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One highly opinionated feminist YA nerd's twisted, snarky and informative journey through the genre's perils, pitfalls and sparkles.

How am I writing?

The end (of the year) is nigh, the snow has melted from the streets of my city (and not a moment too soon, I was getting sick of slipping on the ice and falling in the slush like something out of a Charlie Chaplin routine) and we all look forward to the shiny new year that will be 2011. It's been an interesting year for me. I don't know if it's been more good than bad or vice versa but either way it's been interesting. On the positive side I started the good old Sparkle Project and I also started trying to write my own YA book. Heavy emphasis on the try.

Procrastination is not a hard thing in this writer's cosy household; I could win a medal in it, or I'd find something else to do mid-way through. If it wasn't university work, it was something else, like reading for classes, or doing housework or more recently my Xmas job (in a bookshop!) so unfortunately my lovely Princesses, fairy godfathers and sexy snarky sword-fights were put on hold for a while and I've never really gotten back into the groove. I've written bits and pieces here and there but certainly not enough. So of course my new year's resolution is to write more and actually finish the book by the end of 2011. Remember, the world's supposed to be ending in 2012 so there's a serious deadline to meet.

Are there any other wannabe writers out there? Don't lie, I know there are. What are you all writing? What are your methods/worries/annoyances/general thoughts?

I'm trying to write a YA novel which is part fairy-tale parody, part Disney-princess deconstruction and part queer feminist romantic comedy. That's a lot of parts. I have it all laid out in my head and on notes as to how it should unfold but of course it's seldom ever that easy. I really don't want exposition info-dumps since I so loathe them in books I read and I'm still working on improving how to write action scenes since it's something that's sort of new to me. As someone who is so opinionated about the faults of the genre (I'm also apparently cruel, over vitriolic, copying other people's review styles and being bitchy for the sake of it) it's really important to me to get the relationship and character dynamics down as perfectly as I can. I want the balance - a couple that grow to love each other despite a bumpy start, genuine chemistry, occasional doubts but a happy ending but nothing too predictable, equality in the relationship and no resorting to gender stereotypes (my main character is gay). Easy peasy, right? Well, it's often hard to translate what I see in my head onto something readable on the blank page. It's far too early and far too smug/presumptuous to be thinking about what others would think of my book (beyond the few people I send it to for beta purposes and occasional check ups because I'm sort of paranoid and need reassurance that it's not complete bilge since I'm sort of a self loathing creative mess at the best of times) but I do wonder what possible things people could say about it. I love to engage in debate and I don't mind bad reviews despite my lack of self confidence but I do want it to be the best story I can make it. That's another reason my friends/editors are so helpful because they're willing to tell it like it is and point out exactly what I'm doing wrong. I need that; all writers need that. Remember to leave some comments and I'll leave you with some much wiser words of advice, ones that don't reek of pretentiousness (seriously, if I start moaning about 'my muse not being responsive to my needs' or something, just put me out of my misery!)

"Write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I'm not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter." (Neil Gaiman)

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15 comments:

booksidontlike said...

I'm currently working on a YA science fiction novel (think something a bit similar to The Knife of Never Letting Go, although it didn't start out that way). I'm just at the beginning, but it's going well so far :)

Good luck with your own project! It sounds like fun.

Anonymous said...

I have also been working on a novel (for what seems like forever!), and tend to swing from being really inspired to being so self-critical it cripples my desire to work. I can empathize with your concerns - I'm also trying to make a YA fantasy story with complex, non-idealized characters that either avoids or subverts the usual cliches, but translating what you *want* to write into actual writing can be so difficult. In the end, I don't expect everyone to love my book; I just want to do the best I can and hope that someone else enjoys it, too.

I envy one of my friends, who can just sit down and write her stories from beginning to end. Mine is written in bits and pieces here and there, either typed or on paper and it's a huge mess to put together sometimes. But everyone has a different writing process and finding your own is just part of the job.

Telling myself to only edit a piece of writing sparingly or not at all until it's actually finished can help me through my critical moods. I have faith that I can edit the heck out of the thing when I've at least got a rough draft finished in its entirety. Also, sometimes I just need a break from thinking about my story and escape through watching something, playing a game, or reading either a good book or a bad book, depending on my mood. Funnily enough, reading bad books has definitely helped me as a writer because I know what I want to avoid.

The conclusions I've reached from my own experience with planning and writing a book is that it's good to both be passionate about something and still be able to take a step back and look at it with a critical eye. It's a difficult balance and one I'm far from mastering, but seeing the writing process in that two-sided way helps me function.

For what it's worth, I'm very intrigued by your book idea and hope to be able to read it someday. If there's one good thing coming out of this time where the bulk of YA has become derivative crap, it's that it has inspired aspiring authors who want quality in their work to have a more critical and thoughtful approach to writing. Enough with the LotR/Harry Potter/Twilight/etc. ripoffs; I want something new!

mambo-chocobo said...

