Decluttering

I just deleted twenty-seven emails. This may not sound like a blog-worthy task to you, but trust me, it is.

I tend to be a bit of a hoarder by nature—not one of the obviously-in-need-of-therapy kind that they do television shows about, but more of a save-this-in-case-I-need-it type. That mentality has served me well in the past because I’ve saved things that I did, indeed, need in the future. But oftentimes my “saving things” resulted in piles of (organized) stuff in many different resting places. We had so many saved things lying about our house that when we did need to find something, it took forever, or worse, we never found it due to the massive nature of our “collection.”

Because we had so little space in our cars when we moved back to Arkansas from Nevada, we ended up weeding out of lot of things just to make the trip back. That inspired me to make a major push to clean out some of “saved things.” (I refuse to call my stuff “junk,” okay?)  We cleaned out the garage, had a yard sale, donated carloads of stuff to Goodwill. It was liberating and I honestly feel better about decluttering (most of) my life.

However, it occurred to me that while my home was looking pretty spiffy, my inbox was a big ole’ hot mess.

When I started to seriously pursue this writing thing, I did what I think most newbie writers do—research. I went online searching for the best resources, reading the most popular blogs, registered for message boards and author newsletters, and followed every author, agent, and publisher I could on Twitter.  That resulted in a lot of information.

It also resulted in a lot of email.

There’s a lot to be gained by reading every scrap of information you can about the craft of writing. I want to be a successful writer. I want my manuscripts to appeal to readers, agents and publishers. I want to “get it right.”  Reading writing blogs and following agents is helping me to craft the best stories that I can. I can say with all certainty that my manuscripts are better off than they would have been if I had just started with no information, blindly jabbing at the idea of writing and occasionally landing on a good idea or well-written sentence.

I’ve noticed is that my writing suffers when I am actively trying to remember every nugget of information I have read on the craft of writing. Instead of writing my story I’m thinking, “Is this inciting event strong enough…does this character’s arc work…is this showing or telling…do I need that dialog tag…does this setting seem unique…” All of that bumbling around my brain when I’m trying to write a scene causes it to stall and it just gives me a lot of stress and doubt.  Instead I should be focusing on my character’s voice and how they’re going to deal with the thing I’m throwing at them.

I’ve had to actively learn how to keep what I know in the back of my head and let it become “white noise” while I’m writing. I wish I could tell you the steps to do this, but I can’t. It’s a daily struggle for me to “just write” instead of “write it, think about it, edit it, reread it, revise it, think about it, ask my crit partner about it, rewrite it again.”

Another issue I’m facing is that I’m working again, so my time is limited. I no longer have hours every day to read the blogs, author emails and spend more hours than I care to admit on Twitter.  I’m forced to make my writing “count” now.

With all that in mind, I decided one way to combat the issue of having too much in my head is to declutter my inbox. The twenty-seven emails I deleted were author newsletters, blog posts and book deals. Yes, I’d love to support every one of those authors, read every one of those books, and consider each blog post. But while I am doing those things, my manuscript is sitting there with a blinking cursor beckoning me.

I’m not going to ignore good advice from great sources, but I am going to attempt to maximize what I read for the greatest effect. Since I’m going to soon be querying a YA Historical Fantasy, I can put that adult romance author’s newsletter on the back burner. Because I’m working on a NA Contemporary Humor manuscript currently, I don’t necessarily need to read that blog about crafting the perfect Sci-Fi setting.  And do I really need to add another book to my TBR pile?

Okay, yes, to that one.

Hopefully the decluttering of my inbox will result in a little decluttering of my writer brain, and in return, yield some fantastic words. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Now I have to go find that box my husband was looking for last night and delete two more emails that came in while I was typing this blog!

 

 

 

 

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Pimpin’ My Bio for #PitchWars

Hey there! Though this isn’t Tuesday, I’m blogging for a specific reason today. Welcome to the #PitchWars bio of Michelle Collins, YA writer, voracious reader, occasional blogger, and fulltime fangirl of many things. To learn more about me, follow me down the rabbit hole yellow brick road cobblestone path strewn with boyband t-shirts, gerbera daisies, and zombies.

Follow Me Four

I’m a married mom of two kids who are older than I care to mention. We recently moved back home to Arkansas after a year of living in Vegas, where I got to do a lot of cool things. These things definitely do NOT stay in Vegas.

