Writing Habits: A Questionnaire

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A.K.A.: stealing a post idea from Jodie Llewellyn, aspiring YA author.

Writing Habits 

1. Typed or Handwritten?

Definitely typed. Unless I’m on the train to work…or stuck on an elevator…or in the doctor’s waiting room…or in the middle of a meeting at work… My notes are handwritten, but actual sentences are usually typed.

2. Cursive or Printed?

Crinted? Pursive? It’s a combo of cursive and print that’s nothing more than chicken scratch.

3. Show us your favourite pen.

Which ever one is at hand. Bic or gel, I don’t care as long as the ink flows.

4. Where do you like to write?

Last year, I created a writing space in our second bedroom/catch-all room. Now that I’ve stacked papers and books all around me, it feels right. If I could write anywhere, though, it would be a cottage that my family went to during my childhood summers. Inside or out, I’d watch the lake, smell the pine and write. It was fantastic.

5. Who are your five favorite authors in terms of authorial style?

This is the question that’s kept me from posting this blog for weeks. So many authors, so many books… It’s probably a criminal offense, but when I find a writer I like, I rarely run out and read all their books. I think this goes back to my childhood (right Freud?). I loved LOVED The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I rushed to get A Little Princess and couldn’t get into it, no matter how many times I tried. If I like an author, I am certainly more inclined to read their other stuff, but I don’t search it out. And I’m not just  holding on to some childhood notion. If I LOVE a book by a certain author, I’ve found that I’m less likely to be as swept away by their other books. I suppose I want to be swept away by everything and that’s not realistic. I know that this survey is about writing rather than reading, but I still have a very difficult time separating them. If I try to read something strictly as a study of writing, I end up losing. My inner reader takes over.

So, to kind of answer the question, here are 5 books I really like:

Mama Day by Gloria Naylor – I really like how the narrator describes people as food. I loved the idea and could clearly see what she was describing. When another character points out that this dehumanizes people, the narrator changes how she views the world and, consequently, how she describes things. I loved see the change in the character and having what I liked about the descriptions challenged.

Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris – I like this less for the writing style and more for the building blocks. This is one of the few books I’ve read multiple times. There are a few instances when he shifts tense in the middle of a paragraph and that always throws me, but I am so engaged in the characters that I forgive it. I also like that the story is so micro and macro at the same time. We get to know the characters very well (I’m always worried that something will happen to Barney), but the plot is larger than the transformation of just one person. I am always worried that the universes I write about are too small. Harris is able to show the details of a person while not confining the story to their small world.

Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling – I loved Harry Potter and her style in this book was very similar. I love how she builds characters. They feel like flesh and blood and they are always true to themselves, no matter how much I yell at them not to do certain things. No one is truly good. No one is truly bad. And because her characters are true to themselves, her ending is satisfying even if a certain character really upsets me.

I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb – I don’t think I’ve ever yelled at characters more. I’d put the book down, swearing it off completely, only to come back to it a few days later because I had to see how it turned out…only to want to hurl the book across the room after a few pages. And yet, I’d come back to it because of how much I hated and cared for the characters. For Lambs She’s Come Undone, I kept checking the book jacket to see if he was indeed a he. Dolores was so well drawn that I found it hard to believe she was written by a man.

When Will There Be Good News by Kate Atkinson – I love Reggie. This book follows three different stories. While I was engaged in all of them, I couldn’t predict how they would all come together. However, watching them come together became secondary for me as a reader. I was more interested in their personal stories.

Bonus: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein – Fantastic unreliable narrator. Go read now.

6. What are you your three favourite books on writing?

Hmm…I read more writing blogs and Twitter accounts than I have books. I go back to Ann Lamont’s “Bird By Bird” every so often.

7. Have you ever competed in NaNoWriMo?

Yup. Several times.

8. Have you ever won NaNoWriMo?

Yes! It wasn’t always pretty, but I made it to the finish line at least twice.

9. Have you ever had anything published?

Yes, check out my writing links for Russia: St. Petersburg Self-Service and Transplant. Oddly, my publications are both creative non-fiction.

10. What projects are you working on now?

SKC/VC is the folder name. I’m terrible with working titles…they are usually just my characters’ names. My WIP is a suspense that follows the aftermath of a serial killer. The serial killer’s daughter tries to prove that she won’t turn into her father and the last victim’s son is out for revenge.

11. What is your soundtrack to writing?

I am weird. I write with no music. In my writing room, there’s a ticking clock and a humming aquarium filter, and the rumble of the train that passes by hourly, so I can’t say I write in silence.

12. Do you have a writing pump-up song?

Nope…maybe I need one.

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2013 in review

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

I realize that I abandoned you, dear blog readers, toward the beginning of the year. I do plan to come back. As the ball drops, I’m planning my return…along with a few other writing resolutions. So many ideas, so little time.

For the time being: Happy New Year and happy writing!

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,100 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 52 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Me, Myelf, I and Did I Mention I?

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I
My WIP is demanding to be written in first person. Frightening. In fact, there are dueling main characters who both demand to be in first person. Horror.

I have never written fiction in first person. Essays? Sure. Creative non-fiction. OK. Fiction? That sound is me running from the room.

