I’ll Miss You NaNoWriMo

And just like that, Halloween ended.

Now it’s November. Out come the turkeys, the pilgrim hats…and the pens. November 1 marks the first day of National Novel Writing Month. Last month, I put pen to paper like never before and finally succeeded at writing 50,000 words in 30 days. It took three NaNoWriMos to get there, but I did it and accomplishing that goal was the biggest turning point in my history as a writer.

Today I kept encountering well-wishes to NaNoWriMo participants and I got a little blue. Deciding not to participate this year was a difficult decision, but it’s for good reason. The reason being, I’m working on my final revisions before sending last year’s NaNoWriMo manuscript off for a professional critique.

Aurelia and the House of Dire has gone through so many changes since last November’s draft zero. Sometimes I get that urge to keep revising until I’ve drained this planet of all its red ink, but I know it’s time to let go and get outside opinions.

I’ll be on the NaNoWriMo sidelines this year, but I do have a goal for this month. On November 30, I drop the red pen and send my MS off for critique. What an exciting, terrifying prospect.

Funny but True Writing Infographic

From Writer’s Market.

Costuming is my procrastination hobby, so this month is a nightmare for my writing/revising process. Eep! I’m also guilty of wasting time on bad t.v., and, because of the Facebook trap, I won’t even allow a computer in the room when I’m revising.

Click the pic for a larger image.

A Rant on the Serial Comma

Brought to you by National Punctuation Day

Let’s all take a moment, shall we? Let’s set our cowboy hats on the table, let’s unload our guns and sit in the quiet with a glass of whisky, neat. And then let’s ask ourselves this question: Why do we have to be the Hatfields and they the McCoys?

By we, I mean the stringent users of the serial or Oxford comma, and by they, I mean the stringent avoiders of the same. Or vice versa–who is Hatfield and who McCoy isn’t the point (although it would be endlessly amusing to come up with a lucid argument about which family would or would not support the serial comma).

I’ve played both sides. In school, I learned we must use the serial comma and came to believe not using it would land you on a cold cement floor with a shared toilet and yard hours. As a professional writing copy, I had to teach myself not to use it because it wasn’t company style and the writing was journalistic in nature.

I’m going to tell you something–I almost lost my mind without the serial comma. Suddenly, the world stopped making sense. Its absence changed my meaning, but it only seemed to change for me. Everyone else said it made sense. I was an alien on a strange, illogical planet.

And then I started writing more fiction. I said, “This is my page and I’m going to reclaim that serial comma. Get off my land!”

But it wasn’t the same anymore. After the, yes, illogical, but simple life without that extra comma, the text populating my stark white plot looked cluttered and that last pause became histrionic as a classically trained Shakespearean actor performing at the local theater.

I really struggled. I was torn by two feuding worlds. Strunk & White said use it. Aren’t they the beginning and end? Aren’t they the Tim Gunns of American grammar and style?

When I found myself forcing that comma and disliking the sentence each time I read it, I decided it might be time to ask myself THE question (I would’ve had the whisky, but I had to settle for wine). I turned to my favorite book on grammar and read something that settled the matter for once and for all:

The big final rule for the comma is one that you won’t find in any books by grammarians. It is quite easy to remember, however. The rule is: don’t use commas like a stupid person. I mean it. More than any other mark, the comma requires the writer to use intelligent discretion and to be simply alert to potential ambiguity.

That, of course, from Lynne Truss’s work of genius, Eats, Shoots & Leaves. There’s a time to argue, guns cocked and loaded, for or against a grammatical rule, and there’s a time to admit that it’s not always so clear cut in the world of grammar/punctuation/style.

On that (one shade of) gray note, I hope you had a happy Punctuation Day. Use it wisely.

Alms for the Rejected

Still working on that new aspect of the blog, but, for now, here are some articles that comfort me after a rejection. I hope they comfort you too. Or maybe angels weep with joy every time you submit a story, in which case I hate you.

It isn’t nice to use others’ failures to bolster yourself…but we all do it sometimes.

Famous Authors’ Harshest Rejection Letters, The Atlantic

Okay, I wouldn’t use the word “comforting” to describe this one. Reading Wendig’s articles is better described as getting screamed at, spittle and all, by a drill sergeant who thinks you can do better. Still works.

25 Things Writers Should Know About Rejection, Terrible Minds

Need to develop a callous even your dremel-wielding, coffee-chugging manicurist couldn’t go up against?

The Rejection Generator Project, The Stoneslide Corrective

The best reaction to a rejection slip is a sort of wild-eyed madness, an evil grin, and sitting yourself in front of the keyboard muttering “Okay, you bastards. Try rejecting this!”

