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This month’s achievements

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For the month of June I participated in a blogging challenge created by the awesome Michelle Goode from WriteSoFluid.com.  You can check out my interview about the challenge on her site HERE.

Overall the challenge was amazing.  I did end up missing a couple of days, but I managed to nail down most of them and I’m pretty happy with the outcome.  I loved having the daily inspiration and I definitely hope she creates another challenge like this so I can participate again.

Looking back on the month a lot has happened (it always surprises me how much can change in a month).  I had a couple of goals that I outlined when I started the challenge this month and I thought it would be good to take another look at them to see how they worked out…

1) To finish my novel to the point of sending it to beta readers.

Holy cow!  I did it!  I’ve sent my novel out to around ten people and I’m so nervous about it, but now that it’s out there I can’t take it back!

2) To get at least one more client for my burgeoning freelance corporate copywriting career.

I have one in the works, not set in stone, but definitely a good possibility.

3) To finish my query letter for my novel and find at least five agents to query when the novel is ready to go.

I have definitely finished a rough draft of my query letter, it still needs a bit of tweaking and some more personality, but overall, it’s getting there.

4) To decide on my next novel (at least a basic story).

Ben and I have started plotting out my next novel, this one is going forward with more of a pre-defined structure as an experiment in how I work best (to outline or not to outline).

5) To maintain the highest possible level of awesomeness.

Always.

Wow!  I honestly didn’t think I would have achieved all my goals.  Some are a little up in the air, it’s true, but most of them are rock solid.  Sweet.

So what have I learned?
Setting goals it cool, kind of like making lists where you can look back and tick them off and it’s super satisfying.  I’ve also been inspired by my month to stick to blogging more.  I definitely won’t be able to do it everyday, but it’s good to know I have enough to say to be able to blog almost everyday for a month.  Very promising.

So a big thank you to Michelle Goode for being my muse this month!
How about you, what were your goals this month?  Did you achieve them?

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How I plan

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The truth is, I’m not much of a planner.

I’m more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kinda gal.

I think I’m too impatient for planning most of the time and sometimes it’s gotten me into trouble, other times it’s led me on the greatest adventures of my life.  I flew to England a while back with the single goal of going to Stonehenge for the summer solstice and the rest I left up to the winds of fate.  I ended up living in Brighton, making friends and hitchhiking around Europe.  Hooray for no plans.

When it comes to writing I have difficulty planning as well.  Having a vague idea for a story constitutes a plan for me.

My most recent completed novel (in beta reading now) started out as an idea and I didn’t really start plotting until later when events unfolded that needed to be explored.  It was an adventure to be sure, but still a little unnerving as it left me wondering, is this going to work?  As it turned out it did (at least Ben and I think so, we’ll see what other people have to say), but after that writing free-for-all I thought it might be a good idea to try the next book with an actual, full out plan.
Ben and I started that process yesterday.  After a bumpy start (sitting there staring at each other), we went for a walk (apparently the only way we can actually think) and worked out some ideas.

So here’s how the planning is going so far:

Step 1: Idea – the idea for the book came from a short story I wrote (which is how it seems to go for me) and I told Ben.  Ben said…‘hmmm…interesting….’ and off we went.

Step 2: How to plan as we’ve never officially done this we had to work out how to plan, which basically consisted of a discussion about the best way to approach the idea.

Step 3: Characters/research – as many of the characters are based on gods of various pantheons we had to do some research, so we spent some time on good old Wikipedia.

Step 4: Define characters – as this more of a character study than an adventure, the characters seemed more important than the plot.  The plan is to create the plot around the characters but first they all need names, backstory etc…

Step 5: Define the world – as the world has limitations we needed to make some decisions about what it is and how it operates.

Some basic ideas about all of the above is as far as we’ve gotten, but it seems to be going well.  The next steps will involve plotting and more fleshing out of the backstories so that they connect with the main plot and create a little drama.

Ben is perfect for me for a million reasons and one of them happens to be that he loves plotting and planning stuff like this.  We’re essentially planning the story like it’s a D&D game, but instead of playing it, I’ll be writing it.  Personally, I love the writing part most, making the words go together and sound beautiful and interesting and meaningful.  I like to live in the now, minute by minute.  He’s a bigger picture kind of guy which works for me perfectly, because without him, I’d probably just write a lot of rambling novels.

