Saturday, May 28, 2011

Inky Linky Love 05.28.2011

So I'm just going to pretend that this post isn't awfully, horribly late by backdating this post. Ooh, magic! Now it looks like I posted this last week when I should have. Except I'm telling you the truth and ruining it because I don't want you to question your sanity in case you stopped by before and didn't see the post (why yes, I am the epitome of kindness and selflessness).

Anyway, I've been busy and distracted lately, which accounts for my recent MIA-ness. Oops. But I'm glad I don't feel overly guilty for taking a break. Back when I first started blogging I would beat myself up if I didn't post every weekday. I still feel a slight twinge of uneasiness for not posting as regularly as I'd like, but I figure it's better not to guilt-trip myself over it. I'm still working on the game plan post — the outline is there, but I wanted to flesh it out a bit more before posting it (soon, hopefully).

I half considered just skipping the linky post for last week but I read some awesome posts that I want to share and don't want to overwhelm you by combining two weeks' worth in the next post. (I have a hard enough time narrowing them down as it is — I read hundreds of blogs and of course they're all amazing!) So here are a few of my favorite blog posts from last week (or thereabouts):

  • I was so excited to discover that Patricia C. Wrede blogs! Dealing with Dragons and Searching for Dragons are among my favorite books ever. I absolutely adore Cimorene and Mendanbar — they're so awesome! Her blog is wonderful as well; here's a great post on nurturing story ideas

  • Kristen Lamb uses Pixar film Finding Nemo as a case study for story structure. I love children's movies too, and she presents her points about action and conflict by using concrete examples. Very helpful, and I'll be sure to keep the lessons in mind during outlining and drafting.


  • Charlotte Jane Ivory at Steam&Ink wrote a hilarious post about notes she makes to herself while reading her manuscript. I seriously cannot wait to make snarky comments about my own writing. That will be motivation to finish!

  • Natalie Whipple is incredible. Between Fact and Fiction is one of the first writing blogs I subscribed to (I think it might be the first), but though I've been reading it regularly for a few years, I didn't start commenting until recently (what can I say, I'm shy!). I appreciate how open she is about her journey as a writer. One thing that always impresses me is how she can come up with one awesome idea after another and draft them so quickly. I love her post about her writing process now; it's interesting to see how it changed over the years.
  • Vanessa di Gregorio at Let the Words Flow totally failed to make me think she's not cool. I can so relate to her struggles to write instead of procrastinating and am glad I'm not alone. 
  • Anna Staniszewski gives 9 tips for finishing a novel, and wow, those are great tips. Since this blog is all about getting myself to finish a novel for once, I'll be doing my best to take those tips to heart.


  • Mark Nichol at Daily Writing Tips compiled a list of 50+ animal adjectives. I don't know if you'd want to write in your WIP that your hero possesses an acciptrine fierceness or that your villain cries eusuchian tears, but imagine how fun it would be to wow your friends with your superior vocabulary the next time you describe a passerine appetite or complain about someone's testudine pace! (Or maybe I'm the only one who thinks it'd be fun? :P)

If you have any tips on how not to fall behind in blogging, please share!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Planning Ahead

I have a love/hate relationship with organization and planning. Deep down inside, there’s a girl who would love to throw out the clutter, sort and color-code what’s left, make Excel spreadsheets for everything, and follow a perfectly scheduled agenda filled with just the right balance of productivity and relaxation.

Unfortunately, she doesn't get her way often because I’m just so incredibly lazy. And I've sort of trained myself to stay that way. For example, I actually have a decent tolerance for messes — I'm good at ignoring things or assuming apathy, because if I notice and care, I might have to do something about it. (I'm a big believer in the conservation of energy; that's why I'm so fond of sleeping.)

But every once in a while, I'll be ambushed by a sudden onslaught of energy and motivation. That's when I do things like alphabetize books on my shelf by last name of author and then check that the spine of each book is exactly the same distance from the edge of the bookshelf (with a ruler, of course, so it's accurate). Or reorder the clothes in my closet (well, once I move them there, anyway) seasonally and by item type, then catalogue it all in a spreadsheet along with attributes that include brand, color, length, care instructions, occasion, and how frequently I wear it.

Thankfully, these episodes are brief, and soon things devolve back into organic chaos. I try to do some light organizing here and there, but I basically allow entropy to run amok until the next time I'm overtaken by the urge to bring order to my surroundings. (I was particularly susceptible during midterm or finals season; funny coincidence, that.)

For a long time, that's how it went with my writing. I'd think about it from time to time, perhaps write a character study or jot down a few plot points in a burst of creativity, only to forget the project soon after. Since I wasn't all too dedicated and had little idea what I was doing, I didn't make much progress beyond a lot of daydreaming.

