The First Betas Have It

Stardate 96129.44

I knew this day would eventually come – I would have to start getting opinions from readers and using that feedback to better enhance my writing. Awaiting the results of those opinions, in my opinion anyway, is worse than waiting for a prognosis from a doctor about a medical condition.

Why?

Because when people read your work they’re reading a bit of your soul, your time, your effort. A doctor assess what is wrong with your physical body. Readers can maybe, sometimes see what is wrong with your mental…body?

Knowing I was going to have my family (of all people) read just the first page of my novella I’d spent all day at work nervously staring at the clock for the hand to hit 6:00 pm. When it finally did I scooped up the two copies I’d printed out, crossed out the last line because I already knew I hated it and joined the rush hour traffic as we all made our way home.

Family dinner nights have been a tradition since my parents started watching my niece as a baby over five years ago, when my sister went back to work after her maternity leave. And again after my nephew was born. My Dad’s a baby-man. Kids love him and he knows how to handle them. Watching him with my niece and nephew has given me a peek into how he was when my sister and I were that age. But I digress.

Yesterday was an absolutely gorgeous day. Breezes flew around the Pittsburgh valley, across the waters of the Three Rivers and into our neighborhood. We had a light dinner of sandwiches and salad and decided the conditions outside were fantastic for a quick ramble around the neighborhood. Of course, for that entire three-hour time frame, my eyes kept searching for one of them to pick up a copy of the first page. I wanted them to read it yet not at the same time. Quite the conundrum, right? Finally they did and I realized that I had to learn not to be so defensive about my work.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.”
Theodore Roosevelt, 26th US President

Mom: “You used too many adjectives.”
Sister: “I thought they were brothers. What do you mean they’re not?”
Dad: “Do you want my notes now or later?”
Brother-in-law: “I’ll read it later.” (In his defense he’s on council for a local government and a lot was happening last night. I let him slide!)

Sigh.

While knew that the first page had already undergone several edits – I started out by just taking down the original ideas, recognized that I started too many sentences the same way and changed them, etc – there was no way my family could have known that so I had to expect that they wouldn’t sugar coat their opinions.

I think that’s what many folks of modern American expect – sugar-coated opinions and nothing but praise. If all you receive is praise and approval with everything you do how can you expect to grow or change something about yourself without the critique of others?

It’s not completely back to the drawing board with my novella. I’m rather glad twelve hours later that I decided to ask for someone to read it this early in the writing process than much much further in without seeing my faults.

Write some, edit some.
Write some, edit some.
Study sentence structure.
Make it better.
Repeat.

“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failure.”
Colin Powell


On Expecting Criticism

Stardate 96126.97

Tonight I will be undertaking the most anxiety-ridden task of my life – reintroducing my writing to my family. Yes, my family. They say your family members are your worst critics because they actually know you and how you tick. It’s hard to break through that barrier to show them something you’re working towards accomplishing. Ahhhh writer’s anxiety.

I think every writer has their own levels of anxiety. As a child I thoroughly enjoyed reading because I knew it was something I hadn’t written myself. As high school Creative Writing class came into play that changed. I had only ever written for myself – mostly Star Trek fanfictions I wouldn’t let anyone else read – and now I was expected to write for a grade. So why would anyone want to write for strangers and then to have those strangers critique the innermost being of your soul?

So why would anyone want to write for strangers and then to have those strangers critique the innermost being of your soul?

There’s another saying out there that says you put a bit of yourself into each story you write. That, of course, is just a paraphrase but you get the gist of it. So tonight during my family’s weekly dinner night I’ll be bearing that bit of myself as I share the first page of my novella. I feel like it’s finally ready for its first mini beta test and who else but my parents, my sister and my brother-in-law to share it with? I also chose them because I have this nagging fear in the back of my mind that some internet stranger would attempt to steal my ideas and make it their own. Plagiarism is real and I’m trying to avoid not only having it done to me but inadvertently doing it myself.

I just need to take that leap of faith. The critics are going to come out of the woodwork whether they’re you’re family or not so why not get used to those opinions now if you know they’re going to potentially make you a better writer?

How else can I expect to grow if I can’t expect or accept constructive criticism?


