25 February 2011

It Never Rains But It Pours

It's been ten days since I lasted posted, and it's been an eventful week by all accounts.

Of course there was the Christchurch earthquake, the horror of which is still being revealed. Thankfully no-one I know was killed or seriously injured, but it is still very distressing.

That happened in the middle of my second day at a new job. Having been there a week now, I feel like I'm settling in and beginning to get used to my new horrific commute. Both the mental effort and physical exertion have rendered me comotose for most of the week.

Prior to that we were away for a long weekend, after an incredibly hectic last four days at my old job. The good news is we're actually away on holiday in Melbourne from next Thursday, so I'll have time to recover from everything (or rush around like a lunatic tourist). We're going to the Avalon airshow and driving The Great Ocean Road. So there'll be another quiet patch on the blog, but hopefully some great photos in a couple of weeks.

In the middle of all this, I've been despairing over the lack of any time to work on my WIP. I'm trying to plot the chronology of the story onto a calendar. Certain parts relate to things that actually happened, and I want to make sure that it seems realistic to those in the know. Also sometimes I'm a bit fuzzy when I mention when things are coming up in the future, or my characters need to think about specific dates, and the only way I can think to do this is with the calendar. In the odd snatched half hour this week I've been toiling away, stuck on a particular sequence where real-life happenings just aren't lining up the way I want them to for the story. Very frustrating. I hope to get it sorted this weekend, but I have a huge to-do list. Fingers crossed!

15 February 2011

Fooling Around With Fonts

One of my favourite ways to procrastinate is to type my name into a Word document and try to decide the best font to use for my byline on the cover of my book. Am I the only one who does this? I hope not. I always stack my first name on top of my last, because there’s no way my whole name is going to fit on one line.

I really like the way the more recent versions of Word show you the way the font looks in the font drop-down. But does anyone else think that the alphabetical listing of the fonts makes no sense whatsoever? Shouldn’t there be groupings of serif, sans serif, cartoony, symbols, caps, handwriting, cursive, ornamental, old-fashioned… you know what I mean? I’ll be gazing dreamily at Edwardian Script ITC as I run my mouse down the font list, only to be slapped around the chops by Elephant. Don’t get me started on Wide Latin and Wingdings.

13 February 2011

Just in time for Valentine's Day

Strawberry heart
This is a strawberry from our garden. It looks like a heart, don't you think? Sometimes the misshapen things in nature are the best.

This is the other side, and its buddies:

This is the second year we've had a vege patch, and we've been bringing in some great hauls...

Veges from our garden
 I was particularly proud of these carrots, after last year's attempts were mostly stubby and eaten by bugs:

We're really seeing the 'fruits' of our labour... tee hee.

10 February 2011

Balancing Writing and Networking – How Do You Do It?

This week for me has been all about interacting with people on blogs, twitter and email. The main realisation I’ve come to is that this networking stuff all takes a lot of time.

I have a full time job, and it’s pretty demanding. I generally have 2-3 hours a day which I can spend on non-working, -eating, -cooking or -cleaning duties. Most of the time I could get in at least an hour of writing. A lot of the rest of it is spent catching up with writing and non-writing stuff online, reading, exercising, a bit of TV and hanging out with the people/pets in my life. This week however, I’ve only managed an hour total of half-hearted editing.

The first thing is Twitter. I don’t know how everyone does it. It’s not hard to send out the odd tweet about what you’re up to, or cool links you’ve seen. But the advice is to actually ‘network’; to join conversations and build relationships. The amount of time it takes to do this baffles me. Just trying to read everyone’s tweets is a huge time-sucker. Because of time zones, by the time I catch up I’m usually about six hours behind, so I’d look stupid replying to stuff, especially in the rapid-fire conversations a lot of writers seem to have with their groups of friends on Twitter. A lot of the time the subject matter is specific to local things, which I know nothing about, and it seems like I’d be butting in anyway. Even once I find more local people to connect with, I still wonder how on earth I’ll keep up with it all. I’ve download TweetDeck and I’ve started making lists, but there’s still the same volume of stuff. It’s different from when I used to use Twitter just to catch up with official news sources and special interest sites. Trying to actual communicate back in the other direction seems to take a whole lot longer. The thing is, if I had more time it would be very enjoyable.

Then there’s blogs – both trying to update mine and reading/commenting on other people’s. I’ve used Google’s RSS reader for a long time and I love it. My mission at the moment is trying to read things in a timely manner, so any comments I make are posted in a reasonable timeframe. I’m also subscribing to lots of new feeds which isn’t helping this goal.

So I’m keen to find out how other people are staying on top of all this stuff. Your occupation is a job, writing is a job, managing a house is a job, and now social networking is a job too. How do you handle it all? How much time do you spend doing these things each day? Any tips for how to network effectively without it sucking your life into a virtual vortex?