When I first reached out to find other people who wrote, I was in middle school. Most of my writing peers only wrote in first person. I thought that was odd. They thought it was odd that I wouldn’t. It’s supposed to be such a natural way to write.

It should be the easiest thing in the world, so I don’t know why I have such a problem with it. I experience life first person. I talk to friends in first person. The journals I used to write were in first person. My blog is in first person. But give me a fictional character and I freeze.

Serendipitously, the last three books I picked up were all in first person, and two of them had two first-person narrators. While I’m feeling more comfortable with this POV, I’m afraid that too many of my sentences start with “I.”

I think (there I go) that may be part of my problem. I like (and again!) to be behind the scenes…that’s why I write. Last week, I had to give a presentation at work and it was all I could do not to hide behind the podium. Write the speech? No problem. Give the speech? Well, uh.

Even though I’m writing fiction someone else’s voice, I still feel exposed. Every time a sentence starts with “I,” I scrutinize it. It there a better way to say it? A way the “I” can hide?

The Continuing Saga of Smell

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Museum display behind glass. Rows upon rows of stone or plaster noses that lok like htey'd been chiped off or fallen off statues. At the bottom of the picture are a few ears and a miscellaneous eye.

Nasothek: nose collection by scotted400 CC 3.0 http://www.flickr.com/photos/30557460@N05/7667155484/

I never thought I’d write this much about scents…

Back in December, I purchased a Living Social coupon for a friend and I to mix our own perfumes at Aroma Workshop in Chicago. We set a date to go. And then nose-magedon happened. Thinking that sleep and willpower would make my cold go away, I plowed ahead.

Of course my willpower wasn’t as magical as I thought and my nose was still stuffed the day of, although I could successfully breathe out of one nostril (aren’t you so glad you know that?).

It was a fun afternoon with my friend and, from the whole scent journal perspective, it was fascinating. First, who knew you could create your own perfume?

At Aroma Workshop, you sit in front of a case of different scents that are grouped into floral, fruit, citrus and mysterious (e.g. Lake Shore Drive, burn, frankincense) and you smell them, keeping the ones you like in front of you. While I was telling my friend that something smelled like paint and she was telling me that I was oh-so wrong, a woman behind the counter was watching what we liked and creating custom mixes based on them.

I was surprised at what I did and didn’t like. I was more partial to citrus, but not a fan of grapefruit (which I love in soap). I didn’t think I was a flower girl, but I leaned more towards floral than fruit (which I used to be my staple lotion scents in high school and college). I liked the fig and cucumber lotions I from those big lotion stores, but I didn’t like them as perfume oils. And I really liked the burn smell. Hmm.

The associations (paint, fresh, stinging, happy, India, relaxing) that popped into our heads while we were testing the scents highlighted that I need to use more smells in my writing.

It’s the Little Things that Get You…

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…like microscopic germs carried by small children to knock you out.

Alt title: The Literary Gods Do Not Want Me to Use All My Senses

After all the talk of smell in my last few blog posts, I was excited to get started on my smell-o-log. I took a trip to New Mexico where I could smell pinon and crisp air. My goal was actually the vacation and not to smell things which, turns out, was a good thing since I promptly got sick and can no longer smell anything.

I never paid much attention to my nose before, but now that I want to, I can’t. Oh, the humanity!

You (Don’t) Smell

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A few posts ago, I talked about how I never use smell in my writing.

Turns out that my nose might be dull after all. Commenter Pearson Sharp had an excellent idea: keep a nose journal. By listing what I smell during the day, I would become more aware of them. I still need to actually carry a journal and do that faithfully, but I have tried to pay more attention. The problem is that I’m not noticing anything new. In fact, I was in the elevator one day and the other person in it asked if I smelled the burning. I didn’t. The elevator wasn’t on fire or anything, so my nose isn’t completely dead, but I was surprised that I couldn’t smell anything when this woman was so adamant that something (a neighbor’s cooking was her guess) was on fire.

And this was right after I was so excited that I wrote smell into the first page of my new story. That smell? Vomit.

I’m off to a great start.

Punching the English Teacher

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At a recent writers group, a member who has traditionally written creative non-fiction brought a fiction piece. At the author’s request, we discussed POV. This piece did a fine job of 3rd person omniscient, but she thought she was using limited from the POV of the second character to come on the scene.

One of the down sides of not having a formal group leader is that everyone and their kitchen sink jumped in to set the record straight.

While most kitchen sinks were right, there was a particular one who, every chance she gets, informs us that she’s an English teacher. She flat out told this new writer that she had no business writing the way she had and needed to stick to limited 3rd and redo her beginning. There was also some tangent about theme.

I wanted to punch her.

The problem, as I saw it, was not what the writer was using; it was lack of knowing the name of what she was using. And if you are doing it correctly, does it really matter if you don’t know the name?

I need to talk to the writer and encourage her to just write. Finish the story. Worry about some of those technical aspects later.

I do think the technical can help our writing, but I don’t believe in force feeding arbitrary rules. 3rd person limited works for me (and obviously the teacher), but that doesn’t mean that every beginning writer must use it.