Monday Reminder: Success and the End Goal

I was all set to write a writing-related Reminder for today, but a conversation with a friend yesterday got me thinking, and I decided some of those thoughts were worth sharing here. To start us off, here’s today’s Reminder in a nutshell:

MRSuccesses

 

I realized yesterday that I rarely stop to congratulate myself on my accomplishments; still less often do I actually reward myself for them.

I finished a PhD program in August after 6.5 years. Grad school sucks every bit as much as they say it does, but I made it and I’m a doctor now. (Whooo! *Straightens bowtie*) My family threw me a really awesome “Not That Kind of Doctor!” party, but I never really sat and just…felt proud. I’d been keeping a list of “Possible presents to buy yourself after you get your PhD!” and I deleted it. A week after my defense I was already worrying about getting a job. 10 months later I’m still worrying about getting a job and feeling like a huge failure because I still don’t have one.

Last year I joined @Writerology’s #WriteChain on Twitter, an accountability group where you pledge to do a certain amount of writing (vel sim) every day. Yesterday I hit 266 days. That’s 38 weeks of writing, editing, or plotting EVERY SINGLE DAY. And yet I’ve not once stopped to celebrate my milestones. 100 days? I tweeted about it. Not sure I even acknowledged 200.

What I tend to forget–and maybe you do, too–is that the end goal is not the only accomplishment worthy of notice. There are any number of smaller stopping points along the way that deserve attention, too.

One semester of college.

One chapter of a 50-chapter novel.

The initial sketch of a work of art.

The fact that I don’t have a job doesn’t in any way detract from my successful completion of graduate school. The fact that your novel isn’t published doesn’t make that completed-but-icky rough draft any less a milestone.

Never devalue what you’ve done because you still have more to do.

Stop and celebrate your accomplishments, big or small, stepping stone or end goal. Watch your projects come together bit by bit rather than waiting until they’re finished to feel a sense of success. Feel proud that you’ve done *something.* I’m not going to recommend going out and buying yourself a reward every time you write a paragraph, but heck yes, give yourself permission to feel awesome along the way–and if you want to eat an M&M after every paragraph, I say, bring on the candy!

 

Hey look, I wrote a blog post. I AM AWESOME!

 

Five Writing Lessons from A Darker Shade of Magic

There’s a lot of debate about whether authors should write book reviews, particularly when we have less-than-glowing things to say. I can see both sides of the argument (check out Cristina R. Guarino’s take on some of the pros and cons, for instance), and to be honest, my jury’s still out on this one.

But! I do want to be able to talk about books I’ve read, so rather than write outright reviews, I thought I would follow the example of other writer-bloggers and instead share some of the writing lessons I learned whilst reading. (Yes, I just said whilst.) Less helpful for readers looking to know whether the book’s worth reading, but more useful for writers trying to improve their craft.

And so…

ADSOM

Five Writing Lessons from V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic

[WARNING: Ahead there be spoilers!]

1. Not all foreign words have to be translated.

ADSOM moves between three parallel versions of London, in each of which a different language is spoken. In Grey London it’s English, in Red London it’s English and Arnesian, and in White London it’s…something that looks Danish. Schwab does a good job translating some things while letting us figure out others, erring on the side of more translations rather than fewer.

In general, I like when an author gives me enough context to guess for myself, perhaps providing a translation later in the book rather than right away. Not all of the commands in ADSOM, for instance, needed to be translated—if Kell says a spell and the pavement breaks into pieces, chances are the reader can make an educated guess. Don’t confuse your readers with made-up words, but don’t underestimate their deductive abilities, either.

2. Settings shouldn’t just look different, they should feel different.

This is one of the things Schwab NAILED. Red, White, and Grey London all have distinct feels—vibrant, tense and terrifying, and dull yet dangerous respectively. Even Black London, which we never actually visit, has a distinct vibe owing to the way the characters talk about it. Sights, smells, and sounds all contribute to how we experience a setting, but so do the feelings of the characters visiting those places and the behavior of the denizens who live there—the Red Londoners are cheerful and energetic, the White Londoners are starved and desperate and cruel.

The great thing about ADSOM is that this not only creates distinct settings, it also makes the world’s magic feel incredibly well-rounded, a character in itself which takes on very different forms and feels in each world depending on how the human characters interact with and use it.

