Tag Archives: procrastinate

Lùnastal, World Building, and Distraction

photo of Dragon "Green Man" with Rowan Berries

The Dragon guarding our front door, with Rowan berries.

It’s Lùnastal, also known as Lughnasadh and several other names including the first of August. Lùnastal is among other things a harvest festival; a time to celebrate the first fruits of summer and to anticipate the bounty of the harvest season. This seems a good time to reflect on the things I have accomplished, or not accomplished, so far this summer.

Confession time. Summer is more than half over, and since my kids said goodbye to elementary school in June, I have not finished a single story. I foolishly (or responsibly – my POV changes) scheduled summer activities that meet my children’s needs instead of my own. After all, being a parent is my day job and writing is my hobby.

Our summer started with the biennial Slighe nan Gaidheal 2012 Seattle Fèis. I reprised my 2010 committee role as registration manager on top of my newish role as Slighe  Treasurer. It was a truly wonderful experience and because of the hard work and dedication of many people, especially event chairs Seumas Gagne and Kate Freeburg, a tremendous success. But until recently I was utterly burnt out.

What have I been doing to improve my writing, when I can’t get more than ten or fifteen minutes in a row of quiet writing time? I have been reading. Pretty much any writing instructor or author will tell you that reading in the genre you’re writing is essential, and I have definitely found that to be true. Before I started trying to write short stories, I hadn’t actually read many short stories. (Charles de Lint’s short stories are the exception; I’ve been reading both his novel-length and short fiction for a long time.) So I’ve been reading short stories from online speculative fiction eMags. I just finished a collection of Connie Willis’ short fiction, and yesterday I bought a Steampunk anthology edited by Sean Wallace.

I could also claim to have writer’s block, except that would be a lie. What I have is more like writer’s ADHD. I start reworking a story that’s been languishing in the first-draft stage, and then I get distracted by a new idea. I take a break to write down the idea (either for a new story or some aspect of an in-progress story) and tell myself I just need to make sure I don’t forget it. The next thing I know, I’m writing that new/other story. Until the next distraction!

Speaking of writing distractions, I will add world building to my list. I have been developing ideas I have for a novel that will take place on another planet. Creating that world is both daunting and exciting; and of course fun! The dominant sentient species there is human. How did they get there? What happened to the original alien inhabitants? What are the origins of the two main religions, and how have they deviated from their founder’s intentions? How have the cultures and religions been affected by the environment? It’s a bit like playing god (or goddess in my case;-)

Happy Writing,

Miriah

Edit. Procrastinate. Edit. part 2

A photo of Kiki the cat - the passive verb "was" personified

Kiki demonstrates the lazy nature of the verb “was”

What words of wisdom do I have regarding self-editing? To start with, I recommend a book by Ken Rand, The 10% Solution. The sticker price is $10, and it’s a slim book and a quick read. Like all how-to-write books, I expect more of it will be meaningful to me as my writing improves, but for now it has two main ideas I frequently use now.

1) Read the story aloud. This advice is just so important. Many errors, awkward sentences, overused words, and bad grammar just jump right out at you when you read the story aloud.

2) Use the search function on your word processor to identify problem markers. In his book Ken Rand identifies twenty-six words and suffixes to scrutinize. This is a very useful tool for zeroing in on problem areas of a story that may need rewriting.

I could just end there with the advice to go read that book. (I really do recommend it.) But first I’d like to explain my own take on why “ly”, “ing”, “was”, and “of” (as examples) are problem indicators. I don’t love to study grammar, but lately I’ve found that knowing a little bit about grammar helps me understand why certain word constructions are more successful than others.

Most adverbs end in “ly”. The purpose of adverbs is to modify the verb. Now, verbs are what bring life to a story. Good verbs engage the reader and drive the action. But adverbs are word vampires. They suck the life energy right out of a verb, and slow it down so that it’s left struggling to move. Some writers avoid adverbs completely. For myself, I’m willing to put up with a few. But generally speaking, every time “search” finds an adverb, I try to find a better verb and toss the adverb. When I do use an adverb, I make sure it’s pulling its weight by adding an important piece of information to the verb. For example, in the phrase “ran quickly”, “quickly” is not adding any information. A better verb might be “dashed” or “sprinted”, or just plain “ran”.

The “ing” suffix is added to a verb to make it function like a noun. (In grammar, I think it’s called a “gerund” or “verbal noun”.) Examples are: build to building, dance to dancing, feel to feeling.  Usually an “ing” word is giving a name to an activity, behavior, or “state of being”. Sometimes “ing” is added to a verb to turn it into an adjective (“tantalizing scent”, for example). Words that end in “ing” are the cross-dressers of the English language. It’s easy to be fooled. Once a verb dresses up in “ing” drag, he is for all intents and purposes a noun. Don’t let him sneak into the verb position!

“Was” (and her plural form “were”) are the past tense of the “to be” verb. “Was” is passive. She is the couch potato slowing down your prose to take a nap, and putting your reader to sleep along with her. She likes to collude with her best friend Gerund, and make your story boring with passive phrases like “he was running” instead of “he ran”. When I start editing, I usually search for “was” first, because she sneaks into my first drafts way too often. I replace “was” with an active verb whenever I can.

The word “of” can be used to construct the genitive, or possessive case instead of “ ‘s”. For example “the tail of the dog” or “the dog’s tail”, “the love of a mother”or “a mother’s love”, are genitive constructs that mark one noun modifying another. Sometimes “of” is used with intent, for example “the quality of mercy” sounds so much better than “the mercy’s quality”. Or there may be an established convention, for example we (usually) wouldn’t write “The America’s United States”.  But “of” is another word to watch out for. “Of” has passive aggressive tendencies and likes to slow down the action. He makes the reader stop and pay attention to exactly which noun is possessed by another. Stories often move along faster using “of’s” agreeable little sister “ ‘s”.

Now that I’ve finished this blog post, it’s time to go edit a story. But first I’ll just make myself a cup of coffee…

Edit. Procrastinate. Edit. part 1

photo of my cat, Snowflake - the ultimate procrastination role model

Snowflake has procrastination down to a fine art.

If there’s one thing that  drives me to procrastinate, it’s editing. It can even drive me to write another blog entry. Oh yes, I really should be editing that last piece, but first I’ll need a cup of coffee, then I’ll just start a load of washing, and I’d better check my email… You get the idea.

When I first started writing, I thought editing was about correcting spelling and grammar errors.  But no, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. A very small tip, one that will fit in my cup of iced coffee.

Writing the story is the fun part. Some writers, including me, talk about turning off our “internal editor”. For me, (I won’t try to speak for other writers) that’s the part of my brain that wants to make every sentence perfect the first time I write it. One skill I got out of completing NaNoWriMo was learning to turn down the inner editor’s voice. She’s allowed to add notes (“need better verb”, “more description”) but otherwise I know that if I let her interfere, I’ll get bogged down in one sentence and I won’t finish the story.

I love that feeling I get after finishing a first draft. I just want to submit it right away. But now I know better. I send it to my first reader, who happens to be my mother. I recommend recruiting a first reader, someone to read that first draft. Preferably this would be someone who loves you unconditionally (just in case the story is complete cr*p), who will agree with how absolutely wonderful you think it is. Once your ego is soothed, put that story aside for at least a few days.

Why not start editing that first draft right away? Because at this point I’m in love with that story. It’s my baby. I don’t have the perspective I need to see its flaws from the point of view of an editor, or even a savvy reader. I have a couple stories that I think – from my admittedly biased point of view – would have been good candidates for particular markets. But I blew it because I submitted them before they were ready.

(To be continued)