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As part of my preparation for Camp NaNoWriMo, I’m writing character sketches. This is something I’ve never been very good at, going all the way back to grade school when I’d have to write them for creative writing or drama class. When I try to think of a character, I have a hard time making specific decisions about what the character is like. I have a vague feeling of the character, but when it comes to saying something like “My character’s personality traits are…” I get stuck.

I’m a very systematic person and I like to have a list or group of things to choose from. When deciding what to have for dinner, for example, my mind goes blank, but if I’ve got a menu in my hands, I’m fine. So I started out trying to fill in the character sketch questions in 90 Days to Your Novel, but I found many of them seemed too specific, like “What is your character’s favourite food?” It is, of course, important to know as much about your character as possible, but I found starting out with such specific questions was causing a block; I need to get a more general outline before I can start deciding the small stuff. So I looked at the character sketch template in Scrivener (is there anything this program doesn’t have?!) and found that it simply asks for things like”Physical Description”, “Personality”, “Mannerisms”, “Background”, and “Internal and External Conflict”. This pared down version is easier for me to start with and I can fill in specifics when I learn more about the character as I write.

However, when I got to “Personality” I felt like I’d been asked what I want for dinner. Trying to determine specifics from this vague feeling of a character was like trying to hold on to fog. Whenever I would try to think of traits to choose from, my mind would be blank, or would come up with things so clichéd and one-dimensional that they were useless. So I googled “Personality Traits” to see what the internet could tell me.

I figured I’d get some personality quizes (that I could pretend to fill out as my character) or maybe lists of some kind, but instead the very first hit was a Wikipedia article on the Big Five Personality Traits. This is a theory in the field of psychology that states that the personality of every person in the world can be broken down into five major categories: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. What this does for me is narrow down my choices; I look at each category in turn and think, ‘what traits (or opposite traits) of this category does my character have?’ Before you start to think that this would create cookie-cutter characters, think of how many different traits fit inside each of these broad categories and their opposites (which really amounts to 10 categories from which to choose traits). I’m finding it really useful for focussing the decisions I have to make into smaller, easier to handle chunks of information. Which is what makes my brain happy!

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Yesterday I joined two online communities that I hope will help in my writing. The first is I finally joined National Novel Writing Month. I’ve known about this thing for years, but have never joined. NaNoWriMo isn’t actually until November, but they do have Camp NaNoWriMo, which takes place in July and August. In each case, the object is to write a 50,000 work novel in a month or less. You can track your progress by inputting your word count as you go, but you’re not declared a winner until you upload the finished draft and specially trained computer robots have checked it for authenticity. Authenticity doesn’t mean quality, it just means making sure you didn’t write “All work and no play make Homer something something” over and over again until the word count reaches 50,000. The purpose of this is to force you to just write, without second guessing or self-editing. Just write until you get to the end and then stop. Editing and revising comes later (the website provides support on that, as well) but in the meantime you’re left with a complete first draft of a novel and a feeling of accomplishment. Novels written in past NaNoWriMos include Water for Elephants by Sarah Gruen, so that just goes to show what this event can accomplish.

The other thing I joined is 750words.com. This website is based on the Morning Pages exercise in The Artists Way by Julia Cameron. The premise is to write 750 words every day, about anything. This has a similar focus to NaNoWriMo, in that it gets you to just write, without self-editing or over thinking. It should also help form the habit of daily writing, which will help me in NaNoWriMo, as well as be a vehicle for brain dumping all the stuff that’s floating around in my head and fighting for focus. I’ve done it two days in a row, so far, and I find it very freeing. I just write stream of consciousness crap for 750 words (which only takes me about 15 minutes) and then I feel better and can start to write seriously, which is the point.

I’m thinking of writing the novel I’m currently working on as part of Camp NaNoWriMo in the August session, and then coming up with another novel idea for NaNoWriMo in November. If anyone has an idea for a November novel, please leave it in the comments. If I pick one of your suggestions and it ends up getting published, I’ll give you credit in the acknowledgements and a signed copy when it comes out.

I have just discovered a piece of software that is going to make my writing life so much easier! It’s called Scrivener and it calls itself a writing studio, not just a word processor. And that’s no exaggeration. I’ve only been playing around with it for half an hour and I’m hooked!

Anyone familiar with the setup of Access, where you can have multiple files as part of one document, accessible from a left sidebar, will be able to picture the layout of Scrivener. The sidebar (called the Binder) is broken up into a manuscript component and a research component. The manuscript component is where you work on writing the drafts and can be broken up in different ways depending on what you’re writing (they have different templates for things like Fiction, Non-Fiction, Screenplays, that sort of thing). It operates under the assumption that it’s easier to work in parts that can be combined or rearranged as you work, although you can, of course, just write the whole document in one file, if you prefer. The research component allows you to manage all the external things that get referenced during the writing process – character sketches for fiction, research documents for non-fiction, etc. You can even set up a split screen so that you have the scene you’re writing on one side and something else that you’re referring to (a previous draft, a character sketch, a research article) right next to it.