I met my favorite author, Jennifer Armentrout (and her hunka-hunka cover model and all-around delightful human being, Drew Leighty.)

Jen and Drew

I was an extra in a movie with my favorite actor, Matt Damon. MATT. FREAKIN’ DAMON. And I have to say, he definitely earned his reputation for being the nicest guy in Hollywood. He was super. (Look for me in the convention scene!)

Bourne movie

And I also got to finally meet one of my favorite bands, O-Town. Yes, O-Town from MTV’s Making the Band. (Nope. I do not consider my love of these guys as a guilty pleasure. Not even a little bit.) They’re the hardest working, most down-to-earth and appreciative band I’ve ever met. Go see them, if only for nostalgia’s sake. They do not disappoint. Townie for life!

Me and my boys

KMore about me: I’m a card carrying Sci-Fi geek (my complete collection of Empire Strikes Back collector cards qualify me). Some of my favorite fandoms are: Doctor Who, Firefly, Game of Thrones, Buffy & all things Whedon, Star Trek, The Walking Dead, Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Marvel Universe, X-Files, & The 100. Here’s where I come down on the important issues: Ten over Eleven (and light years beyond Twelve); Picard over Kirk; Spike over Angel; The Order of the Phoneix book, The Deathly Hallows movie;  and Bellarke forever.

My zombie apocalypse team would consist of Daryl Dixon, Jon Snow, and Spike from BtVS.  Yes, they will brood the zombies to death and finish them off with their hotness.

My favorite authors are Jennifer Armentrout, Veronica Rossi, Stephen King, Marie Lu, Madeleine L’Engle, and who doesn’t love JK Rowling? A favorite books list would include A Wrinkle in Time, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Divergent, The Lux Series, Brave New World, & To Kill a Mockingbird. I also adore the Shadow and Bone series, which I use as a comp for my #PitchWars entry.

I’m entering VALLEY OF MIST AND MEMORY this year. It’s a YA historical fantasy based on ancient Mayan culture that was inspired by a dream and an episode of Ancient Aliens. The manuscript is a magical retelling of the Mayan creation myth told in two POV’s—a girl from the valley who believes the Four Elements guide her and a prince from the mountain who’s directed by the stars. They must overcome their differences and team up to find the “somewhat disputed” thirteenth crystal skull before it falls into the wrong hands, specifically the prince’s crow of a brother, who’s determined to gain the skull’s power and destroy the valley.

Oh, and there’s kissing in it.

Hot kissing. We’re talking literal fire here.

(Because it is completely impossible for me to write anything that doesn’t have a lot of kissing in it.)

My Pinterest board for this manuscript is here.

For the pimp portion of your evening, allow me to sell myself to my potential mentors.

smooth move baby

Though I’ve been a writer since I could form coherent thoughts, I’ve been formally attempting this publication thing for about four years now. I’m an active member of SCBWI and have an awesome group of crit partners who dig this story! (That’s got to count for something, right?) I’ve done contests and have come close, but haven’t found the right agent yet. I’m hoping this MS is THE one. I have not queried this MS yet, so it’s shiny and fresh for everyone to see. (Or it will be!)

Personally I’m a quick writer, hard worker, and will give it my all (…Or nothing at all.  O-Town.) Though I’m a sensitive soul, I’ve always understood that honest critique is the best way to improve and I Want it That Way. (Backstreet Boys) I’m fully ready to receive any comments/suggestions/criticisms/gifs. My mentor can expect me to respond to these things with a good attitude/honest questions/my best effort/and possibly boyband lyrics.

And this has been my life and times. The truth is out there. So long and thanks for all the fish.

so long dolphin

WRITERS with polished manuscripts: You can find more information about Pitch Wars on the amazing Brenda Drake’s website. Check out potential mentors and get your pitches ready by August 3!

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.

ROAD WORK NEXT 85,000(ish) WORDS

Every time that I sit down to write, I learn more about the process of writing. Of course, there’s no “right way” to do this as long as the words get on the page. There are some things writers can do to make the words they write better.

I have a couple irons in the fire right now and I’m letting my latest Sci-Fi manuscript simmer before I take another pass at it, so I thought, why not get this idea I have in my head for a fantasy down on (virtual) paper?  And that’s what I did.