07 February 2011

Passive Voice Confusion

So I was reading about first paragraphs today here: http://elenasolodow.blogspot.com/p/first-paragraph-tips.html and I came across this bit

Passive voice. As in "he/she was", or "he/she had". I'd say, as a rule, if you have "had" or "was" anywhere in your first paragraph (or even your first SENTENCE), take 'em out. And obviously, over-use of either throughout a manuscript is a no-no.
Later, I opened my manuscript and look at my current opening paragraph. To my horror, every sentence has 'was' or 'had' in it. Now previously, my understanding of passive voice was that it makes the subject the object, as in "Sam was hit by the ball." I try not to do that.

My problem is, in the first paragraph I'm setting up the fact that my character has is in the middle of doing something which illustrates a lot about who she is and her general outlook on life. She's about to do some things, which sort of necessitates talking about the near future rather than using proper, active verbs. At the moment I can't seem to think of other sentence constructions that will do this.

I thought about posting the paragraph here, blanking out the specifics, but it all got a bit silly. Suffice to say I have these: "[name] had a [thing]" and "she/it was going to..." and "she had almost..."

Are these bad writing sins that I should purge from my MS forthwith?

06 February 2011

Delightfully Delusional

I’m at a place with my WIP where all I feel is excitement and anticipation. I love my story, I’m looking forward to getting it out into the world, and I’m not thinking about the rejections to come. I feel optimistic. My story still feels fresh. I know it’s the best thing I’ve done. I have a fair idea of how I’m going to pitch it to agents, and I already have a huge list of prospective agents. I’ve started baby steps with social networking, and I’m looking forward to interacting more with the writing community.

There’s only a little terror at the thought of the work that lies ahead with the edits, but I’ll take it a day at a time. For now, I’m basking in the glow of the potential of my work. At this point in time, all my dreams could come true. So why not dwell on that as long as I can?

Movies Are Cool (Literally)

We've been living in a sauna in Auckland for the last few days. There's no escaping the heat and humidity, inside or outside, day or night. Except in shopping malls and movie theatres - the great air-conditioned refuges of suburbia. We were all shopped out after the New Year sales, so it was to the cinema. We don't actually see movies that often, mostly content to wait for cheap DVDs or see things on TV.

Yesterday we saw The King's Speech. I was blown away, of course. One of my favourite scenes was when Lionel was able to bribe Bertie with building the airplane model. As Bertie carefully applied the glue and held the wings together, you could see that even a king is still a boy at heart.

Today we opted for Tangled in 3D. I do love a fairytale. Yes it was cheesy and the plot impossible, but I loved every second of it. I thought Mandy Moore and Zachery Levi were fantastic (although I already loved them both). It was great to see a flawed Disney hero (and his redemption). I laughed, cried and broke out in warm fuzzies - a great success for any story in my book.

04 February 2011

Progress? Yes… and No

So far this week I’ve stripped out all the notes and scenes that I don’t think I need for the final book. There was 5,000 words worth of them. It was very satisfying to delete notes I’d made where the issue has been resolved. For example: ‘what are her motivations for doing this?’, ‘how do they forge a connection?’, and ‘Should this character be present in this scene?’

I'm still left with 8,000 words of extra notes. And these are other bigger things that will take me ages to incorporate into the MS, like ‘make the setting a stronger part of the book’ or ‘don’t forget that character from the beginning’ or ‘give so and so a better/bigger personality’.

Then there’s alternate ideas I had for scenes, that still might work better than what I’ve got… but maybe not. I’ve got pithy little paragraphs describing my characters opinions or state of mind that may or may not improve the reader's experience. They could just be fluff.

There’s extra stuff I could write, to make my characters more rounded or funnier, or to show other scenes which have been happening in the background that add realism or make the climax ultimately beefier… but the story does survive without them. Better to leave them out? *scratches head*

03 February 2011

John Key, You Rock

I think we (New Zealand) officially have the world's coolest leader. By 'cool', I don't mean trendy or anything like that - I mean self-deprecating, sharp, and with a great sense of humour.

John Key apparently caused a global stir when he called Liz Hurley "hot" during an interview on sports radio. He responded to the criticism by saying he thought that Liz would be thrilled with his comments. I personally think anyone offended by that is too PC for their own good.

Then I just saw the item at the end of the news. The uniform for volunteers at the Rugby World Cup was unveiled, and they put the actual volunteers on the catwalk to display the bright tea and lavender outfits.Then who struts out onto the catwalk than the Right Honourable Prime Minister himself, introduced only as "John from Parnell", his hands flared in a super-camp gesture.

As if that wasn't hilarious enough, he gave a speech and finished up with "Now, do I look hot?" I don't think I've laughed so much with a politician in all my life. He seems to do the actual leading the country pretty well too.

Thanks to NZ Herald and TVNZ for the stories.