I'm currently working on a Little Mermaid retelling that's... pretty liberal with what I use from the actual fairy tale. I'm mostly removing all the bullshit dependency on the guy and adding a lot more plot to it. It was my NaNo story this year and I won with it. :3 I'm struggling with the middle section, but I have an okay beginning and an ending planned out, so hopefully in 2011 I get to finish at least a first completed draft of it!

I've heard about your WIP before and I still absolutely love the idea. It's got a lot of elements we need in YA right now, you know? It'd be great to see it on a shelf one day. Good luck to you as you work on it!

dark-roast said...

My worst writing problem is discipline. I'll start strong, then get another idea, and leave whatever I'm working on to start the new project. I'm terrible at finishing drafts!

I made a resolution in November (A post-Halloween resolution!) to pick ONE unfinished project, and stick with it until I have a completed a draft. I started with the project that's the worst mess, so I'll have a downhill trip.

Right now, I'm working on my in-bits-and-pieces dystopian sci-fi m/m romance novel. I've also got about eight YA ideas and scraps of novels on the pile, among other things. :)

Any new ideas that I get, or ideas about existing projects -- I just type some quick notes in MS One Note, and I go back to what I was doing. It seems to be working... so far.

One of the awesome writing tools I discovered recently was Scrivener, a fantastic writing software. (It used to be Mac only, but they recently released a Windows beta.

(http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivenerforwindows/)

R.R. said...

^^ I finished NaNo so I get a 50% discount to the program when it comes out for windows. I can't waaaaait.

Personally, I've been writing basically a girl's version of the Hero's Journey. I've got more focus on building and discovering identity, though.

Arielle Clemence said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Arielle Clemence said...

You're not the only one who's got problems with procrastinating. I seem to have ADD when it comes to writing. I need something to help me focus on one thing at a time, otherwise nothing gets done.

I like you're idea. It sounds really interesting. Of course, you have to remember that your first draft is going to suck in the beginning, but that's what revising is all about. :)

I have so many thoughts bouncing around, but currently I am working on an two part story about two girls falling in love. I am a sucker for lesbian romances.

If you need anyone to offer encouragement, you can always talk to me. I know we didn't get off on the right foot, but I like you're reviews, and I'm hoping that we can overcome that.

Ceilidh said...

@booksidontlike: Ooh, good stuff. I loved The Knife of Never Letting Go and I'm dying to get my hands on the rest of the trilogy. I really should take advantage of my worker's discount at some point. I love dystopian novels but actually creating an entirely new world and encapsulating the claustrophobia/fear/unease/etc of the world's regime is tough stuff, especially to do it in an original way. One of the biggest complaints I've seen about Ally Condie's Matched, which is part of the mega YA hype machine, is that it borrows too much from The Giver. I thought Patrick Ness did a great job in getting the world building down in a unique and gripping way (Manchee!)

@Anonymous: It took me a long time to find my writing process and even now I'm not sure if it really is the right one for me. I try to write my story in a linear fashion but that does mean if I get stuck on one part I'm left there for ages until I figure out how to fix it which can be really annoying. I am so thankful for my friends being my part time editors, their advice is priceless.

@mambo-chocobo: I love the original story of The Little Mermaid, it's one of the most heartbreaking stories ever, but it's definitely ripe for a feminist reinterpretation. Congrats on finishing NaNo too! I signed up for it all ready and raring to go but then I got my Xmas job and I just didn't have the time to commit to it, especially during the busiest part of the semester.

@dark-roast: I'm tyerrible for keeping note of all my possible story ideas. I used to write them all down but then I'd just lose the paper I wrote them down on or when I wrote it down it would sound silly and I wouldn't know where to take the story and make it evolve. Right now I too am sticking to one idea and forcing myself to at least get a finished draft of it. I think half the work is in getting something finished.

@R.R: Great idea. I think there can never be too many books/stories with great character building. It sucks that the stuff getting the most attention in YA has so little of it.

@Arielle Clemence: I have been known to clean my bathroom when procrastinating from writing. For the longest time I had the shiniest, cleanest shower in Scotland! Yep, the first draft is probably going to stink. Having people help me edit as I go along helps a lot though, and it puts my mind in the right frame of thought when it comes to the heavy duty editing that will follow soon enough. And huzzah for lesbian romances! Thanks for that, that's really sweet of you. Hope we can be friends!

Ariana said...

I'm an aspiring novelist but I have commitment issues - I have about 5 ideas that have all been started, yet not completed. My goal for next year is to complete one of my manuscripts, for better or for worse.

Also, if you ever need anyone to look over your writing, I'd be happy to review it. Your story sounds appealing to me and I'm not a bad editor (in my humble opinion).

dark-roast said...

@Ceilidh: That's exactly why I love OneNote! I used to write stuff down in notebooks, or on slips of paper that I'd then stuff into the notebooks (if I didn't lose the bits of paper first). Everything was disorganized and impossible to find. But, OneNote is a personal wiki. (And I know there are also shareware programs that do the same thing.)

I transferred everything from my notebooks and folders of scrap paper into OneNote. It was an awesome writing-procrastination project! Now when I get an idea, I only have to hang onto that piece of paper I scribbled it on, until I get home. I make a new OneNote page, type up the notes, no matter how stupid they sound -- and that's that. Then I periodically back up everything on DropBox.