So now I'm going to try something different. I'm going to leverage my organization and planning skills to map out a strategic plan of attack on my novel project. Hopefully, breaking down my goal into smaller steps will make it seem less overwhelming. Plus there's something so satisfying about completing items on a checklist (why yes, I've added completed items to my to-do list before, just so I can cross it off — it's important to reward yourself with that sense of accomplishment!). And knowing what's next will keep me from feeling lost and help me make things easier for my future self.

Of course, having an awesome master plan doesn't guarantee success. I still have to carry it out, which is... not my strong suit. I'm hoping that blogging my progress will provide accountability and force me to remember my goal instead of brushing it off. (You guys will help, right?)

I'll be unveiling my game plan in my next post. It's more of a general overview, actually, so I'll probably have to come up with sub-sections with detailed checklists and a better schedule and... well, I'll worry about it when I get there. Stay tuned!

Where are you on the messy/organized spectrum?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Inky Linky Love 05.21.2011

Until recently, I was a die-hard lurker. There are blogs I've read for years and never commented on. But since I started blogging, I've come to appreciate the value of comments a lot more — so I'm learning to come out of my shell by leaving comments and interacting with people on Twitter more often. Turns out, it's not as scary as I thought it'd be. People are so nice! And they actually reply! :D (Yeah, that was kind of shocking. In a good way, of course.)

As I'm slowly getting more involved in the online writing community, I want to give back by highlighting a few of my favorite writing-related posts in the blogosphere each week. I was so excited I even came up with a super cheesy name for the feature, hehe. :P

I've followed some of these blogs for months or years, while I stumbled upon others just this week. I'm constantly amazed by the great stuff out there. I wish I could rave about all the posts I liked, but I made myself choose just a handful:






I hope you find these posts fun and helpful. Be sure to let these bloggers know if you like their posts!

And tell me, were you ever a lurker? Or did you get involved right away? What kinds of posts make you more likely to de-lurk?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Writing Habits

This is what I learn about my writing process from my post on how I write English papers:

ONE...      I never start until the last possible moment,
TWO...      though maybe it's not really the last possible moment since I always have time to whine to my friends about how screwed I am,
THREE...      in addition to waste time on the internet instead of actually working,
FOUR...      except I tell myself I’m letting my ideas marinate and that my subconcious is generating all sorts of brilliant ideas while I play Insaniquarium,
FIVE...      and it might be kind of true because, after all that procrastinating, I’ll somehow think of a thesis and an outline that's basically my entire paper, except not in prose,
SIX...      but readers like prose, so I turn my bullet points into sentences and edit each one to make sure it’s ok before I move on,
SEVEN...      because I totally don’t have time to do revisions.

Eek. Not only is that list a humongous run-on, but it also includes many bad habits. Procrastinating? Whining? Terrible. Letting my inner editor run rampant? Turning in a first draft? Scandalous!

And I think I might be a compulsive outliner. Sure, I free-write journal entries, personal emails, and brief blog posts, but I always try to decide on what I want to say before I write, even if I don't make an outline (my friends have remarked that my emails tend to be very organized).

But there are times when a blog post (or even email!) becomes longer and more complex than I anticipated, and then I totally regret not outlining first.

I dislike reading drafts in which my ideas are all jumbled up rather than flowing logically from one point to the next. I feel like my brain melts into a disorganized mess, and while some people thrive best in creative chaos, I can't wait to straighten out all my thoughts. I see my ideas so much more clearly in summarized notes than in pages of unwieldy paragraphs, so sometimes I'll turn my rambling draft into an outline, draft again, rearrange the outline, then write a final version that I tighten and polish before sending it out into the world.

But at least that tells me I'm not completely incapable of revising, despite how little time I allot for it when I write papers. I find that I enjoy tweaking sentences, eradicating careless mistakes, and — most of all — deleting unnecessary words. The hard part is creating the outline and churning out the words so I have something to edit.

Here are things I'd like to change about how I write:

Less whining!
Or at least not on my blog/Twitter (and I'll try to give my friends a break, but sometimes I can't help it). When the going gets rough, I'll write a blog post about the difficulties I'm experiencing, why I think it's happening, think up a few ideas to deal with it, and ask for advice from more experienced writers.

- Less procrastination!
I am very deadline-motivated. I used to start personal projects and forget about them for long stretches at a time since I felt like I had forever to work on them. I started this blog to keep myself accountable, and I'll be blogging about my plans and progress every week. Hopefully, my own (flexible) deadlines will motivate me to work and stay on track.

- Don't be a perfectionist on the first pass.
I can't imagine allowing myself to write anything riddled with spelling and grammatical errors (I still make dumb mistakes sometimes though). Still, I understand why writers advise turning off the inner editor for the first draft. I will prioritize getting the words down and leave fixing awkward sentences to the revision stage, no matter how tempting it is to try to get it perfect. I'll have plenty of time to fiddle with the writing later; the important thing is to finish a first draft.

