Monday, September 26, 2011

Choosing a Story Idea

Hey everyone, sorry I've been MIA from the blogosphere for the past week or so. I'm planning on catching up as much as possible, so I'll be going around to comment on posts I missed. Also: the amazing Peggy Eddleman gave me an award! Yay, thank you, Peggy! :D Definitely check out her fun, gorgeous blog if you haven't already.

In one of my previous posts, I talked about how I get story ideas, and I loved hearing from all of you about your sources of inspiration!

For this post, my question is: what do you do with all those ideas once you get them? How do you choose which one to focus on first?

I tend to be pretty good at recording potential stories. When I was younger, I got so excited whenever I got an idea that I didn't bother much with planning ahead. Instead, I'd jump right into writing the opening, whether by hand or in a Word document, and maybe make some rough notes about how awesome my character is.  (Sadly, that was usually as far as I got before I got stuck and moved on to a new, similarly plotless idea.)

Now, I keep track of story seeds in OneNote, which allows me to organize information in a hierarchy of notebooks, groups (which I treat as folders), sections, and pages. I have a separate folder for each story, and that's where I jot down my plot, character, and scene notes. Sometimes I'll find myself daydreaming about a particular story and adding to it that way; other times, I'll think of something cool and then find the story it'd fit into best (or, sometimes, start a new story folder).

So I guess you could say I like to brainstorm for multiple stories simultaneously. That's my way of dealing with the Shiny New Idea Syndrome: start a new file and add bits and pieces to it when inspiration strikes. It's fun to have different stories to think about, and if I come up with a concept I love but is totally wrong for my current project, it's satisfying to be able to find it a home elsewhere.

I like having lots of ideas, but I know it's important to pick one story to prioritize; my goal is to finish a manuscript, and that means choosing one idea and seeing it through to completion. Which brings me to my second question: how do you pick?

I wish I had an answer that was rational and helpful to others. The way I chose which idea to focus on is probably the opposite of what you're actually supposed to do. I mean, most people probably choose the idea they're most passionate about, or is the most developed, right? Here's how it works for me...

How Linda Chooses a Story Idea

1. Inspiration strikes! I have an awesome story idea! Yay! :D

2. *Starts developing plot and characterization, and dreams up a few scenes*

3. OMG it's going to be the BEST STORY EVAR! I even have a plot! So exciting! :D :D :D

4. Oh wait, I've never completed a novel before.

5. First novels usually suck, right? So if I want this story to turn out decent it can't be the first thing I write. :(

6. What to do, what to do?

7. No problem, I'll just have to become a better writer first so I can do my AMAZING STORY IDEA the justice it deserves!

8. *Stashes idea in folder labeled STORY IDEAS FOR WHEN I SUCK LESS*

9. *Thinks up new story for practice novel*

10. *Writes character studies and begins plotting*

11. Wow, I adore my MC! And her love interest! This is so fun! <3

12. Oh no, I like this story TOO MUCH. Argh, this is not supposed to happen! >=[

13. My awesome MC should totally have her story written by someone who knows what she's doing.

14. I guess that means I don't want this one to be my practice novel either. Hm.

15. *Stashes idea*

16. Next!

17. *Digs around in old files for another one*

18. *Blows off dust on old idea*

19. Ooh, this one seems interesting. I think it can work if I add in this one bit from that idea over there and this other thought from a few months ago.

20. Uh oh. The pieces kind of don't fit together.

21. What was I thinking?!

22. Ugh. I'm so stupid! Stupid stupid stupid.

23. *Brainstorms some more*

24. Wait... wait... omg I think I just managed to get them to make sense!

25. YES! I'm brilliant! This is going to be so amazing! Can't wait to write this!

26. But what if I ruin this story with my lack of experience???

27. *Pictures self inadvertently mangling lovely story idea*

28. *Bites nails*

29. *Whimpers*

30. *Glance furtively at stashed ideas*

31. *Takes a deep breath*

32. No! I will NOT repeat the cycle! I'm going to write this story even though I'm hopelessly in love with it and terrified of messing it up. I know it won't match up perfectly to my vision, and that will hurt, but it's ok. The important thing is to move out of this story-choosing limbo, get something finished for once, and learn from the experience.

33. Plus, my story will be awesome!

34. Ok, maybe not. But I'm sure I'll come up with more ideas later and probably adore those, too, so I shouldn't worry about ruining or using up my precious ideas. I can always improve the story later, if, after writing other projects and getting better, I still think it has potential.