Coming Out of the Shadows

I’ve been a happy lurker for many years now. Apart from some activity on the boards at The Republic of Pemberley a loooong time ago, I haven’t really contributed to many discussions online. I use Twitter a lot, to catch up on news and trends, but I haven’t tweeted until this week when I set up a new account with my real name. I don’t have a personal Facebook profile – I just look over my husband’s shoulder to see what our friends are up to. Now I’ve claimed a ‘page’ for myself there, but I have no idea what to do with it. I don’t even know if you can friend/like other people when you have a page rather than a profile. And I don’t see there’s much point getting that going before anyone knows who I am... right?

So I think the first baby steps are to start commenting on other blogs, and on writer’s forums. I’ve sometimes clicked on a commenter’s profile and come through to their blog, so maybe that might happen to me if I say something interesting. I think this is the main reason I haven’t contributed to things previously – I just don’t think what I might say will be interesting enough.

The thing is I would like to strike up some friendships online, and/or have people respond to stuff I put out there on this blog. I really identified with something Natalie Whipple said a while ago – that for one reason or another most friendships had never stuck in real life... then she went on to say that she knows her writer friends are friends for life. I came over all emotional when I read that. It seems like the YA community is a lot more active than the rest though, so I’m not counting my chickens. I also live on the other side of the world from most of the writing community, which is a tad inconvenient for real life stuff. But that’s OK. All I can do is put myself out there, like I am on this blog, and see what comes of it.

02 February 2011

That First Draft Feeling

I feel like my book is at its first important milestone. I have written the story from beginning to end. It’s been a few years since I was last in this position, and it seems like decades. It’s sort of a strange feeling, not having part of the story constantly being worked over in my brain. I would usually have the next sentence or an alternative piece of dialogue coming to me from all directions (usually when I’m away from the computer), but since Monday night… nothing. A sort of peace settled on my brain. Except for last night when I was brushing my teeth, my mind wandered to a historical novel I started before my current WIP, and I hurriedly wrote the opening scene down before I settled into bed. Note – “started” for me doesn’t mean writing the beginning. I’ll explain my writing ‘process’ another time.

I thought I would feel more ecstatic than I do about getting the draft finished. I was excited all Monday thinking, “Yay, I’m going to finish it today!” (Monday was a public holiday). Then it literally took me all day and some of the evening to do it, and I was pretty exhausted by the time I finished the last sentence. I jumped on to Blogger and put my first post up, which I’d wanted to do for days. Then I went to bed.

I know I’m supposed to let the story rest for a little while before I start editing it. I’m thinking about the blog and about putting myself out there online. I also had a sneaky peak at the extra notes I have for my WIP, starting to separate them into ‘for the sequel/s’ or basically ‘could be worked into this one’. I’ve saved a couple of 2010 calendars so I can use them to make sure all the timings are realistic. And I’m starting to think who would be appropriate beta readers for this story, in maybe a month’s time.

I do feel excited about this book. There are so many moments I love, and the characters feel real. I’m nervously anticipating getting it out there – seeing what readers and then agents think. I really want to know if it’s any good. To me it’s so much better than anything I’ve done before – much more authentic. It’s a slice of who I am, even though none of it is autobiographical and none of the characters can be identified as being based on me. There are themes and messages; things I obviously wanted to ‘say’, but I didn’t know it until I read them back. There are funny moments, heartbreaking moments, romantic moments, and a bevy of (I hope) appealing potential love interests to keep the reader guessing. I wrote about deeper issues that I expected to. My characters revealed unexpected back stories and motivations. I discovered some of these characters have more stories to tell after this novel closes. And I really really hope someone out there somewhere falls in love with this story enough to make it a book and send it off into the world.

01 February 2011

Why So Blue

I thought I’d explain how the blog came to look like it does. I’ll also give an indication of what I want the blog to be, in terms of tone and message.

The first thing to decide on was the name. I didn’t just want to call it after me, and for a while I had no idea what to call it. Then as I was working on my WIP, trying to finish reading a book in my genre (this particular one being a chore), and also researching a forthcoming trip. My life was all about pages – the goals I was setting myself around how many I would read and write each hour or each day (or usually, before a given mealtime). So I thought about something to do with pages, like “Living in Pages”. That sounded a bit boring, so I thought what about “Breathing in Pages” or “Dreaming in Pages”. None of these were floating my boat.

I was reading an article which was completed unrelated (I can’t even remember the subject now), and it mentioned “la dolce vita” (Italian for “the sweet life”). And for some reason it clicked in my brain, and I thought “I wonder what ‘The Writing Life’ in Italian would be”. Then I looked it up, along with some of the other titles previously mentioned, and settled on La Scrittura Vita. Why Italian? I’ll explain my background another time, but suffice to say anything sounds more romantic in Italian.