The wiki format is great, because if I have another idea about an idea, I know exactly where to put it.

Anonymous said...

I'm a lurker that was always too shy to comment. But yes, I am a wannabe writer. Here are my thoughts, concerns, worries.

1. Characters. My main character in my head is a genre savvy, deadpan snarker, badass bookworm, good is not nice, trying to catch me fighting dirty, witch. Has two best friends, but is on pleasant terms with her other classmates. I hope I can write her the way I see her. I'm trying to avert certain things that annoys me with the YA genre. Rogue has hobbies outside of her love interest and her life as a witch. She is aware that she's pretty. I hate how girls who know that they are pretty and are aware of their sexuality are painted as sluts to make the virgin MC look better. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with being a virgin, but there's nothing wrong with sex/ and wanting sex. There's also nothing wrong with not loving one person all your life. What I mean is that people don't usually find their perfect match in the first person they date. So Rogue has had crushes and been kissed before. She also has a healthy relationship with her parents and little brother. For her witch life she likes brewing potions, and controlling water. Her father also taught her to throw knives and steal. She likes going to the beach, hanging out with he friends, making jewelry, reading, writing. She's a little unsure of her future at the moment. Has a tendency to be clumsy, due to not watching where she is going and wearing flip flops the wrong way. Daydreams a lot. Moody. Misplaces things. A little lazy. Anxious.
2. Romance. Her love interest is a fairy named Coral. Coral is a lesbian. After she and Rogue get over their rocky start, Rogue is attracted to her, but she's not sure exactly how she feels. I'll probably leave it open ended since I don't know how to write romance.
3. The plot. Rogue's brother made a stupid deal with fairies, she has to help him is the main thing. Still ironing out the details.
I'm worried about finding a critique partner, getting an agent, finding my writing voice(I need to stop comparing myself to other writers)pacing, making my characters memorable, and not in the I want to kill you sense, and people reading my work. I have learned that I like writing sarcastically and mocking some tropes in the YA genre. My favorite scene to write was when Rogue's best friend Sheldon has a crush on this girl and she's telling him that he should keep a clear head. He was going on about how he was in love and she basically told him he's only known her for a few days and hasn't really been in a relationship as yet. He'll become one of those guys online who posts about how they've found 'the one' and then write a post a couple of months later about how they'll never find true love. Then she's telling him that because he's a nice human, he's doomed. He's not a supernatural creature, so he doesn't have that magnetic effect that seems to draw girls in. It's not destiny and they're not reincarnated lovers, or her fallen guardian angel. He has loving parents and a nice life, so he can't pull the tortured bad boy jerk routine. It ends with Rogue telling Sheldon he'll have to get a girl the old fashioned way- actually talking to her. So, does my story/ character sound completely stupid?

Ceilidh said...

@Ariana: Thanks for the offer but I think I've got enough amateur editors sick of my panicky creative paranoia for the time being! Good luck with your writing endeavours!

@Anonymous: Hey there. No need to be shy, your idea sounds cool and I hope you have fun writing it. If you don't enjoy writing it then it becomes a chore and it effects the story itself. Well, it does with my work. Just keep at it and remember that the first draft always stinks and it gets better from there.

I'm thinking about doing weekly open posts for wannabe writers in progress. Would anyone be interested in that?

Anonymous said...

Re: weekly writers-in-progress posts: I'd like that! It's always inspiring to be able to discuss this sort of thing with like-minded people.

- Anonymous 1, who is currently too lazy to get some sort of account thingy.

Anonymous said...

Ceilidh, I've got a couple posts for you.

1. http://josinlmcquein.blogspot.com/2010/12/first-drafts-are-not-crap-writing.html

2. http://robinwasserman.livejournal.com/123825.html

Basically, just hang in there! If this novel ends up being your practice novel, so be it. You can do this.

Bronwyn Scott-McCharen said...

Oh lord, I totally feel this post. I'm ecstatic because I'm almost done with my novel (like two more chapters) that I've been working on for months. It's the longest manuscript I've ever written (which is awesome). Basically it's Literary Fiction (because I fuck around a lot with style + it's more character than plot driven) that's about Argentina in the 1970s/the Dirty War/los desaparecidos that's told from the points of view of four best friends (spoiler: three of them end up dying). Needless to say, it's depressing as shit but it's what I want to write, so I'm writing it.

Your novel sounds like something I'd definitely read (and something that probably needs to be on the YA market in place of all the crap that's there now). I've only tried my hand at writing YA once (with no good results--though I was thisclose to getting an agent at one point, apparently my MS sounded too "adult." Oh well). Best of luck :) My only advice is to just plow through the procrastination, write whatever comes to mind/whatever's next on your outline (I'm an outliner) and if it's shitty, that's what editing is for. It's so hard, but you have to do it if you want to ever get finished. And finishing a novel = best natural high ever (I've experienced it twice).

Wow...sorry for the long comment, especially since I've just been a lurker of this blog for a while. Keep up the good work!

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