- Use a blend of outlining and free-writing.
I don't think I'll be outlining every piece of dialogue or action. I want to figure out the major scenes so I don't feel lost or get overwhelmed, but I think it will be good for me to do more exploratory writing in order to learn about my story and characters. That means I'll probably change my outline as I write, but I still like starting out with a basic structure.

By now you can probably tell I like to plan things out in advance (never mind how good I am at actually following through). Next week, I'll talk about planning for my novel-writing project. I made a lot of false starts when I was younger, but this time I'm determined to finish!

Do you have any bad writing habits? How do you overcome them?

Monday, May 16, 2011

8 Steps to Writing an English Paper in One Night

You may think it's odd I'm blogging about writing English papers as I am no longer in school, and what I want to write are novels, not more papers.

The thing is, I know very little about writing novels. Sure, I've read hundreds of novels and tons of blog posts, articles, and books about how to write them. But I’ve never written one.

What I have written a lot of are English papers. (I get points for sticking to "write what you know," don't I?) I hope that, by analyzing how I write academically, I can get an idea of the best writing process for me as I dive into my fiction project. I probably have a ton of bad habits I need to fix, and being aware of what they are would be the first step.

This is how I write English papers:

(Disclaimer: your mileage may vary; results are not guaranteed and you're responsible for the outcome should you try this at home.)

1. Pick a topic

As soon as I get the list of prompts, I cross out any prompt based on books I didn't buy for the class. (The best way to save money on textbooks is not to buy them, right? I think there was a semester or two when I didn't buy any textbooks. Somehow, I survived.) Then I eliminate prompts that look like too much work or too boring or whatever. Eventually I settle on a topic. Then I figure I've done enough work for the time being and forget about the paper until a couple days before it's due.

2. Read the source material and find all relevant passages

This is when being a fast reader comes in handy. I can (and do) read several full-length novels in one day, so I know I'll have enough time to read whichever book I've chosen to write about. If I've already read the book, it does make it easier to note all the sections related to the prompt, but I can do it on my first read through as well. I like to highlight and dog-ear every instance to make them easy to find. I tend to do this a day or two before the paper is due.

3. Collect potential quotes

The day before the paper is due, I'll complain to my friends that I have a paper due the next day and haven't even started (I can't believe they put up with me either; my friends are so nice!). In the afternoon I review my source material, and after dinner I start compiling the most useful passages in a Word document. This becomes my "brainstorm" file and it's where I outline the paper. Since it's still early in the evening, I feel like I have lots of time left. So I take plenty of breaks to play random flash games. It wouldn't do to overwork myself now, would it?

4. Make observations and organize the quotes accordingly

The previous step shouldn't take all that long, but time flies when you procrastinate. Eventually, I notice how late it's getting and make myself analyze the passages and find patterns and connections. I start with concrete details and build my paragraph ideas from there as I link together passages that support the same point. As before, this is accompanied by surfing the internet and whining to friends.

5. Come up with a thesis

By the time I finish it's probably around 11pm. Then comes the toughest part of the entire paper-writing process for me. I look at my potential topic sentences and try to think of an argument that ties them all together. This is hard. It has to say something interesting and compelling about the text or author that can be logically supported by the observations I've already made.

It's so incredibly difficult that I agonize over my lack of ideas, certain I will never be able to start writing my paper. I decide I will most likely fail the class. So I go look at something funny on the internet to make me feel better.

After a good laugh, I stare at my screen. A lot. And change my status to "I NEED A THESIS!" so all my friends know how tortured I am. And whine some more to make sure they didn't miss my subtle hint. And then let my conscious mind take a break with Bejeweled so my subconscious can work on the paper. And then blank out some more at my brainstorm file.

Around 1am (or midnight, if I'm lucky) I finally type out my beautiful, brilliant thesis and wonder why I didn't think of it sooner. To celebrate the amazing progress I've made, I let myself procrastinate some more by watching YouTube videos.

6. Outline the paper

Once I get my thesis, everything falls into place. I look at the material I have and rearrange the order to fit the thesis. I make sure the outline flows logically from one point to the next so my transitions would be smooth. I write out my topic sentences and decide which quotes to keep. Then I'm ready to start writing.

7. Write

Most of my paper assignments were in the 5-7 page range. From experience I know that, including time spent on procrastination and the inverse relationship between efficiency and sleep deprivation, I should budget about one hour to write each page.

By now I'm not so worried; the hardest part is over. I know the basic writing mechanics and I know what I want to say, thanks to my outline. I just have to churn out the words.