This program really connects with my compulsion to organize and compartmentalize things. But one of the things I really appreciate is the aesthetics. Windows programs tend toward the utilitarian, which always bumms me out. I’m a very practacle person, but I respond much more favourably to a program that looks interesting than one that’s just a series of grey-outlined windows. This program has an option to use a  cork board view, where whatever you’re working on (scenes, character sketches, what have you) are displayed as if they are written on file cards and tacked on a cork board. You can click and drag to move scenes around, and they’ll move around in the Binder, too, and display in their new arrangement in the page mode. This is going to make my writing so much easier! I only wish I’d had it when I was writing From Pemmican to Poutine. When I think of how I had to try to juggle so many different documents at one time…

It’s only available on the Mac for the moment, but they’re launching a Windows version next month. The Windows version is currently in public beta, so I downloaded it for now because I can’t wait to start using it. We bought the Mac version today, but I like being able to work on my cute little netbook, instead of having the huge MacBook spread out on my lap. Plus, the two versions are compatible, so if I want to work on the Mac for some reason, I can!

I’ve so far spent the morning happily importing my existing work on the novel into Scrivener and organizing it in a way I like. I’ll do the same with the textile book shortly.

 

Wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve updated this thing. School took so much of my time and energy, and add to that promoting the book, that I just couldn’t stand the thought of adding to all that with more activity. But school is done and the book is going smoothly (two awards won, so far) that I feel I can start looking forward again and commit the regular posting.

Right now, one of my main focuses is finding a job. Yes, even award-winning authors need a day job, especially award-winning authors with two student loans to pay off. I’ve been sending out resumes for job postings and I’ve even begun cold contacting companies I’d like to work for, using my best business-style writing to beg for a job. If anyone knows of a company looking for a good information professional, please leave a comment. I will knit a pair of custom socks for anyone who helps land me a good job.

The other thing I’m working on is my next book: actually, my next two books. I’m writing them simultaneaously, because I just can’t stick to one or the other. Whenever I try to settle on one, the other starts to tug at my brain, so I’ve just given in and begun working on them both. One of the books is my next non-fiction, a work on textile history. I’m still in the research phase right now, which is perfect because it’s a break from writing. The other book is a novel, my first fiction book. I don’t want to get into specifics yet, because I’m still fleshing it out with the help of Sarah Domet’s book 90 Days to Your Novel, which sounds gimicky, but is a very helpful book.

Hopefully, this isn’t my last post for another year. I’ll post about some of the events I’ve done and the progress on each of my books a bit later, but for now I just wanted to get back into the blogging mindset.

I’ve got the edits back from the publisher, so the book is in its final stages.  Even though I know it’s the normal practice, it’s seemed strange to me that people have already paid money for my book, when it’s not even finished yet.  I have to go through the edits (highlighted for me thanks to a computer program called Track Changes), approve or reject them as needed and send it back.  The editor only did copy editing rather than the substantial edit I’d been expecting, so I’m doing a bit more revision on my own; hopefully there won’t be too much back and forth before the final draft gets confirmed and typeset for printing.  We’d like to get review copies printed in time for the Book Expos, at least the one here in Toronto if not the American one.

Suman and I met up yesterday to talk marketing.  The publishing house will be sending out review copies, but that’s about all we’ll get in terms of promotion.  We’re still hoping to do a launch somehow, we need to figure out how much it will cost.  We also talked about making little promotional items tied to the book, like fridge magnet measurement conversion charts and bookmarks, as well as local grocers and butcher shops to approach about carrying the book or having us for signings.  My local butcher has been excited for the book since the first and asks me whenever I go there to buy chicken breasts or ground beef when it’s coming out.  He definitely wants us for a signing, too.  For some reason, signings are what I’m really excited for.  I’ve been to quite a few signings of my favourite authors, and having a signing of my own feels like “making it” for me.  Of course, I know I’ll likely get tired of them quickly, but for now I can still look ahead with anticipation.  Does anyone have any brilliant marketing suggestions for the book?  Since we have a budget of $0, it has to be things we can do relatively inexpensively, or are at least worth the money spent.

I had lunch with my friend Rita at the Gladstone.  She copy edited the manuscript before we sent it to the publisher and she’s helping me work on the index. In Kurt Vonegut’s novel Cat’s Cradle one of his characters, a professional indexer, says that an author should never index their own book because it tells too much about the author’s personal feelings and obsessions. I think that an author should never index their own work, because it’s hard to be objective and make decisions about what index worthy.  But on the other hand, I’m glad I’m doing it myself because I’m kind of anal about indexing and cataloguing and I don’t think I would really trust anyone else to do it.  🙂

Rita and I also did a gardening swap.  I gave her a bag of my homemade compost and she gave me seeds for sunflowers, muskmelons, spinach.  Every warm day is 1 day closer to gardening!

What I’m reading

Dance of Dragons by George R.R. Martin

What I’m playing

Kingdom of Amalur: Reckoning on PS3

What I’m knitting

Socks

Chirp, chirp

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