So planning.  I’m still trying to work it out, but it seems to be going well and I know the more we plan now, the smoother the process of writing will be and that will make it even more fun in the long run.

How do you plan?  Have any hints or tricks you use to plan effectively?

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This is a post for www.writesofluid.com’s blog writing challenge.  One blog post a day for all of June!  Check it out at the website or on twitter: @sofluid or #wpad!

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What makes me fume?

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I love lists, so here’s a list of things that make me angry:

Animal abuse
Misunderstandings that could be solved with a word
Extremism (of any kind)
Parents who shouldn’t be parents
Sexism
Reverse sexism
When people sit next to you on the subway even though it’s empty
Injustice
Unrealistic expectations
Passive aggressiveness (just say it out loud)
Lack of forward thinking
Lack of critical thinking
Capitalism
Rob Ford
Global warming
Computer trouble shooting
The fact that there are homeless people (capitalism again?)
Manipulators
Psychopaths
Stupid mistakes
Religious sanctimoniousness
Religion in general
People who say one thing and then do another
The fact that we publicly fund Catholic schools
Badly written shows/movies/books that ought to be good
Man of Steel
Stephen Harper
The fact that we call the anti-abortion movement ‘pro-life’ as if to suggest pro-choice people are against life
Those dog choke chains with spikes on them (animal abuse again?)
Choke chains in general
Cults (religion, manipulators and psychopaths all in one!)
War
Oppression
When people compare science and religion

I could go on I’m sure, but I think that’s enough to give you a pretty good idea…

How about you?  What makes you fume?

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This is a post for www.writesofluid.com’s blog writing challenge.  One blog post a day for all of June!  Check it out at the website or on twitter: @sofluid or #wpad!

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What makes me cry?

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I cry a lot.

At the drop of a hat really.

Sometimes it’s kind of embarrassing and sometimes I find it hinders conversation because people tend to get distracted or take you less seriously if you randomly cry.

But we all have our issues right?

So what’s the main thing that gets the tears flowing?

Sadness is all well and good, but the thing that really gets to me is sweetness.  The heart warming stuff makes my heart ache.  I absolutely refused to watch WALL-E for ages until I was finally convinced and sobbed through half the damn movie.  I also cried from start to finish through March of the Penguins, it was actually unbelievable, I think I was dehydrated by the time the movie was over.

It’s a shame really, because I love heart warming stories.  I love glimpses of human kindness in action and when people do things that are just plain nice.  I love kindness, but I hate crying.  It gives me a headache (which is the worst), makes me all snotty and is generally pretty embarrassing.  But I still subject myself to the greatness of the world, heart warming movies, triumphs of the spirit, a video Ben edited for the Toronto Wildlife Center about animal rehab, yup I watch it all.

Sadness also makes me cry but to a somewhat lesser extent, which is weird.  I guess it all just depends on how it’s approached though.  When it comes to stories, I have to be invested in the characters and the writing in order to feel something.  If something is really poorly written (in my opinion) it will be way harder to get those tears streaming.

Overall, although I hate the actual experience of crying, it usually means I’m watching a good show/reading a good book if I’m brought to tears and that makes it worth all the headaches in the world.

How about you?  What makes you cry?

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This is a post for www.writesofluid.com’s blog writing challenge.  One blog post a day for all of June!  Check it out at the website or on twitter: @sofluid or #wpad!

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Self-promotion & networking

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Writing is a business.

Whether you’re penning the next bestseller or writing copy for websites about car parts, writing is a business and you (as a writer) are a business person.

So this means you have to sell, sell, sell yourself.  Self-promotion is the other half of writing.  Once the document is closed or the pen is down (or in the case of freelancing before you even start) you have to find a way to get your words out there.

Since deciding to be a writer (for reals) I’ve done a bunch of research on the subject of how to break into the world of writing.  There are (obviously) different rules for freelancing than there are for being a novelist, but the idea is the same.  Here’s some knowledge on the subject I have accumulated whilst researching.