Working Titles | The Struggle is Still Real

Stardate 96121.22

 

When I started this journey it was one novel with one title: Carrick. When I continued the it in 2017 it morphed into Firedamp. Now, in 2018, it’s become a four part series with four titles and one novella. There was absolutely no way I could include all the back history and resolutions in one book and have it make sense to the reader. Not only that, the number of characters I created would make for one thick book.

When I started this journey it was one novel with one title: Carrick. When I continued it in 2017 it morphed into Firedamp. Now, in 2018, it’s become a four part series with four titles and one novella.

No. I couldn’t do that. I mean, look at a series like Harry Potter. I’m sure Rowling knew from the start that Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone that it would take many more books to resolve as many story arcs as she could. Mine isn’t going to be that epic and half that size, but I was dreaming if I thought that all the historical events I wanted to include in a story could be resolved within 400-500 pages.

But with the addition of three extra books came another problem: What do I CALL them all? Naming the series “The Firedamp Chronicles” was easy, because everything will come to a resolution in the fourth and final book. Naming the novella was easy because that sets off the series of events that shapes one of the main characters. The following three books have presented the bigger challenge. At first I thought I had the first one set in stone – that is, until I Googled it and found dozens of other books with a similar title. Scratch that, reverse it. You don’t want to “follow the crowd” with your title for fear of  claims of copying from readers or the writers themselves. Do you continue with the same theme of your proudly chosen original title by trying to work the four titles so they form a sentence?

That’s the crazy part about the creative journey. Everyone has developed their own “rules” and “do’s and don’t’s” of the writing process that it can get more confusing than it needs to be. I’ve come to the realization that my process of choosing the “perfect” title actually sums up the meaning of “Working Title.” That’s what that term is there for. You know your characters, your story arcs and where you want to take it. One day the title will just fall in my lap and I’ll know that it’s the perfect one. Or ones, in this case!

So for now, the titles on my Works in Progress page will stay just that – as working titles. I’ve got months of writing ahead of me and I don’t need to rush the process. Seeking advice is always a good thing, especially from those who have been writing far longer than you have. Just remember to listen to your instincts and not let your mind become too cluttered with all the “you should do this’s” and “you shouldn’t do that’s.” Glean what you need, leave behind what you don’t. And just enjoy writing.

Glean what you need, leave behind what you don’t.

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That Pesky Point of View

Stardate 95719.53

I feel like I’m doing a lot more blogging than writing lately, but it is, I suppose, my therapy during this process. That’s what writing essentially is – a process. Writing is also considered an art form but in the long run it is also a process. Why do you think there are so many tip websites, self-help books, outlining, and plot line diagrams to help move the stories along? Whether you like it or not many authors/writers like myself need to have a bit of a helping hand.

I feel like this blog is only about the problems I’m encountering as a writer.

I’ll never forget the first time I tried to write a story. I don’t remember what it was about but I do remember that when I went back through it later on I realized I had a problem. A point of view problem. I feel like this blog is only about the problems I’m encountering as a writer. I don’t mean to be so negative but how else am I to seek assistance from those more matured in the craft than I?

In that first story I kept swinging back and forth between the pronouns. I’ve heard others say to not worry about the technical aspects of your first draft – just write it. I know that’s what first drafts are all about; hashing out what you want and adjusting, adding and amending later in your second or third draft. But I’m afraid of slipping back into that old school habit of switching between the POVs from one chapter to the next and losing that continuity. What’s funny is one of the authors I follow on Twitter mentioned the same thing several months back – that she had to go back and edit because of a POV issue. I don’t remember if it was Nichelle Rae, Melanie Dickerson or someone else, but it’s nice to know that even already-published authors experience the same things.

I recently came across a sub-page called Grammar Girl who writes articles about, well, writing (imagine that!) that covers this very topic, and covers it much more eloquently than I ever could. While the article is from 2011 and it is now 2018, some thing never change in the writing world and I am grateful for that. I just know that from here on out I’ll most likely have a post-it somewhere that will constantly remind me of what form I’m using for my point of view. What’s also making it easier on myself is that I’m only doing one character’s point of view per book.

That was the other problem I had months ago – how many characters do I want to give voices to throughout the journey? How many times does that POV change within a chapter? Or does it stay the same in a single chapter? Keep it simple. Keep it real. Keep it within one mindset.

