I want. I used it 22 times in my MS. I narrowed that down to 9. Here are some examples on ways I axed “really.”

PRE EDIT:  She steels herself for some really bad news.

POST: She squares her shoulders, steeling herself for bad news.

(I also got rid of the unneeded “some” in the first sentence. Now the sentence is more fluid, plus it shows action.)

PRE EDIT: We have the map and it doesn’t really tell us which way to go.

POST: We have the map and it doesn’t tell us which way to go.

PRE EDIT: This guy is really getting on my nerves.

POST: This guy is unraveling my last nerve.

  • Very –  Another word that adds nothing. You can get rid of the ‘verys’ by coming up with a more descriptive word to use.

For example: I changed one character from “very pretty” to “stunning.” Another character went from being “very tired” to being “exhausted.”

  • Begin/began to – I went from 21 instances down to 7. The remaining 7 were times when the character actually started to do something, but was interrupted. Make your characters act, not begin to act.

PRE EDIT: The villagers begin to panic and scatter.

POST EDIT: The villagers panic and scatter.

(Because if you are panicked enough to scatter, you’re not going to stop, right? You’re going to get the heck out of there. Beginning to panic and scatter implies the villagers will run a few feet, then stop for some reason.)

  • Probably – Similar to “really,” using “probably” slows down the action. Your characters should act with purpose. “Probably” shows they’re guessing or unsure. If that makes sense for the character, then it’s okay. Otherwise, you don’t need it. I went from 12 to 2 “probablys”. Both rmaining cases are the POV character being flippant and sarcastic, as his personality dictates.
  • Smile/Laugh/Nod – When I give you these numbers, you’re going to think I wrote a book about a bunch of happy agreeable people. That is not the case. I have a tendency to use smiling, laughing and nodding as place holders in my MS. This story has a lot of dialogue and a lot of characters. To break up the dialogue and show (not tell) who is speaking, I find myself letting the characters react to other speakers or events by smiling, laughing or nodding. Now that’s not a bad thing, unless it happens so much that all they’re doing is walking around like they’re on Prozac.

PRE EDIT: Corvus laughs. He approaches Araylee with a sneer, drinking her in with ruthless eyes.

POST: Corvus approaches Araylee with a sneer, drinking her in with ruthless eyes.

In my first draft, Corvus was reacting to something another character said prior to this line. He laughed about it, then went on to approach Araylee. But upon further review, his laugh did nothing to advance the action. The important thing is that he approaches Araylee, not that he is amused by came before.

PRE EDIT: He nods his head at me, then turns toward the Stargazer.

POST: He bows his head an infinitesimal amount, then faces the Stargazer.

Not only is the edit more descriptive, it shows the intent of the character. The POV character is implying that this character is doing the minimal amount as possible because he doesn’t WANT to nod his head.

PRE EDIT: I nod my head in understanding.

POST: I understand.

I went from 307 smile/laugh/nods to 68. (Because sometimes characters get to smile. Usually after the kissing.)

  • Say/Says/Said –Ah, the dialogue tag. I can’t seem to get away from the dialogue tag in my first drafts. As I mentioned above, I have a lot of dialogue. When I’m drafting I don’t stop to think about how much I use them, but when I plugged “say” into my FIND search, I wanted to cry. 224 times I used say. After this pass, I’m down to 79. Because sometimes there really is no better way.

You can scrap say/says/said if there are only 2 speakers. Having a whole page of He said/She said is boring and redundant. Instead, use action to break up your dialogue.

If you need to use dialogue tags, consider other descriptive words. Words like: declare, admit, joked, replied, growled, hissed, sneered, etc… But be cautious about the tone of your MS. Using alternative words can make the MS sound stuffy or formal.

PRE EDIT: “Good evening Archer,” she says. She swishes her golden hair over her shoulders

POST: “Good evening Archer,” she purrs, swishing her golden hair over her shoulder, immediately drawing my brother’s eyes.

(Doesn’t that give you a much better idea of who this girl is anyway?)

  • Feel – Feel is another one of my favorites during first drafts. Emotions are important, yo. And my characters just feel all over the place in my first drafts. But too many “feels” don’t actually bring the reader “THE” feels. Oftentimes it separates the reader from the emotion you’re hoping to convey. To say a character feels something is telling. Have them show their feelings.