In this blog, I’ll share how my latest WIP has developed. My “Writing Trip,” If you will.

roadtripmuppets

Unfolding the Road Map

Before I wrote a single word, I had a good working premise of the story I want to tell. (Based on a really weird dream I had) Since my natural process is to let the story develop organically, I find the best way to that is have the major plot points lined out and then let the characters tell me how they want to get there.  With my inciting event, turning point, mid-point, setback, and climax in mind, I had a road map. Now I just needed to know who was driving the car.

CARPOOL LANE ONLY

This MS has a dual POV. It took me a few false starts to get the voice of each character right and more importantly, different from the other, but once I got a good grip on that, it became easier. This story has an astrological theme within it, so it was very easy for me to give the MCs a birthdate then make their personalities mirror traits from their astrological signs. I recommend doing that if you’re stuck for character personalities, even if you don’t have an astrological theme. It’s a great jumping off point when you are just discovering who you’re writing about.

Then I used their back-stories and let the culture they live in inform a lot of their personalities. We’re all products of our upbringings. I instilled a very specific set of beliefs in both of them which helps me when I have to decide how they will react to an event.

Now these two characters come from very different worlds and they each start in their own space, so in a sense, I made it harder on myself because I had to invent not one, but two worlds for them to live in.

GOOGLE 4 MI —>

Research. Boy, did I research. Every day I’m still researching. And every day I find some new juicy tidbit that sparks an idea that I can use in my MS. Frequently I will set out to research some particular fact and find myself closing the browser with some other nugget of information that I didn’t expect or even know existed. I love it when that happens.

For instance, did you know that the ancient Olmec Mayans were the first to process cacao beans and turn them into chocolate? Yep. They also put jalapeno peppers with their chocolate so you can thank them for the frosty nontraditional shake served at Sonic today!

I certainly didn’t set out to find out about Mayan chocolate, but when researching, I discovered this little nugget which will become a hilarious fish-out-of-water scene for one of my characters. How this person reacts to spicy chocolate is going to say quite a bit about the way he/she approaches new things, which shows character development.

So now I’m rocking along at almost halfway through the MS and I know where I need to end up and I know who is driving and I even have a pretty good sense of what snacks they brought for the road.  The next thing for me to determine is what their flat tire is going to be.

CAUTION SPEED BUMPS AHEAD

Conflict is the key to writing a compelling story. My MCs are each seeking different goals. They have different desires and different flaws that are inhibiting them getting what they want.  I don’t think I’m giving too much away by revealing that their paths will cross and then they will begin to affect each other. I’m enjoying playing with the differences between them, but picking out common threads to weave them together. One of my MC needs external gratification, the other internal, but both of these have to do with their families.  One character is bolder therefore gets into some sticky situations sometimes, the other is more reserved and misses a lot because of the fear of acting.  The potholes that I choose to throw in their roads are what will determine how they grow and where they end up. I’m using things from my extensive research as the smoking engines that slow them down and force them to make tough decisions.

The things I’ve uncovered in my research have made me excited about this MS. It’s a departure from what I normally write but I think that’s what’s keeping me motivated and writing well over the speed limit.

Word Flow

Earlier today I told my daughter that I had no idea what I was going to blog about today.

This is the way I approach writing manuscripts as well. I know I’ve mentioned being a “pantser” on this blog numerous times. I’ve tried doing detailed plot outlines, using index cards, making pretty charts on my white board. None of it works for me. For me, the thrill of discovery as I write is the most rewarding part of writing. It’s how I work best and what makes my voice, mine.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t have moments like this when I sit down to write.

freak out

I have those moments before, during and after I write. My Crit partner can testify to that.

Oftentimes meandering down the unknown path yields the best result. But working with only a loose outline when when writing can be frightening. Sometimes you just don’t know what you’re going to say.

Here are some things that I’ve discovered that help me with Writer’s Block or as I like to call it, Writer’s Slow Drain.