3. Use one character to make us like another.

Let’s just pause and grin over Prince Rhy.

*grin*

Okay, set. Moving on! How much Rhy did we actually see in this book? Not very much. I think he’s in Kell’s thoughts/flashbacks almost as often as he is in the flesh. In the first paragraphs, Kell’s already thinking about how Rhy’s been a bad (well, fashionable) influence on him and imagining what his brother would say in certain scenarios. The result was that I liked Rhy before we even met him properly, all because of the way Kell thought and felt about him.

If you can get your reader to like and trust your protagonist, you can project that onto other characters who are close to him, creating a reader connection to people we rarely see, or haven’t even met.

4. Connect your character’s internal conflict and external struggle.

This is one that worked less well for me, though admittedly I was paying extra-close attention because it’s something I’m struggling with in my own WIP.

I never felt like I got a strong handle on what Kell as a character wanted—love, acceptance, and belonging seemed to be his primary concerns, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The larger problem, though, was that Kell’s desire to be loved and belong wasn’t tightly connected, in my mind, to his external problem (destroying the stone). I think it was supposed to be “give up family or let world be destroyed,” but Kell’s already conflicted feelings about his family—is he a son or just a possession?—lessened the punch considerably. There was less for him to give up because he wasn’t even sure he had their love to begin with.

In the end, make your character’s inner want and exterior goal as opposed as possible. The further you can take them from their comfort zone and the higher you can raise their personal stakes, the better.

5. Be clear about your characters’ motivations.

Now, I don’t mean “beat your reader over the head with reasons for absolutely everything your character does.” What I mean is…well, Holland.

I started out feeling creeped-out by Holland, moved on to feeling really sorry for him after hearing his backstory, and then didn’t know whether I was supposed to keep feeling sorry that he was being forced to be a jerk, or start hating him for being a jerk in his own right. Was Holland actually evil, or was Athos making him do evil things?

AvatarUnclear

Giving your villain a human side, a point of sympathy, is absolutely a YES—unfortunately, I felt like Holland’s humanizing point, being sealed to Athos and forced to obey, was suddenly much less meaningful when he didn’t seem bothered by what he was being made to do. Only at the end was there any hint that he regretted his actions, and by that point it was a bit too late. Perhaps I’ll get more in the next book (because, let’s face it, there’s no way he’s dead).

 

Have you read ADSOM? What did you think? What did you learn from reading it? Share your thoughts in the comments (but no AGOS spoilers, please!).

Just a reminder…

Hello readers!

Today I am excited to announce my first blog series, to be called…

antdance

…the Monday Reminder. (Oooooooh, aaaaah!)

For this series, I’ll be asking you to send me your to-do lists, then posting them here on Mondays so you’ll be reminded of all the things you have to do whenever you visit the blog.

 

…ooooor maybe not.

 

What I’m actually going to be writing about starts with the story of my very limited experience with writers’ conferences.

Now, when I say “very limited”, I mean I’ve been to two: the Gen Con Writer’s Symposium and… the Gen Con Writer’s Symposium a second time. 😛 I’m still in that early stage where the head-voices say I’m not good enough to go to writers’ conferences, despite the fact that half the point of such conferences is to help writers get better!

The GCWS featured panels full of advice, wisdom, and stories from the author life, as well as opportunities to have your work critiqued and to talk to the authors. Last year I spazzed out over met Michael J. Sullivan and Scott Lynch, both of whose books I happened to be reading at the time.

 

One thing I noticed while sitting in panels was that a lot of the advice consisted of things I’d heard before. Things I’d read, or learned in college writing courses, or just picked up. Even a few things I was already putting into practice in my own writing.

But I didn’t feel cheated, or like I’d wasted my time. On the contrary, I was bolstered. Just because an author’s published and sitting on a panel doesn’t mean s/he’s automatically right, but at the same time, there’s something immensely encouraging about hearing that someone successful has gone through the same struggles, used the same methods, and followed the same writing tips that you have. It makes it real, hearing an actual person tell you, “This works.”

I left those panels feeling that, as much as we all bend and break the rules/guidelines of writing, there really are solid foundations upon which we can build our stories, foundations which don’t limit creativity but lead to spectacular results. I was convinced that I, too, could achieve the same success if I stuck with it. I was even a little bit surer that I was on the right track—or at least in the right arena.