35. Whew. I guess this one's the winner, then.

36. That wasn't so hard, was it?

37. Oh wait, I think the hard part will be actually writing...

So there you go, my lovely 37-step process for choosing a story idea. It's a bit ridiculous that I kept coming up with new ideas because I loved the other ones too much and didn't want to ruin them, but at least I've put an end to the cycle. And now I don't have to worry about not having any ideas!

But since my method is probably not too helpful to anyone else, here are some recent blog posts on the topic by other writers:

So, what about you? Do you work on multiple ideas simultaneously or just one at a time? How did you decide which idea to focus on? Feel free to leave me links to other blog posts on the topic!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Five Lessons from Camp NaNoWriMo

Now that Camp NaNoWriMo is over (and has been for two weeks), I thought I'd reflect on my experience. Never mind what my actual word count was; I assure you it's a pathetically abysmal figure. But even though I was nowhere near completing 50k, I gained a lot of insight about my writing process from the experience. Well, ok, there were some things I already knew, but since I was secretly hoping I would wake up one day and suddenly be able to churn out 50k of beautiful shining prose in no time at all, I had to re-learn some of those things. (Ha.) Here are some things about my writing I either learned or reconfirmed during the challenge:

It's sad that this is even here, because I totally knew I'm a plotter at heart. (This is one of those things that, surprise, didn't magically change overnight.) I'm the type of person who likes to have at least some sort of plan, even if I decide to ditch the entire thing later. Not having a good grasp of the structure of my story made me feel antsy. I had some vague ideas of what was supposed to happen, but not organized or detailed enough that I felt comfortable drafting, which made it hard to move forward with the story. I wrote a lot of beginnings that didn't feel right, and I couldn't fix it because I wasn't sure how I wanted it to go in the first place. So I kind of got stalled and didn't know how to continue. :(

Tip for future Linda: Outline first! 
Well, first I have to brainstorm a lot of random stuff, but outlines are great for organizing information so my ideas aren't a giant mess in my brain. I'm trying all sorts of different plotting tricks, from synopsis-writing to note carding to plotting by spreadsheet. It's a lot of fun and I'll let you guys know how those methods work out for me!

The dumbest thing about the previous point is that I'd originally planned to use NaNoWriMo not to draft a story but to brainstorm for my outline, precisely because I knew I worked better that way. But somewhere along the way I forgot my purpose. Instead, I decided I should be writing the actual story because that felt like what I was supposed to be doing. That's what everyone else was doing! And then I realized I had no outline and started trying to make one up ASAP so I can write the story, even though the whole point of this particular NaNo was supposed to be brainstorming so I can come up with a solid outline later. *facepalm*

Tip for future Linda: Stick to your objective! 
I had a personal goal but then got confused, went off track, and started sabotaging my own efforts by trying to skip ahead. Next time I will be clear about what I want to accomplish and not change my plan for silly reasons, like impatience or wanting to be like everyone else or temporary insanity. (I still can't get over my own stupidity.)

At the beginning of August, I wrote every day for a week. I don't think I ever hit my daily quota, but it felt awesome to know that I was actually writing. (Never mind that I was basically writing a ton of crappy beginnings I would never actually use.) I was productive! I felt like a writer! It was amazing! And then... I got sidetracked. Writing was so fun I wanted to skip right over the brainstorming and outlining phases to the drafting phase (see point #1 about my denial of my plotter-ness). Needless to say, it didn't really work out (see point #2), and when I broke my streak I couldn't get myself started again.

Tip for future Linda: Don't stop writing!
I don't think someone has to write every day to be a writer, but I can see why it'd be really helpful when you're starting out. I'm terrible at daily routines despite how much I love the idea of them, but I do want to make writing a bigger part of my life. So I signed up for Right now I mostly write word vomits of whatever's on my mind (lots of rants and raves about recent reads [oh look, alliteration!]) but I'm hoping to transition to fiction [oh look, rhyming!] once I spend September doing what I was supposed to do in August; namely, brainstorming and building an outline. [Sorry about the ridiculous bracketed asides. I don't know what got into me.]

It is so, so hard to give my inner editor a temporary vacation (I don't really want to kill her; she'll be so useful during revision!). But apparently it actually is possible; just look at my previous paragraph. (Heh.) Anyway, everyone emphasizes how important it is not to worry about quality during a first draft, and while I could kind of see why, I also wonder, "But why not get it right on the first try so you don't have to spend so much time fixing it later?" I suppose I want to strike a balance. I don't want to write complete gibberish for the sake of word count, but I also don't want to get so hung up about quality that I never finish. It's painful to recognize how bad my NaNo writing was, but somehow it still makes me happy that I wrote those few thousand words during the challenge.