I write and edit sentence-by-sentence, making sure what I've written makes sense and says something useful before I move on. If I can't think of a good way to phrase something, I'll write SOMETHING GOES HERE and skip to the next section. But that doesn't happen often as I'm simply transforming my outline into prose. I already know what every sentence is supposed to say, whether it's the topic of a paragraph, analysis of a specific line, explanation of a quote, or a transition to the next point. Since I have a thesis, the introduction and conclusion write themselves.

But thanks to my terrible habit of procrastinating, I'm writing at a time when I'd normally be sleeping, so my brain isn't exactly operating at its optimum. I have to be careful that I don't start writing nonsense as my brain turns to mush. The longer I stay up, the harder it becomes to form a coherent sentence. Minutes pass by as I squint at the blinking cursor, trying to remember how I'd intended to finish the half-written fragment. I can't think straight at all — it takes too much effort to remain lucid.

I can't afford to get writer's block, so I don't. But I do let myself take a nap. Around 5am, I get so tired I let myself lie down and close my eyes. I always worry I'll oversleep and miss my class, not turn in the paper, and fail the course, but the thought is so horrifying I wake up every few minutes to check the time. I always get up in time to finish my paper.

8. Check it over and turn it in

I complete the paper about half an hour (or less) before class starts. I make sure I didn't inadvertently leave SOMETHING GOES HERE in my paper. I quickly reread my sentences and tweak them a bit, but the changes are minor. I don't have time to do an in-depth line edit, and much less any revisions, so I print out the paper and hope there aren't too many typos or awkward sentences. Even if there are a few careless mistakes, I tell myself it's the content that matters. I try not to be more than half an hour late to class, then finally hand in the paper.

And then it’s over! Yay! I struggle to stay awake during class and bolt out the door once it ends. I go home, stumble to my bed, and fall into a much-needed and blissful slumber.

This process works for me, for the most part. It's not perfect and sometimes my papers turn out to be less than stellar, but thankfully those B+ and A- grades were in the minority. The one time I got a C on a paper, I was absolutely appalled, but I talked to the grader and worked my butt off on the second paper and the final, so I still ended up with an A in the class (whew!).

So I'd say my habit of staying up all night to write English papers generally works ok for me, though I can't say how well it'd work for anyone else. (Don't try this and expect to get a good grade if you usually spend days writing multiple drafts of your essays.)

Anyway, that's how I write English papers. In my next post, I'll talk about what issues I'll need to work on as I tackle writing a novel (I bet you can already guess what some of them are).

How about you? How did (or do) you go about writing academic papers?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

I'm a Wimp (Plus I Procrastinate)

I totally meant to write something awesome for my second writing blog post ever. I had this idea for a blog post all thought out in my brain. But I kept thinking I would have time to write it later and before I know it, another week has gone by. And that post is still in my head instead of captured in actual words.

I need to get over the idea that everything I write has to be amazing. Yes, quality is important. But I'm so terrified of failing that I end up paralyzed by fear. I tell myself I do want to write, that I'm a writer, but all I do is procrastinate and not write. This is probably why I hardly have anything written fiction-wise despite the years of story-idea-collecting.

Well, that's going to change. I'm going to start with this blog, because even if no one actually reads it, it's visible, and that's enough to give me a sense of accountability. I'm going to blog a minimum of once every week, even if my blog post is crappy. Because at least I'll have written something.

Penelope Trunk wrote a great post about how to have more self-discipline, and I definitely need to remember to stop being a perfectionist all the time. I'm also counting on the snowballing effect and hope that blogging once a week will turn into twice and three times and more, and that my progress on my novel-to-be will grow as well. So that's why I'm forcing myself to write this post even though I had no idea how it would turn out.

It seems like I'm putting too much work into excusing how lame this blog post is, right? I know eventually I'll need to write blog posts that are actually interesting and informative and entertaining (darn, that last one broke my alliterative streak. Misspelling it as "intertaining" was more tempting than I'd like to admit). But for now, it's enough for me if I learn to write regularly, since I have such a hard time with it.

Here's to starting small and working toward awesomeness!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A New Beginning

Hello there! Welcome to my new blog. This is the strictly-writing-related spin-off of my personal blog, A Glimpse of Wistfulness. (Name trivia: I named this blog after my Twitter handle, which I chose because "aglimpseofwistfulness" was over the character count. You can see how I named my personal blog in the first post there.)

I've decided that, as much as I love blogging about whatever comes to mind, it's important to blog with a focus if I want my writing to reach more than just family and friends. And as I'd like to become more serious about writing, starting a writing blog sounds like a great way to keep myself accountable, chronicle my journey, document lessons learned, and (hopefully) connect with other writers.

Since I'm essentially a newbie at both writing and blogging, I still have a lot of room for growth. I'm not entirely sure about how this blog will turn out, but I'm determined to make the most of it and learn as much as I can in the process.

Can't wait to see how this blog will evolve! :)