Monday, October 22, 2012

NaNoWriMo KickOff Party

Despite having been here for eight years, and doing NaNo all but one of them, I've never been to any of the local NaNo events. First off, they're generally across the river, making them a fair drive to get too, and secondly, they are invariably weekends and evenings, which are usually spoken for. This time, though, I kicked free the couple hours of a Sunday afternoon and went to the kick-off party. It was pretty good sized - thirty-plus people by my guesstimate - and a lot of fun. I met about five people of the thirty, two of whom are already published authors, if of small-press, or e-book only books. We had lunch, wrote a story together (one line from each person), had a dare draw, and other such things.

Eight days and counting to NaNo!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

NaNoWriMo - Ten Point Novel Template

Here's my completed template (the template itself comes from Lynn Viehl at paperbackwriter) for the novel I'm intending to write for this year's NaNoWriMo challenge. It should be noted that I did a successful NaNo with this same novel several years back - except that a) I didn't do any pre-planning, and got bolluxed and stuck about halfway through the plot, and b) That file, along with several others, was lost completely when my hard drive crashed about two years ago. I really liked my characters and the basic idea of the story, though, so I thought I'd give it another shot with a bit more focus, and see if I could get an entire first draft down instead of 50,000 meandering words with some neat bits.

I've also done a lot of thinking about the world and character in the intervening years, and have the basic set-up for novel #2 (Dragon) pretty clear in my head, if not the resolution or plot twists yet. Book #3 (Dominion) is vaguer, which is funny as heck, because this whole series stems from a scene at the beginning of book 3, which then led me to start working forward and backward with the character in that scene (How did she get here? Why are things like this? What happens next?) I'm amused that the book idea that started the whole thing is still nebulous as hell while the two prequels are pretty clear in my head.

 Note to readers: Please, please, feel free to critique this - offer ideas, commentary, or anything else you please. The more thinking I do about this at this stage of the game, the smoother November is going to be, and the more likely that I'll end up with a workable finished product.

The Flayed Queen – Book One: Demon

Ten Point Plot Template:

Who: Davila – novice mage
          Radik – journeyman mage, demon hunter
          Demon – various names

What:  Radik and Davila must prevent the demon from opening the Portal to Other Worlds, or when that fails, reseal it.

When/Where: The small country of Inviko, approximately 500 years after the demon wars (when the demon arrived), and about 1500 years after humans arrived.

Why:  Demon life is incompatible with human life. Wounds they cause do not heal, and their general presence causes instability and panic. An invasion would likely eradicate humans from the planet.

Primary plot line: Davila knows nothing of magic, and Radik must teach her what she needs to know while they try to track the demon cross country.

Subplot #1:  As one of a pair of male/female fraternal twins, Davila and her twin Daav automatically become heirs to the regnants if she becomes a functioning mage.

Subplot #2:  The demon subverts the nuva-regnant (the non-mage ruling twin) with a promise to help her wrest mage powers from her brother, who is distracted and ineffectual as a leader, in return for her help to open the Portal “so it can return home.”

Subplot #3:  The magus-regnant is dabbling in forbidden magic trying to get his wife to conceive.

Major Twist: Humans are no more native to this land than the demons are. In fact they were the successful demon invasion of their own era, having adapted to this world over the last 1500 years. (I.e. 1500 years ago, they were as inimical to life on this world as current demons are.) Demons may even be human as they were then – nobody knows.

Resolution:  The demon succeeds in opening the Portal, but Davila and Radik manage to seal it again before more than a handful come through. Daav, warned by Davila, manages to get enough of the army there to kill those who come through. Davila is terribly mauled, and as of the end, her survival is still in question.

Writing and Deliberate Practice

As we head into NaNoWriMo season, I find myself once again trying to figure out this writing as a possible career stuff. Frankly, while other things, as always, figure in, I just don't feel like I've gotten to be a good enough, steady enough writer to make a career right this moment. I can write decently. I can tell a good story. But I'm not a consistent writer, nor an outstanding one.

Unsurprisingly, the key to becoming a consistent, excellent writer is practice. Not just any practice, but dedicated, directed practice. Practice on things that I need to improve. Practice with feedback, so that I can tell what I need to improve. And lots of it.

And that's where things get a little tricky. Because quality feedback is hard to come by. Submitting stories and novels gets one sort of feedback, but generally until you clear the minimum bar of acceptability, you don't get feedback beyond "This isn't for us." You don't know if an editor liked your plot, but the characterization was wooden until the story is good enough to warrant more than a form letter rejection. For people (like me) who tend to think and write in novel-length plots, the rate of feedback to effort from just writing and submitting is huge, and not particularly helpful.

So, if I want to become the writer I think I can become, I need to figure out how to do a few things. I need to find ways to work on specific aspects of novel craft during daily writing - so that my daily writing becomes working for improvement, not just words flung onto computer screen. I need to find quality feedback for those same aspects of my writing, so that I have some measure for improvement. And I need to leap the Dunning-Kruger gap, and find ways to learn what it is I don't know about novel writing, so I can set about learning it. Right now, an awful lot of what I "know" about structure, pacing, and the technical scaffolding of a novel is subconscious - something gleaned by the immense amounts of reading I've done my whole life. It gives me a pretty good feel for when something is working right, but few ideas of what's going wrong when something isn't working, and even fewer ideas of how to fix it. That's all knowledge that needs to become conscious and explicit if I'm to become consistently better at this writing stuff.

I can crank out a B+ college paper pretty much as fast as I can lay the words down on the page, but that's not the skills I need now, nor the kind of writing I want to do. Time to set out and find what else I need to do.