PRE EDIT: I feel her apprehension in the air around us

POST: Her apprehension hangs in the air around us

PRE EDIT: I can feel Archer’s presence behind me.

POST: Archer’s presence trails behind me, like a shadow, dark and ominous

PRE EDIT: A feeling of obligation sets in my bones and dread swims in my blood.

POST: Obligation sets in my bones, dread swims in my blood.

I don’t even want to tell you how many times I used “feel” in this manuscript. Right now I’m a touch over 90 “feel/feelings.”  My goal is to narrow that down a lot more before I submit this to an agent.

I hope my first draft editing can help other writers find ways to improve their own works. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but these are the tendencies I cling to while writing. All writers should take note of their own crutch words and filter words. Kill those little darlings!

Other common words to check for in your manuscripts.

That – almost never needed

Definitely, certainly

Rather, quite, somewhat, somehow

Down, up – almost never needed. (As in: reached up, bent down. Just: reach, bend)

Think/thought, wonder/wondered – much like feel. Use action and descriptors.

Inhale/exhale/breathe – these are overused, especially in YA. And for the love of Bakab, the Mayan god of the Four Directions, do NOT have your character exhale a shaky breath they didn’t know they were holding!

 

And In Time, We Will All Be Stars

November is National Novel Writing Month. In short, writers commit to writing 50,000 words, the  better part of a novel, in thirty days. NaNoWriMo is not for the faint of heart. It is a laborious task that can seem daunting at the least and downright impossible at the most.

Given that I am 65,000 words into my work in progress, a YA Fantasy based on the ancient Mayan creation story, I have decided to NaNoWriMo a little differently this time. My goal is to finish the novel within the first week of the month. Let things simmer (meaning: DO NOT GO BACK AND READ IT) during the second week. Then, take the following two weeks (and a couple days!) to begin revisions.

I am at a crucial point in my story and because I am a “pantser” and didn’t know exactly where my story was going to land, I have found myself struggling with the ending. (Though my fabulous and wise Crit Partner could tell you I pretty much struggled through the ugly middle part too! Thankfully I can trust her not to share my deepest inner writer freak-out moments OR the strange rabbit holes my brain takes me down at times.)

For this manuscript, I know what the two POV MCs need to go through at the end. I was just not sure how to make it happen effectively. So, I spent a little of my writing time yesterday searching for inspiration. I had pretty much exhausted all of my Mayan culture references and was still coming up short. But something I wrote as a “place holder” line stuck in my head and I couldn’t let it go.  The line was something to the effect of “burn with the fire of a million stars.”

I tried to figure out where I had heard that before because it kept coming into my head with a specific tune. Then I was hit over the head with my past. That line, and that particular tune were from one of my favorite songs in the classic 1980 film, “Fame.”  (Yes, I was one of “those” nerds that not only had an intense love of all things Sci-Fi, but also stricken with a case of Broadway dreams.) The song was based on a Walt Whitman poem, so you can imagine the intensity that this word-geek loved that! The lyrics to the song and the poem itself are spectacular.

I sing the body electric,
The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them,
They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,
And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the soul.

So, after I read the poem a few times, away to youtube, I went. I found a clip of the song. Just listening to it did the trick to open up my mind. The score of the song fit in perfectly for the scene I was working on, starting out in a vulnerable place, then building into a crescendo. I was able to find inspiration and a jumping point for a pretty large reveal in the scene I was writing. All was right with the world.

But, I caution you, my writer friends. This tale does not lead to a happy ending.

After I heard the song a few times, it was in my head. And I started remembering how much I loved not only that movie, but the TV show that followed it. Which led me to googling Lee Curreri, as he played Bruno Martelli, my favorite character from the movie and tv show. (Even named one of my characters in a previous MS, Martelli!) So I spent longer than I care to admit seeing what he’s been up to since the days of Fame. (A lot, actually. He’s a working composer in Hollywood with some decent credits. Ooooh, I wonder if he’d score a book trailer? Hm…)

So, the moral of my tale is this:Inspiration doesn’t have to match your genre or draw directly from your outline. Consider favorite old songs, poems you wrote in high school, movies from your childhood. Inspiration can be found anywhere. Just don’t let it get in the way of your writing.

For more info on NaNoWriMo, click HERE.

And to see my inspiration, I Sing the Body Electric from FAME, click HERE.