Platform

Agents like a platform, so do readers.  A platform is basically a soapbox upon which you stand to blast your message out into the virtual world.  It could involve a blog, twitter feed, facebook page and linkedin profile, ideally with thousands of followers who are super interested in the words you have to say.  A lot of writers write about writing (like this blog for example) and themselves, they write about their books and engage with fans.  If you are an unpublished writer like myself (for the moment) it is a good place to get your voice out there and say stuff.  For self-publishers, a platform is a good way to sell people on your writing and get yourself out to the public, it also allows you a place to sell your books and build your brand.  For freelancers, a platform is sweet because it allows you a place to send potential clients to give them a taste of how you write and also link them to your portfolio.  Having a well rounded platform is a launch pad for greatness in the future and gives you a place online to send all your adoring fans as they pile up after you publish your first book.

Why not?  Start a blog about your life and interests.  Make yourself a twitter feed for short, but sweet messages to the world.  Start a facebook page and invite your friends to ‘like’ you.

Talk your face off

Gone are the days of being a reclusive writer, shunning the world and swooning alone in the darkness to your own sweet prose.  It’s a self-promotional world out there and even if you’re not super net-savvy you should still be getting out there and meeting people.  Conferences and writing festivals are awesome ways to get your face out there, shake hands and take numbers.  Lots of agents and publishers go to conferences and festivals to check out the new blood and it’s always good to make yourself known (agents might be more likely to look at the work of someone they meet in person).  There are also local events you can take part in, reading nights, writing groups etc…where you can get loads of information on what’s happening in the writing world.  Get out there and get involved.  Also, if you are a published author a book tour/signing or at the very least a launch party is always a good thing.  People want to see the writer who wrote the words they love.  For freelancers, get to know your market.  If you’re a medical writer, get out there to conferences and meet some doctors, talk shop and keep on top of updating your language and voice.  Shaking hands is always more memorable than e-mail.

Why not?  Look up some conferences and festivals nearby and make a plan to head out to one.  Find a local writing group and join.  Find local readings and see if you can sign up.

Look good doing it

This is a personal preference of course, but I find it’s easier to be memorable if you look good at whatever you are doing.  If you’re rocking a medical conference, dress the part, don’t walk around in your old raggedy jeans and expect people to want to do business with you.  Same goes for being an author.  If you are a romance writer, put a little oomph into your outfit.  Sci-fi writers, would a dash of silver really hurt?  Overall your presentation should match how you want people to see you and the best impressions are always made when you give it some effort.  Just because you spend 99% of your time behind a computer doesn’t mean your style can’t be snappy folks.

Why not?  Put together a couple of stellar outfits to wear to conferences and book signings.  Choose a style that reflects the type of writing you do.  Create your own personal look that is distinct and creative.

Discuss

There are loads of writing forums and blogs out there that you can get involved in.  They offer basic writing discussion as well as feedback opportunities for your work.  Forums can be a great way to meet other writers and get your name out there.  Be careful though because they can also be a time sink for your creativity.  Always remember your own writing should come first before all your pals on the boards!

Why not?  Check out some writing forums and join in the conversation.

Don’t just promote

A lot of people think social media is about promoting yourself non-stop.  You see them all the time on twitter, tweeting the same links over and over and generally driving you crazy with in-your-face promotion.  Social media is called ‘social’ for a reason.  It’s a place to discuss and engage, not shove your product into someone’s face.  You want to learn to be part of the conversation, otherwise people will just tune you out.  Saying something relevant and helpful is good, commenting on other posts or tweets is good and not overdoing the links to your books is also good.  Just think of it like a normal conversation in real life, if you just sit there repeating the same sentence over and over at people they will eventually get bored and walk away.

Why not?  Find some way to engage your community with helpful hints or personal anecdotes.  Stop tweeting the same message over and over.  Join in the conversation.

If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all

I was at a writing talk at Ryerson the other day and there was an agent there.  After all the talk of social networking and self-promotion she made sure to add in that sometimes saying something poorly is worse than not saying anything at all.  Ain’t it the truth?  Maybe you just have a knack for writing fiction and really suck at self-promotion, if that’s the case that’s okay.  There’s still the more traditional route of publishing for those who don’t want to get out there online and yammer away.  So take heart if none of the above sound like you, you can still write your heart out, get it published and be a bestseller.  At some point you may be invited to talk at conferences with or without self-promotion and at that point, the talk your face off and look good doing it points will still apply to you.

Why not? Stick to what you’re good at and just keep writing.

Anything to add?  Did I miss anything?  Let me know!

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This is a post for www.writesofluid.com’s blog writing challenge.  One blog post a day for all of June!  Check it out at the website or on twitter: @sofluid or #wpad!