Maybe my next series can be a bit more complicated, unless I never actually finish the Firedamp series. I certainly hope that won’t be the case! I’m just hoping that, as someone who has never taken on a task like this before, I am at least on the right track. The main goal was to not bite off more than I can chew (which was entirely the case during my initial planning phase of this book!). Now if only I can get all the logistics under control… 


From Exposition to Resolution

Stardate 95717.53

I have many problems. C’mon now, they’re writing problems. It took me weeks to figure out my story’s ending and even then I knew that all the pieces weren’t going to be resolved in one book. (Read my prior blog post about that particular issue here). Now the problem is everything in between.

This is something that has followed me from my fan fiction writing days. I have never been able to finish a story – it just keeps going on and on and on and….well, you get the picture. Think about that graphic – the one from high school English or Creative Writing class. This one:

story arc

Now this is the most basic of basic plot graph you can find. It doesn’t even have the same word I use in my title. Then there’s this graphic:

arcs

I’d say that kind of thing would accurately represent the J.R.R. Tolkien The Lord of the Ring’s novels. (And now the theme song is stuck in my head. Thanks brain). I highly doubt that Firedamp is ever going to be that complicated, maybe that first little bump on the left hand side, but not the twenty bumps after.

It’s that first section of bumps that encouraged me to have not one outline but multiple outlines. I am positive that by the end of this I’ll also have a “family tree” of sorts on my home office wall showing how each character is connected to each other. I would rather have them all connect somehow than to have one random individual off in La La Land dancing around like Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Unless they have a purpose.

And all that’s the challenge of writing, isn’t it? How to not make your novel feel like a cancelled TV show that has a cliffhanger ending that leaves you wondering what the point of even writing it? I always thought that finding the ending was the hardest part, but now that I have both that and the beginning, now it is everything in between. That’s all part of the adventure that I think I’m slightly scared of because they say that you write a bit of yourself into each character. Baring that little bit of soul can be intimidating and you don’t know who can read between the lines.

But you know what? That’s okay. In order to make your characters be ones folks will want to know more about you gotta bare your soul so they have soul. And when there’s that soul you can easily go from the exposition to the resolution.


I know it’s from The Hobbit film instead of LOTR but it’s in my head!


The True Order of Things vs. the Fictional Order of Things

Stardate 95650.99

I am writing an historical adventure novel. At one point in time I dreamt of it being a fantastical one as well but when I realized I was biting off more than I could chew for a first novel I downgraded it to purely historical.

Another problem arose: should it be true to the historical timeline or is it okay to take the creative license and put things slightly out of order to work for the story line? Does one sacrifice actual history in order to move a story along or do they choose different events to spur the characters onward?

Last week I asked my uncle to look at my novel outline and get his opinion on it. He’s been publishing children’s books for over twenty years and many of the children in the family have books dedicated to them because of him. So I trust his eye and knowledge of the system. Of course he’s been in the system for years and things have changed a bit since he’s started but he did make a good point. He said;

Am I right in remembering that there was going to be some fantasy element in the story? Or is it now more of an adventure based on historical events? If that is the case, then you might find people raising questions if things are out of historical order. Readers can be very fussy. And social media hasn’t made that any better.

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The Ending Problem

Hi. My name is Leigh and I have a problem. I have a problem ending my stories.

I don’t think it matters how long someone has been writing or if they even have anything published, it seems like it’s something that any writer can struggle with. With that being said, however, I’m an unseasoned writer who’s never been part of a critique group or had someone who can guide me through the writing process. The last time I had any sort of “class” on it was high school Creative Writing. I think that was the last time I ever finished a story because I had to in order to get a passing grade.

Aren’t those endings the worst?

The ones where you’re obligated to just write SOMEthing that kind of makes sense?

That’s how I felt when I wrote this short story for the class. It was later put into my high school’s 2004 Literary Magazine (I just aged myself right there) and won a prize for it as well. I don’t think I ever felt fully satisfied with it though and I have noticed that trend carry on into my adult writing as well.

No, I don’t mean adult as in sexy stories. Get your mind out of the gutter, people. I mean into my adult years. For example, look at my current novel. My first novel. I have been loving taking this journey that began late 2016 with an idea. It has developed into an historical adventure and I think I am afraid of ending it because I’m not ready to let it go. Granted, I’m still just working on the research and outline portion, and I have everything up to the climax at the top of the bell curve. Once I reach the falling action and the wind down from that to the resolution – my mind goes blank.

