Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Everybody's A Critic

Criticism is something you can easily avoid by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing. ~Aristotle

So, I've been thinking a lot about rejection. Between job hunting and submitting fiction, rejection is pretty much what I'm breathing these days.

More to the point, I've been thinking about what often heralds (or follows along) with rejection. Criticism.

All writers face criticism—it's part of the lifewhether it's from other writers, friends, family, spouses, agents, annoyed readers, managing editors, or even random passersby. For every person who likes what you write, a handful will be indifferent and a couple will hate it (and they tend not to be shy about letting you know they hate it).

Part of being a writer is learning how to deal with that criticism. Because if you don't find a healthy way to deal with it, it can tear out your soft, pulpy-pink insides and leave you questioning your abilities and wondering why the hell you're putting yourself on display.

So how do you deal with it?

In my experience, it's easier to deal with criticism once you have an understanding of what constitutes effective criticism and embrace this fact: not all criticism is equal.

Look at it this way: at the end of the day, we're all critics. We know what we like, what we don't like, what we're indifferent to. But just as our personal likes and dislikes don't give us a magical scepter of objective artistic judgement, they don't make us effective critics.

Effective criticism requires time, reason and a willingness to converse.

And dealing with criticism means you need to be learn to separate the crap from the cream. Of course, then you need to learn how to digest the cream. And writers are notorious for being lactose int...wait...where was I going with that metaphor?

Never mind.

In this "Everybody's A Critic" series of posts, I'll talk about the types of criticism, what makes a good critic, and throw out some bits of advice I've picked up here and there on dealing with and responding to criticism.

But until we get there, how about a few anecdotes?

What's some of the most amusing criticism (good or bad) you've ever received? Did it help? Did it hurt? 

Look out for: Part II - Everybody's A Critic: Types of Criticism.

Monday, November 18, 2013

NaNoWriMo: Halfway Point

As of this posting (not writing, because I'm writing this three weeks ago), we've passed the halfway marker for the NaNoWriMo deadline. 

At this point, if I've not been driven entirely mad, the odds are in favor of my being in some kind of creative fugue state, not completely aware of what day it is or what I've done over the last three weeks. 

I'm (me, in the past) just guessing. But this is how I've spent every NaNoWriMo that I've won. 

Writing 50,000 words in 30 days is an exercise in dedication. To put it lightly. Because all of the normal little daily needs and interruptions in your life don't suddenly disappear because you're "writing a novel." 

In addition to the daily word count that needs cracking: The day job needs doing. The apartment still needs cleaning. The cats still need tending. The husband still wants attention. The kids (if you have them) need caring for. There's dinner to cook, bills to pay, groceries to buy. 

If you're lucky, the people you live with will help pick up the slack. Though if you're anything like me, there's a control-freak side that finds it hard to let other people take care of things because they won't do it right. (I'm told that actually translates to: they won't do it like I do it. But I maintain that I do it the right way, so....) 

I digress.

If I've stuck to my guns, I should be over halfway to the 50,000 word count. Odds are, I'm running behind (because there's always something that happens in November to throw me off my game).

Maybe I'll win. Maybe I won't. 

Hopefully, I'm enjoying the ride.

I'll see you in December.

Monday, November 11, 2013

NaNoWriMo Prep: Setting

I've had the opportunity to live in and visit a variety of different places across the U.S. and Europe. So when it comes to setting, I have a number of experiences to pull from.

I'm setting this year's NaNo novel in the Tempe and Phoenix areas of Arizona. (I needed an artsy district for one of my characters and Tempe's Mill Avenue bubbled up in the back of my brain.)

Madison St. Phoenix, AZ

I spent over seven years in the Phoenix area, so I'm familiar with the ambiance: the hustle and bustle of the people and the traffic, the oppressiveness of the summer heat, the pleasant chill of winter, the sights and scents and sounds of the dessert city.

What I'm not as familiar with (it's been almost 10 years since I set foot in Phoenix) is the exact location of certain places, the orientation of streets, how far it would be to travel from this point to that.

Enter Google Maps.

With a little research (studio and condo possibilities in the Mill Avenue area plus a place in downtown Phoenix where an old, abandoned, but not yet condemned, hotel wouldn't be out of place) I was able to come up with the general area in which my story takes place.

Long live the Internet age.

Even if you're not familiar with where your story occurs, don't let that stop you from experimenting. It's easy enough to run through Wiki articles on various cities to determine things like climate, native plants and animals, industries, etc. And using Google Maps can help you fill in some of the mundane details until you can get secondhand knowledge from someone who lives in the area or (even better) experience the location for yourself.

Do you set your stories in places you've visited or lived? Do you prefer real settings or towns/cities that you've made up? 

Monday, November 4, 2013

NaNoWriMo Prep: Novel Soundtracks

I've written about this specifically in: Gabriel's Playlist.

It also goes along with my thoughts on creativity (and how creation feeds off creation).

One of my favorite things—because I love music and "mix tapes"—is making up soundtracks for my stories or characters.

I don't always physically make a playlist (because it is time consuming) but I usually have various songs in mind, as knowing what type of music my character likes gives an added dimension to their personality. Additionally, having a list of songs that, were my story a movie, might play in the background, can help set up a scene.

With NaNoWriMo, I usually begin my prep work weeks ahead so I have the time to consider my characters and their relationships, consider (some) of my novel's scenes and general ambiance, and physically put together a soundtrack that illuminates those elements.

If I have the inspiration, sometimes I make album covers (which can also be used as book covers later on). But that's extra flavor. And I'm a bit of a Photoshop junkie, so it feeds my addiction.

As I'm writing this, I haven't completed this year's soundtrack, but I've compiled a short list of music that's helping me get excited about what I'll be writing in November. Below is a sampling.

Do you make soundtracks or do any kind of musical prep-work for your stories or characters?

When You Were Young - The Killers
You sit there in your heartache
Waiting on some beautiful boy to
To save you from your old ways

Keep the Streets Empty For Me - Fever Ray
A lot of hope in a one man tent
There's no room for innocence
Take me home before the storm
Velvet mites will keep us warm

In All My Dreams I Drown - Jessica Lowndes, Terrance Zdunich
His berth, it rocks, heave ho, heave ho
The ocean gnashed and moaned
Like Jona will be swallowed whole
And spat back teeth and bones

Thinking of You - A Perfect Circle
Lying all alone and restless
unable to lose this image
sleepless, unable to focus on
anything but your surrender

Friday, November 1, 2013


It's that time of year again, dear readers.

Despite the tough time (read: near mental break and a blatant inability to come up with a decently organized and plotted story) I've been having with my creative writing this fall, for the last month I've been kicking around the idea of participating in NaNo.

I have a working title. I have two main characters. I have a handful of peripheral characters.

I have no plot. (Well, that's not entirely true. I have a vague plot that doesn't seem that strong.)

Granted, that's never stopped me before. But does the world really need one more unfinished novel?

Furthermore, do I really need one more 50,000 word (but still not quite finished) monster cluttering up my hard drive (flash drive, office shelf)?

The Magic 8 Ball says "my sources say no."

But who's going to listen to a collection of plastic and water?
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