What I learned in those panels was that we don’t always need new wisdom. Some days we need fresh perspectives on old, “tired” advice. “No-brainers” rephrased in ways that make us want to think about them again. And sometimes we simply need to hear someone else say something we already believe, just so we don’t feel alone.

MR

The point of this series, then, is going to be to put some of those reminders out there, in case you need to hear them. I’m not going to try for anything brilliant and inspired, nor particularly long. In fact, many of the Monday Reminders will probably be tweet-length in essence, with a bit of elaboration or an example from my own experience. While some will be specific to writers, I hope that many will be relevant to all creatives, focused less on the craft of writing than the creative life overall.

I’m not a super-successful published author sitting on a panel at a conference, but it’s my hope that these posts will leave you feeling encouraged, knowing there’s at least one other person out there who knows what it’s like and is cheering you on.

 

(Note that there won’t be a Monday Reminder every week, but when they appear, it will always be on Mondays. Because who doesn’t need an extra boost on Monday?)

 

 

 

Welcome!

Welcome

Hello, future readers, and welcome to the blog!

If you can’t remember how you got here, just walk through that device over there—it’ll remove the Imperius Curse, blood control, the Avatar state, influence of the Force, Namelessness, and anything else that might have muddled with your mind.

Now, I know what you’re thinki–*pauses, glances at above paragraph*

…actually, no. No idea.

But to answer the question you might be thinking, I’m Kate, and I’m the weirdo behind this blog. Aspects of my weirdness include being a cosplayer/costumer, decaf coffee drinker, blue-lightsaber-wielding Jedi, Catholic, cat wrangler, and, of course, aspiring writer.

I went back and forth on the issue of starting a blog for a long time—I have a cosplay blog to chronicle my costume-making adventures (and disasters), but what would I say on a writing blog that hasn’t already been said? Does the world really need another “aspiring writer” blog? Shouldn’t I be focusing on my fiction writing instead?

But! Earlier this year, a short story of mine was accepted to an anthology (wheee!), and in the aftermath I decided that, at the very least, this would be a good place for people to find me. I can’t promise regular updates yet, nor any Huge Forthcoming Publishing News, but I’ve already got some post ideas, so feel free to stick around for Forthcoming Randomness instead.

Hey look, here’s some already!

Five Random Facts about Me

1. I can’t make rice without a rice cooker. I don’t know what it is, but every time I try, it’s a disaster. I think it’s because I try to make it in small quantities and too much water boils away, but rather than perfecting my rice-in-a-normal-pot technique, I’m just going to stick with the rice cooker.

2. I hate microwaves that don’t stop beeping when you open the door. I know my coffee is hot, you don’t have to keep yelling at me! *Twitch*

3. Research suggests that, when you encounter a new scent, your state of mind affects whether you perceive it as pleasant or unpleasant. E.g., if you’re having a great time when you smell something new, you’re more likely to think of it as pleasant in the future. For some reason, however, I can’t decide whether I like or dislike the smell of beeswax. It’s just…weird. Maybe I was having a zen moment the first time I smelled it.

4. Speaking of smell, my PhD thesis looked at the role of odors in Latin literature (approx. 200 BC – 100 AD), particularly how they relate to role/identity and to (violating) boundaries. This meant that, every time someone asked how the dissertation was coming, I got to say “It stinks.” *Rimshot*

5. I went through a phase where I would pass over a book, tv show, etc. if the characters had boring names. Harry Potter? Who wants to read a book about a kid named Harry? Fullmetal Alchemist? Did you really spoil such a cool-sounding story with characters named Ed and Al?

Not to worry, I got over it. Probably about the same time I got over my “Must stick apostrophes and ‘y’s in every fantasy character’s name!” phase. (Permission to wince and flail, granted.)

Aaaaaand in honor of May 4th, aka Star Wars Day, a bonus fact: I’m a member of the Rebel Legion, a Star Wars costuming charity. Here’s a shot of me as Madame Jocasta Nu, the head of the Jedi Archives:

Those tools she carries? NO IDEA what they're supposed to do.

Those tools she carries? NO IDEA what they’re supposed to do.

What about you? Have a random fact you’d like to share? Say hi in the comments and tell me what makes you weird!