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Handwriting or Computer?

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I have a pet peeve.

“Real writing happens with a pen and paper.”

I’ve heard this quite a bit from many different people and it makes me a little crazy.

I hate writing by hand, it cramps, my hand writing is sloppy (and degenerates over time) and it feels like a chore.  When I’m writing on my laptop I love the sound, the feeling (I imagine I’m playing a piano and the words are music), and the fact that I can write faster for longer before my carpel tunnel kicks in.

So what it is about hand writing that makes people claim it is the true path to writing artfully?

First let’s look at some pop-science.  Psychology Today tells us that learning cursive writing (specifically cursive) is best for your brain and development.  It also helps with development and communication of thoughts and ideas in kids.

Some writers swear by it and science seems to support it, but is that to suggest that it is the only way to go?  That real writing only happens when you write by hand?

At the end of the day, it’s a preference.  If I had to write by hand I would probably spend more time being annoyed about it than I would be actually writing, so I wouldn’t get much done.  Although there seem to be some cognitive benefits to the practice (which make me think I ought to give it a try more often than I do), I find it frustrating to hear people suggest that it is the path to ‘real’ writing.

There are many different ways to grow as a writer and I would definitely not want to deny one of them out of peevishness, so I won’t.  Writing by hand is good for your brain.  It leads to better motor functioning, clarity of thought and it is a good exercise for young and old.

As we progress into the digital age, I reckon hand writing will fall by the wayside but it’s likely, given our constant ‘evolution‘, we will find other things that are beneficial to work our brains not to mention the fact that we will keep finding our way back to the oldies-but-goodies.

So do I think that ‘real’ writing only happens with a pen and paper?  Nope.  I think real writing is whatever is real to you and whether you want to use the computer or go the old fashioned route, all things can lead to greatness.  Your writing is your own and it doesn’t matter how you get your words out, just as long as you do it and love it!

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This is a post for www.writesofluid.com’s blog writing challenge.  One blog post a day for all of June!  Check it out at the website or on twitter: @sofluid or #wpad!

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Books on writing (and why I don’t believe in them)

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You can’t learn writing from a book.

There are hundreds (probably thousands) of writing books out there and some that are even considered essential, like ‘On Writing’ or ‘Elements of Style’.  You can read all the books you want though, but the only thing that is going to make you a better writer is…writing.

Reading is good, great even for a writer.  You should read widely to get a feeling for different styles and to expand your mind, but in my opinion, your reading shouldn’t necessarily include books on writing.  I’ve read a couple and at the end of the day, the main message from all of them is: get writing.  And so they should be.  Everyone has different opinions on what makes a good story, beautiful prose and stunning poetry.  Everyone has a different story to their writing life and, although interesting and sometimes inspiring, hearing the stories of how other people write (or got famous doing it) does little to help make you better.  Sure you can learn grammar rules from books like ‘Elements of Style’ but ideally, before you start trying to be a writer, you actually have a grasp on the basics.

With every writing book I read, the writer tries to guide and suggest and I don’t always agree.  I usually agree with about half of the things they’re saying and wholeheartedly disagree with the other half.  One person suggests writing in a coffee shop is for people who are just seeking attention, but I like the atmosphere and the bustle.  Another person suggests not to show your work in progress, but I love having Ben read my chapters as I go along.  Then, of course, there are the attributes that supposedly describe writers, stuck in your head, crazy, lonely, dramatically melancholy, plagued by stories and characters that kick you in the brain until you writer them.  These things seem to be universal, but I don’t really feel as though they fit into my vision of myself as a writer.  Then, on the flip side, there is the good advice: write every day, don’t be discouraged by rejection, dig deep to find good stories, focus on character.  All sound advice, but frankly it just seems like common sense.

I understand that writing is tough and sometimes you’re just looking for a little inspiration, a little moment where you can read someone else’s story and struggles and realize you are not alone.  The appeal of books on writing is that they allow us to connect with like-minded people.  But other than that, these books offer a wealth of advice I could either take or leave.  Simple logic.  So, ultimately, I hold fast to my original thought on the whole matter:

You can’t learn writing from a book.  The only thing that will make you a better writer is writing.

Agree?  Disagree?  Let me know!

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This is a post for www.writesofluid.com’s blog writing challenge.  One blog post a day for all of June!  Check it out at the website or on twitter: @sofluid or #wpad!