Tip for future Linda: Just write — you can fix it later!
I hate producing terribleness. It's annoying and discouraging and excruciating and utterly unavoidable when you're a normal person who hasn't written all that much, like me. (This is in contrast to literary geniuses who've been writing forever. There is a very slight chance that such luminaries may find it possible to avoid producing terribleness, and I wouldn't want to offend anyone.) I need to get it through my head that it's ok, that I need a huge quantity of thoughtful practice (which means no random banging of the keyboard), that everyone has to start somewhere, and that I can revise later. And that I will improve, if I keep at it.

This is the part where I reveal my geekiness. I love spreadsheets and graphs and metrics! I would use it to track every little thing in my life if I were disciplined enough to log everything (I'm not, but it doesn't stop me from trying). I still use spreadsheets to track personal finances and books I've read, though I've abandoned many others over the years. (Like the one that cataloged everything in my closet. I wish I hadn't stopped maintaining it; that one was pretty useful.) I made a word count spreadsheet for Camp NaNoWriMo, and even though I didn't do a great job of keeping up with my quota, I still enjoyed tracking my (pitiful) progress and admiring the pretty charts I made.

Tip for future Linda: Motivate yourself with metrics!
I really like how Savannah J. Foley tracks her daily and weekly word counts with a spreadsheet, and I'm totally making myself some spreadsheets for when I get to the drafting phase. It makes it easy to visualize progress, and I will be motivated to beat my goal so my graphs and charts look good. Plus, spreadsheets are fun! :D

Anyway, I might not have won the challenge, but now I have a better idea of what I need to work on in order to write more successfully. No more getting ahead of myself and losing focus and momentum! Easier said than done, of course, but I'm glad to be more aware of my issues and to get back to my general plan/schedule.

I don't think I'll be able to participate in the official NaNoWriMo since I'll be in Europe for half of November (so excited!!), but maybe I'll do a MyNoWriMo like Holly Dodson and challenge myself to writing 50k in October... or not. The thought of it kind of freaks me out. If I do, though, I'll be sure to review the awesome Krispy's Dos and Don'ts of NaNoWriMo — her tips are so funny and helpful!

How about you? Have you ever participated in NaNoWriMo? Are you going to this year? Let me know if you have any tips or resources to share!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Inky Linky Love 09.10.2011

I didn't get a long weekend for Labor Day, but never fear, I'm getting one this weekend! The Mid-Autumn Festival is on Monday this year, so I'm looking forward to getting the day off. Yay! We've been eating lots of delicious moon cakes, pineapple cakes, and mochi at work lately, since vendors have been gifting boxes and boxes of them. (My favorites are the red bean ones!) And we got cake on Friday to celebrate September birthdays. In the evening, I went with a few coworkers to eat in a bus. Seriously. This restaurant took out the seats, poles, and handles in old buses and put in tables and chairs. It was pretty cool. (Sadly, I didn't have my camera with me. :( Wish I could show you guys pictures!) But yeah. Lots of eating. It's not a real holiday unless it revolves around food, right? :P

In other news, S.L. Hennessy at Pensuasion gave me the Liebster Award! I was very encouraged by her kind words. Also, she recently signed with an agent, so be sure to send her some hearty congrats! :)

(Edit: Kate Coursey also gave me the Liebster Award! Yay, thank you, Kate! :D)

My favorite posts this week are kind of hard to separate into categories, so the links are not as organized this time around. But then I'm only sharing a handful, so that shouldn't be too big of a problem. I loved these thought-provoking posts, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!


And that's it! Enjoy your weekend, and if you want to have a moon-viewing party, Monday would be a great time for it. ;)

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Inky Linky Love 09.03.2011

Happy Labor Day weekend to those of you in the States! No long weekend for me. :( I think the Taiwanese equivalent was in April or something.

Anyway, some updates from me:

First, check out the gorgeous new blog button in the side bar! It was designed by the incredibly talented Carrie Butler, and I won it for following the directions for her giveaway. :) You can see the other buttons she made by clicking over to this blog post.

New meme on my Awards and Memes page: The Ten Random Facts Meme, which was passed to me by the awesome and hilarious Alz at A Nudge in the Right Direction.

Carrie also tagged me with the 7x7 Link Award (thanks Carrie!) which I'll get to once I have more posts in my archives. Maybe I'll do it for some sort of blogging milestone?

Ok, on to the links!




Enjoy your weekend, everyone!