On Writing, Neil Gaiman’s Journal

My personal reaction to rejection is an hour-long mope session followed by a manic writing session. Because, like those Sour Patch Kids commercials, writing always makes me feel better after it makes me feel worse.

Resource Review: LitReactor Online Workshopping

You know that phenomenon that happens when you stare at a word too long? When you go mental for a split second and lose your grasp on the concept of language, and letters just look like ink stains on the paper? That’s what happens to me at a certain point during that endless process called revising.

I am rendered useless to myself and whatever I’m working on because I’ve read the story one too many times and it has become nothing more than meaningless scribbles.

Frustrated with this inevitability, I decided to put my work on the pageant stage for other people to judge and comment on (good reason to tart it up extra purty), but, as previously mentioned, I’m not mentally built for physical workshops where I have to drive somewhere and network–that word makes me cringe. I wanted a straightforward process that didn’t require traveling time. Tell me my work smells like Yeti feet and then get out of my face so I can give it a pedicure stat. That’s how I like it.

I found out about this online workshopping/learning site for writers and readers, LitReactor, and decided to try it out. I used the site for a few months before posting my review to avoid basing it on one experience.

I’ll cut straight to the point: best thing ever for a clock-watcher with social anxiety issues who is in need of outside input on stories.

Here are a few things you might like to know before workshopping through LitReactor:

  • ┬áCost: $9/month
  • You need to earn 15 points to post one piece for workshopping; to get points, you must critique other users’ posted stories (3 points/critique, and you can’t just post anything because the user rates your critique and that rating affects your points)
  • Shorter pieces get more critiques. This isn’t the place to post your entire novel manuscript (though I have seen people post novel chapters)
  • I have not experienced any type of trolling so far
  • More often than not, in my experience, critiquers provide a line-by-line

I got a little “thank you happy” the first time I got comments. I felt like Charlie Gordon right after the operation. The words held meaning again and I could see what needed to be fixed. The more I post, the more I see my weaknesses and, by seeing, I can repair.

And LitReactor isn’t just a workshopping site. The site offers online classes and posts craft essays by respected writers (like Jack Ketchum) and industry types (like Bree Ogden), and if you do want people in your face, a supportive community awaits you on the site’s forum.

So check it out and try it out. You automatically get enough points to post your first story after signing up.

Dems da Rules: Adverbs

A few days ago while revising my young adult novel in progress, I needed a little reminder of good narration so I flipped through Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I landed on a page of dialogue and was about to move on elsewhere when I noticed something. That most sinister of writing faux pas: the adverb. And not just one. On a single page, I found the following adverbs (many modifying “said”, heavens to Betsy): grumpily, suspiciously, truthfully, unpleasantly.

After the initial shock abated, I thought about the usage of these words. I read this book and I know for a fact that not once did I think, there’s no way I can enjoy this story for all the adverbs. I never thought about adverbs at all while reading any of the Harry Potter books. Then again, I didn’t know about the adverb rule when I read the book.

I only learned that adverbs are bad a couple years ago and I was shocked. And ashamed–my own writing was peppered with them. After hearing the admonition the first time, I saw fingers wagging at adverbs everywhere. And now I notice them and tut-tut at their presence with the collective.

Writers get pretty passionate about adverbs and I swear I’m not trying to be a muckraker, but are we really so turned off by them or do we train ourselves to be? And if adverbs are a crutch for lazy writers, does it matter if readers enjoy the story just the same?

More on adverbs:

“Seriously, What’s So Bad About Adverbs?” (io9)

Really, adverbs aren’t bad in themselves. They’re a part of speech, fundamentally no different than any other. Basically, an adverb modifies a verb or adjective to tell you how someone did something. The main problem is, unfortunately, people tend to overuse adverbs. And they’re the part of speech most likely to clutter your sentence pointlessly.

WRITERS ON WRITING; Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle (New York Times)

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb ”said” . . .

. . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances ”full of rape and adverbs.”

How to Eliminate Adverbs (Grammar Girl)

No one likes feeling useless, but adverbs might justifiably feel that way. Adverbs find themselves much maligned because they’re often redundant or awkwardly placed.

Closing the Gap

As I mentioned a few posts back, I’ve been spreading myself a little thin lately, so I haven’t been blogging much. It’s been challenging and I think I’m breaking out because of it, but I’m learning a lot about myself as a writer, what I like, and what my weaknesses are.

I came across this poster designed by Sawyer Hollenshead with a quote from Ira Glass, the host and producer of one my favorite radio shows/podcasts, This American Life. Now I read it every time I apply acne cream and ask myself why I’m doing this.