  • THE RENAME GAME: I wish I could credit the source of this, but I truly don’t remember. It works though. When I’m stumped for a plot idea, scene, or even brief description, I clear my mind then close my eyes. When I open them, I look around the room (or desk, or Starbucks) and stop on the first item I see, then name it something else. For example, I just called my Yoda figure “apple,” the lightswitch, “cow,” and then the box of thumbtacks, “swing.” I don’t really know the science behind it, but it works. After I perform this exercise a few minutes, I always come up with the next thing to type in the MS.
  • PAPA’S ADVICE: I find that Ernest Hemingway’s advice works for me too. “The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck. Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.” — Ernest Hemingway
  • DANGLING CARROT: I’ve been envisioning a scene for a while now and once I started getting close to it, I had a hard time stopping my writing sessions. I was so anxious to get to that (kissing!) scene that it dangled in front of me like a carrot. Knowing it was there waiting for me to write it made the words come so much faster. Scenes like this are like rewards—a treat to write once I put in the effort to get to them.
  • HEADLINES: Stuck for ideas? Look around you. Grab a paper (or click on a link to a paper), browse social media, flip the channel. There are a plethora of ideas for your choosing. For example, the scene (aforementioned kissing scene) I just wrote for my WIP was inspired by a photo my daughter posted to Facebook after she participated in The Color Run. No, she wasn’t kissing anyone and no, The Color Run has nothing to do with a space station, but yet that photo sparked an idea for a beautiful scenario that I could put my characters in.
  • MUSIC SOOTHES THE SAVAGE BEAST: I’m not a writer who can play music during writing sessions (I sing along and get distracted!) but I am one that is inspired by music. For EVERGREEN, I listened to a lot of Imagine Dragons, Fallout Boy, AWOLNation and Skillet. It set a dark edgy tone that matched my MS. Now I turn on the Ed Sheeran station all the time, which is coming out directly in my love interest. There’s a sweet flirty thing he’s got going, but it’s a little spicy too. Ed Sheeran is perfect to set that tone.
  • NAME GAME: When my daughter graduated college recently we ended up with multiple copies of the program. I tucked one of those copies on my desk next to my craft books. Now when I’m stuck for a name, I whip out the program. I find it very helpful with names from other nationalities. Those are real people with real names, so I know they work. (I do try to flip some first and last names in order not to copy directly.)

If you’re writing, hopefully these tips will help you dislodge those ideas and get more words on the page.  If all else fails, listen to Daryl Dixon.

Daryl drinkwater

On the days it’s hard to write are the days it’s most important to write.

That’s how you know who you really are.

That’s how you know this is what you’re meant to do.

Wake up.

Get up.

Write.

–Chuck Wendig

 

The Walking Dead

I spent a lot of time with Zombies over Christmas break.    I’m not talking about the people shuffling around Walmart on Christmas Eve – I’m talking about The Walking Dead.

Why I didn’t watch the show when it first came on, I cannot say. What I can say is that the hubs and I have been burning through the episodes every chance we get. (Or as he likes to say, “when football isn’t on.”) We’re almost halfway through Season 4 now. I’m going to really hate it when I have to wait a week between episodes.

For those of you who are not familiar with The Walking Dead, I’ll give you a brief synopsis: Deputy Rick Grimes leads a group of survivors around Georgia in a world overrun by zombies. (or Walkers, as they call them.)  So, your basic Zombie Apocolypse.

Because I can’t seem to turn off the writer mind, I started seeing comparisons to writing when I was watching TWD.  There are some essential things you need when you’re faced with a zombie apocalypse, just like there are some essential things you need when you write.

-Vehicle. You’re going to need a reliable vehicle. Now me, I keep screaming at Rick & Co. to take some of the army vehicles they’ve passed by, or raid a Humvee dealer, but sadly, they stick to their soccer mom SUV. (Except for Daryl, he rides a motorcycle. Roof? He don’t need no stinkin’ roof!)

In my mind, the vehicle of your story is your plot. What is carrying your characters from A to B.   It’s important to fine-tune your plot. It will carry you through the obstacles, or rather carry the protagonist through them.  It is the thing that drives your story.

-Weapons. Of course, you have to have weapons to kill the zombies, lest they kill you. TWD characters use a variety of weapons to get the job done – guns, baseball bats, crow bars, even their boots -anything that smashes the brain works fine.  Daryl is the only one that carries a crossbow. It’s the best choice, in my opinion, because it’s accurate and quiet, and well, it looks dang good slung across his back.

There’s a variety of weapons you have in your arsenal when it comes to writing too – style, subplots, language, dialogue, conflict.  But I’d say your writing voice is the crossbow of your story.  It’s the single most identifying factor that says it’s your story. Some people take time to develop a writing voice. It’s easier for others. I found that trying to force my writing voice into a certain style failed miserably. When I just started writing what was in my head, it came naturally.