I think subconsciously my mind is not yet ready to let go of the characters. It sounds so silly, especially when I haven’t even reached that part in my first draft yet. The other problem is that the book can be any length. It can be thick like Book 8 in the Harry Potter series. It can be just one story in itself. It can have a cliff hanger and leave you wanting to know more about the characters than what’s already there. There’s so many variables in how to end the story.

What if that’s the whole point of not fully finishing the outline? What if I’m thinking that maybe there can be a second book and it just hasn’t developed in the backstory yet? So I suppose then that this problem really isn’t a problem at all. It’s, quite literally, all part of the writing process. I read on another blog not too long ago that in order to pitch a new story to a publisher you *should* have a second book planned to show them that you have faith in the story and can be something that can be easily marketed *like* the Harry Potter series. The Twilight saga (let’s not even open that can of worms). But what if the book is so good by itself that it doesn’t need a companion? I guess we won’t know until we reach that point.

I understand what that blogger was trying to say – about having faith in your own novel enough to want to have a second story to go with it. I think that that train of thought though can maybe make the potential author think too much about the future and not focus on the story at hand. If another plot follows the original, so be it. If it’s going to be a single story within itself, that’s okay too. If we focus too much on the publishing end of things before we have an actual story to work with, that can be just as distracting. So that’s what I’m going to focus on in 2018: punching out a draft and FINISHING the draft before I look for an editor. Before I scope out potential publishers. Before I seek out critiquers (which isn’t really a word. I think I just made that up). Then that way I can just let the story itself flow without all those other distractions.

Problem solved.


Why I Gave Up On Wattpad

Stardate 95645.98

Community. It’s something I think every writer seeks to be a part of whether they want to admit it or not. We crave reviewers, feedback and opinions from others who may be more experienced in the field even though we may disagree with it at the same time. That’s why a place like Wattpad seems so appealing. It’s a community of other writers and readers who crave new stories, but who also crave being taken seriously as they write. There are downsides, however, to this kind of format and that’s what I’ll be exploring in today’s blog post. So let’s dive right into my thinking here with my Top 3 Reasons for Why I Gave Up on Wattpad.

1: Fan fictions
Now I’m not here to “dis” on fan fictions (and some readers of this blog may strongly disagree with me on this). Far from it. Writing fan fiction was partly how I got my inspiration to write an actual novel.  I grew up writing Star Trek stories (before I even knew what the term fan fiction actually was) and it morphed into Supernatural stories in my college years. There’s, most likely, more words in my Supernatural fan fictions than there were in four years’ worth of college papers combined. There is an overwhelming number of fan fictions for every fandom you can think of. Kpop bands? There’s fan fiction for that. Supernatural? Of course. Ninja turtles? Yep. Anime, manga and OST? Definitely.

Let me return to my original premise: I’m not here to “dis” on fan fictions. I had one, based off Supernatural, called Sam in Wonderland, that I thoroughly enjoyed writing. The problem with it, though, was that I could never seem to finish it. And since it was an un-publishable fan fiction, I just kept it going. But here’s a pro for stories such as these: there are some truly amazing ones out there. And Wattpad does give non-traditional writers a place to practice and find others who enjoy what they do as well.

Solution: If you want to get good feedback on a story you eventually want to publish either through traditional means or self-publishing, finding someone to critique your work who has been in the biz may prove incredibly useful. You may argue about scenes you love verses what they may see as not part of the story, but that’s what they’re there for. And fan fictions may even turn into a potential episode script (we’ve seen it happen before! Let’s face it, The Orville is basically one big Star Trek fan fiction within itself!)

2: Noise
Wattpad boasts a “large reading audience” but it can be very overwhelming and difficult to get “noticed.” Unless, of course, you write something that’s trending or popular. There’s a rather uncomfortable level of sexy stories with incredibly mature themes that anyone of any age can read. I love finding new stories, but I have the same problem with my Amazon Kindle that I do Wattpad – there’s a never-ending supply of new books and stories and sometimes ones with potential fall through the cracks. You can tailor your searches but I found myself browsing more than reading and never actually posting stories myself.

3: Potential for Theft
This is something that makes me nervous about posting something on a website – anyone can just copy-paste your story and try to pass it off as their own. Of course plagiarism exists even when a book is actually published and in readers’ hands (flashback to high school English class with the MLA Handbook for research papers and how to not plagiarize), and the website does require you to have an account before you can even browse for something to read. So I don’t think that I would ever want to have a story up on an unsecured site where anyone can just grab it for their own. Call me paranoid but unfortunately you can’t be too careful in today’s world with everything from debit card information to stories.