Expect to see a lot of speculation, exploration of these things, particularly through NaNoWriMo, as I try to finish the re-boot of The Flayed Queen (discussion of that later), because by the time NaNo is over, I want to have some plan of action in place, so that I don't lapse into post-novel ennui. If you haven't run into NaNoWriMo, go look it up. It's a lot of fun, even if you don't want to become a writer forever.

Friday, October 12, 2012

That Japanese Stuff

In the process of focusing my efforts, I'm running into things that are maybes - things that could arguably help my main goals, but aren't indispensable. The biggest of these by current time and effort is my push to learn Japanese. I've been working on it for close to a year now, at varying levels of commitment, and am at the verge between beginning and intermediate student by most measures.

Now, learning Japanese is a lot of fun, but actually learning a language in some useable form takes daily commitment, and it's link to my three main purposes is not so clear. It doesn't particularly help me be a better wife or mother (or at least any more than any other satisfying intellectual pursuit would). It helps me as a writer only in as much as learning more about how languages work in general can make me more aware of how I use my English.

The karate front is where the closest connection of Japanese to my purposes is (duh, right?). It's perfectly possible to be a serious, committed karate student without ever learning more Japanese than required by the dojo. However, ours is an Okinawan art, our Osensei speaks Japanese natively and English only poorly, and knowing what the words of Japanese used to describe our art actually mean can definitely affect how you see them. Just for one example "uke" is generally translated as "block", but comes much closer in meaning to "reception". Last, and most direct, I'm hoping to make a training trip to study with Master Shimabuku in 2014. If I can understand him directly, if I'm not tied at the hip to a translator, if I can carry on my own conversation and ask my own questions, I suspect I will get a lot more out of the trip. Not to mention, I suspect strongly that learning Japanese will help me go on the trip in the first place, as the Sensei organizing the trip has many, many applicants, and will probably be weeding them out on various criteria.

So I think for now, the Japanese will stay. I will be paying close attention to how much time I spend on it, though. The language podcasts in the car can stay - not otherwise used time right now. My writing practice is mostly on the bus while chaperoning the marching band right now (other than 20 minutes each night on specific kanji). As a major plus, if I can get my reading to a middling fluent level, I can practice the Japanese by reading things relevant to either writing (there are a lot of phenomenal Japanese writers) or karate, which will combine.

Thoughts? Am I deluding myself because I like learning Japanese and don't want to give it up? Or is this a reasonable decision vis-a-vis my focusing efforts?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Change in Philosophy - or the Return of the Blogger

So - I've obviously been away from blogging for quite some time. Past the point where an "Oops!" is the appropriate return post. So I'm viewing this as effectively the start of a new blog with the same name. And, hopefully, a few of the same readers returning, which would be lovely.

Nothing particularly happened to cause the long blog hiatus, just my life as my life usually is - and therein lies the problem, and the titular change of philosophy. My sub-title "Life is too short to specialize." is seeming less and less appropriate, and more and more like a problem. My life is full of too much. A cousin of mine aptly called me a skills collector, but I think I've hit the point where amassing more "good enough" skills, or even more "pretty darned good" skills isn't going to do anything for me. I need to focus on making some skills "so good they can't ignore me" (Steve Martin), and that requires more focus.

  I've been reading through Cal Newport's blog (which I highly recommend btw), and discovering that much of what he writes about learning, careers and passion seems to apply to me in spades. The biggest and most stunning was the idea that following your passion is a trap for many people. If you're convinced that you need to find and follow your passion, it can lead to being a dilettante, always skipping from one thing to another, hoping that this one will be your one true passion. But what if you don't have One True Passion? I mean, I don't believe in the One True Soul Mate, but rather that there are many people out there that I could have satisfying, meaningful relationships with. Which means that a bump in the relationship road doesn't mean that I mistakenly married the wrong person, but rather that relationships have bumps sometimes. Even a loss of passion isn't a death knell, but rather a warning flare that the relationship needs attention.

What if careers work the same way? When I change focus from "what am I passionate about" (which is either everything or nothing depending on where you draw the lines), or "what am I good at" (which is too darned many things to be useful), to "what things do I do that I could see making a life out of doing?" things suddenly fell into much better focus. Mr. Newport advocates in one spot no more than three focuses, one or two work focuses, and one hobby. And when I looked at my life and said "What three things are that important to me?" I came back with three answers easily. Mom/wife, writer, karateka. So for at least the next year, and if results are promising, continuing on from there, I'll be concentrating on those three things. Of any commitment, the questions will be "Does it make me a better wife or mother?", "Does it make me a better writer?" and "Does it make me a better karateka?" if the answer is no to those three, then I'm not making a commitment to it. This doesn't mean I'm not doing anything else, but that I'm not working on actively improving those things. I'll still play piano. I'll still sing. I'll still knit and do fiberwork. But I won't be committing to doing those things, or making active attempts to become better at them. In effect I'll become a purposeful dilettante at everything else to give myself the time and energy to really improve on the other three.

Which brings me to the rededicating of this blog. In writing my biggest problem is that I simply don't write enough. I've been doing better lately about getting my butt into my chair every day, but while I write a lot for someone off the street, I don't write much for a would be professional writer, let alone for someone trying to actively improve her craft. That's writing of all kinds, and I'm not excluding blog updates. I enjoyed writing the blog, and it is writing practice if I use it as such, so blogging is back on the menu. Expect to see updates at least several times a week. And as one might suppose, I expect to be covering a somewhat narrower range of topics. Not all that narrow - I am still a polymath at heart - but put through the lens of my more narrowed focus.

 *Waves* Hi! I'm Cindy, your new writing/karate blogger! Wish me luck!