-Shelter. You’re going to need somewhere to hole up when you’re not out whacking zombies.  Mid-season 4 on TWD, Rick & Co. have occupied a prison. It’s not the Hilton, but it gets the job done and they’re safe for the most part. They’ve constructed an elaborate security system that helps keep the walkers at bay.  They work on it constantly. They’re always improving and finding new ways to make life bearable.

The shelter in writing is your practice. Emerging writers will read this piece of advice more often than any other-write and keep writing. The foundation that is going to support you and your story is the foundation you’ve built by practicing your craft.  The more you write, the more you learn, the better your foundation, the better your story.

-Numbers. All Rick wants is to keep his family and friends safe. He has some trust issues with outsiders, but he usually comes squarely down on the side of “there’s safety in numbers.”

Writing is a solitary job.  I have a lot of family and friends who support my writing and cheer me on enthusiastically. But when it comes to the words on the page, I’m sitting alone at my computer with only my imagination to keep me company.   It reminds me of Daryl in the early seasons. He had his own tent separate and away from the others. He was comfortable there with is crossbow and his thoughts, but when it came crunch time, when little Sophia was lost alone in the woods, he jumped into action and joined the group. He worked with them and became a valuable (The most valuable, if you ask me) part of the team.  That’s what writer communities are all about.  You write alone…but you don’t have to go through it alone.

-Death.  It’s inevitable that people are going to die in any apocalypse situation.  Rick & Co. have had their experience with death.  Some of the deaths they’ve experienced have been shocking and important. (From a writer’s perspective, I applaud the show runner’s guts for some of their choices. From a fan’s perspective, THEY BETTER NOT KILL DARYL!)

I’m not saying that all stories need to contain an element of death in them. I’m saying that when you’re writing, sometimes you have to be willing to let things that aren’t working die. It’s hard to do. But Stephen King said it for a reason. “Kill your darlings.”

Last night I decided to take a character out of my WIP. I eliminated references to that character then looked at my word count.  3250 words killed.  Tragic. All that work…poof, gone. But my story? It’s better for it.  So, I look at it as acceptable death.

One final thought that ties this all together, one of my favorite TWD lines, as said by Dale:

If I had known the world was ending, I would have brought better books. 

H2Oh, I got it!

I attended a write-in at my local Starbucks last Saturday.  Now I don’t drink coffee, but I didn’t let that keep me from showing up with my laptop and meeting four wonderful and talented writers for a day (or partial day) of writing, conversation, and support.

I discovered that just a change of scenery went a long way in helping me to tap into some creativity.  I’m working the 2nd draft of my story. It’s proven to be very challenging for me. But I found that being in the company of others struggling with the same issues gave me a little more confidence to slay this dragon.

One of the topics that came up that day was the undeniable fact that some of our best ideas come in the shower.  We relayed similar experiences of being in the shower and having some crucial plot point, story problem or idea just materialize in our brains.

One of the writers mentioned reading an article about this phenomenon, so I did a little research. I learned creativity is directly related to the amount of dopamine released in our brains.  The more dopamine, the more creativity. What does this have to do with loofahs and rubber duckies?  It turns out that having more dopamine is only part of the equation-you have to be relaxed too. When our minds are relaxed the alpha waves are focused inward where all of the creativity lives. (Okay, you understand I am paraphrasing, right?) When we aren’t relaxed we focus outward on problems and our brains can’t make those important connections that allow creativity to occur.  Most people find warm showers soothing and relaxing, which increases the dopamine, which allows connections, which unlocks creativity.

I’ve experienced this many times. But not ever if I intentionally go into the shower, turn on the water, and wait for inspiration to strike like a lightning bolt. (Which would be a bad thing because I’m dripping wet, after all.)  When I do this, I’m still focusing outward on the problems and not letting the creative juices flow on their own.

Of course, there’s more to it than Science, I think.  For me, being in the shower means that I’m not checking email, thinking about my day job, fixing dinner, mopping floors, or reading Twitter.  Distraction is a huge part of any writer’s life. Those sacred few moments in the shower get rid of distractions. Inside that little tile box it’s just me, my Garnier Fructis and the words bouncing around in my brain. It becomes more than a shower, it’s an oasis in the desert.  Sometimes that’s all it takes to solve a story problem or defeat writer’s block.

I’m sure it won’t be long before someone invents a laptop you can use in the shower.

Hey, that actually might fit nicely into my Sci-Fi story…