Final Thoughts
While Wattpad and other sites like it may be overwhelming for some they can be incredibly useful tools for others. Some have had success and Wattpad itself even has a list of books that started out as stories online. But there are those who, like myself, definitely prefer the “old school” way of publishing. Sometimes a place like Wattpad can be too “noisy” and other types of free software can help minimize distractions. Everyone has their own methods and what helps them write. If Wattpad is that for you, then by all means. If finding critique partners is it, go for it. The publishing world can be competitive but that doesn’t mean we have to stomp on anyone’s toes to get there. This blog may have been slightly tongue-and-cheek so I hope it made sense to someone out there!


The Complex Nature of Working Titles and Accidental Fan Fictions

Stardate 95587.96

Working titles are just that: working titles. When I first started this journey into this novel (that’s going on two years now), I was convinced I wanted to name it Carrick. In Pittsburgh history, Carrick is a historic neighborhood founded in the 1700s and was not given the name Carrick until the 1853 when it officially became a borough at the request of Dr. John O’Brien. In the 1920s it officially became part of Pittsburgh suburbia and is the location of the historical Wigman house. The Wigman family may make a brief appearance in this novel, but who knows!

As I dove deeper into my research I came across mining terminology, and one such combustible item stuck in my mind. I don’t want to mention it here for fear that A: someone else would like the term or B: there’s already a book with the same title.

Not only did I end up with two working titles, I gained two separate story lines as well. Let me tell you – that confused me even more! It wasn’t until I was halfway through the first chapter of the second version that I realized I was fully basing it off one of my new favorite shows, When Calls the Heart, where the town begins life as, surprise surprise, a coal town. My mind’s eye was picturing their town houses, their families, and their geography. Several problems arose: Pennsylvania isn’t Canada. Pennsylvania didn’t have Mounties and Canada didn’t have canals. I was basically writing a glorified fan fiction.

That’s part of the danger right there: letting your mind become distracted from your original goal and allowing your fan fiction-writing past over influence your own novel. The first half of my writing “career” was mostly in the form of Star Trek and Supernatural fan fiction novellas – many of which I never finished – and I refuse to let myself get sucked back in. They were what helped shape my decision to actually write a full fledged novel. I’ll admit it right now: I’m scared. Scared of never actually writing it. Scared of the rejection letters. Scared of not having the funds to have a really good editor or someone having faith in the story to want to edit it in the first place. I’m not seasoned like many of my favorite authors who are able to crank out stories because it’s their second nature. They know their characters inside and out. I’m still just treading water, waiting to do that butterfly meter race and win with a published book.

Step one: Have confidence in myself.
Step two: Complete my outline.
Step three: Be brave enough to find someone to critique it.

When you write you pour a bit of yourself into each and every story. It’s like putting your heart on your sleeve and I haven’t had great results with that before. But this time. With this novel – regardless of if the name Carrick sticks or not – I will complete it.


What Inspired Me to Write #firedamp

Stardate 95237.46

It was literally a dream. Without sounding prophetical or in need of being admitted to an asylum, that is exactly how the idea for Firedamp came about. A dream. The kind of dream that was so vivid that you wake up after and you have to wonder if it actually happened or not. So I had the idea but it was the execution of it that perplexed me at first. Then it dawned on me:  what better way than to combine something fantastical with historical fact? Not only that, but center it in a place you love and where you grew up? We’ve all heard the phrase, “Write what you know.” What I know is Pennsylvania.

The American Keystone State of Pennsylvania is one of the oldest colonies in the United States. From Fort Pitt to Gettysburg to Homestead and beyond, events in these places helped establish Pennsylvania as an integral force throughout history. But also in Pennsylvania, it became an industrial hub for the blue collar working class. With their lives being dictated by old money and those who controlled it. All these factors will come to play in Firedamp in one way or another, and I hope I somehow do it justice.

While I admit that it has been an on-again-off-again project, I am constantly thinking of it, constantly researching, constantly writing and constantly outlining. Firedamp is a historically-driven novel that combines several big events where hopefully readers of all ages will not only enjoy but learn something new in the process about the past that should not be forgotten.

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