30 October 2013

An Abundance of Symbolism

I was a sophomore in high school when we read Lord of the Flies. It was a long, grueling unit filled with endless discussions and essay topics. We would even take paragraphs and break down every single word to show how they symbolized this or that. Every word in the book had its place. This sort of thing happened a lot in high school English classes: they want you to pick out themes and symbols and figure out what the author was really trying to say.

Well, I wasn't buying it. I'd been writing since I was eight years old and I had not once tried to put any symbolism in anything I had written. I was convinced that no writer ever actually did this on purpose, and that English teachers just found all these things in books to give us more work. I thought all writers really did was tell stories. Anything else was accidental.

If I could go back and talk to my sophomore self, I'd probably slap her. Because I love, love, LOVE symbolism. Of course writers put it into their stories on purpose! We're geniuses. But she was half right. Sometimes it is accidental. But that doesn't mean we don't notice it.

I use a ton of symbolism and other devices to weave a more intricate story. Remember how I subtly use cannibalism to be symbolic? Yes, on the surface, you're just telling a story. You've got characters and setting and plot. But underneath is where all the juicy stuff lies. Stuff that not everyone may even notice. I think that's the most fun part about it.

Most often, symbolism is used in the form of an object representing a more abstract idea. That doesn't mean you have to limit yourself to whatever is lying around your character's house. I feel that underneath my main story line is an intricate web of linking moments, characters who mirror each other, words that are repeated a specific number of times. And if you brush up on your Ancient Greek history, you might know exactly why I have a scene where my characters are looking at statues in a museum.

Sometimes it works the other way around. Sometimes I have to figure out why I put a particular object in a scene and then figure out how I can make it work in a symbolic way. If I didn't find a way to make them work, they would seem awkward and out of place. Like any other moment in your novel, there needs to be a reason for it. You don't want to have something there just for the hell of it.

Symbolism and other literary devices can be a lot of fun if you know how to make them work for your story. I could ramble for days about it, and probably will again. Hopefully this made at least a little sense. :)

25 October 2013

Breaking Promises and NaNo is in a Week???? Whaaaa?

I almost made a promise at the end of my last blog post. I was planning on writing up a quick synopsis for my WIP (doesn't seem like a fitting title anymore, Editing in Progress? Work in Post Progress? Work in Grueling Never-ending Not a Whole Lot of Progress?). You know, to fully explain all of my vague descriptions of plot and for all those people who have asked me "what's your book about?" Luckily, I made no such promise, because I don't really feel like it today. I know it's going to take a bit of time to get it just right. So all I will promise is that I will eventually at some point post it. When? I don't know. But soon.

I think it's important not to make promises when it comes to blogging. Even if they're small, even if you don't have a lot of blog followers, it's not a good idea because you might not always be able to deliver. I've done this a few times--you know, the "stay tuned and I'll explain everything on Monday" sort of thing. Well, what if someone was really looking forward to that Monday post? And what if it never happened? And then you come back on Friday apologizing and offering excuses. Yeah, 'cause I've never done that or anything.

You need to be able to keep people's attention. If you break a promise, they may stop checking out your blog altogether because they won't trust you anymore. Chances are it isn't nearly as serious as this, but you never know. You wouldn't want to lose even one follower just because you were too tired to keep a promise you made a few days ago.

It's important to really think things through. If you already have the next post written, then it's ok to promise it. If you're just planning on it, it might be better to not say anything. You may change your mind and not want to write that post at all. It's happened to me before. Luckily I didn't make any promises on the blog, but I have said on Twitter something like, "I think I'll post about this tomorrow!" And then the next day changed my mind. Sometimes the idea doesn't seem as appealing or even feels embarrassing to write about.

Anyway, I've rambled way too much about this. It's only a week until NaNoWriMo!!!! I'm working next Friday night (boo!) so I won't be able to participate in #writeclub. But I think I'll request Friday nights off for the rest of the month. The writing sprints usually help me get a lot done.

All right, since it's only a week away, I guess it's time to reveal something big about my NaNo idea. GENRE. In case you didn't figure it out by Jordan's incessant hinting, it's...drum roll please...VAMPIRES!!!!! I'm so excited to be going back to my fantasy roots. But there is a twist, as well, so that this story will tie in all of the things I love to write. It's hard to decide on a genre on the NaNo site, as they've got Fantasy as well as Horror & Supernatural. I wish I could pick several genres. Oh well, I'll figure it out.

I guess I'll throw in some bonus info, too. My super awful, probably been done a million times, pending title for my NaNo book is Blood Lust. Yeah, I know, it's terrible. But at least it's something.

How do you feel about breaking promises? Excited for NaNo? Are vampires Fantasy or Horror? And do you still need a NaNo buddy? My NaNo name is sarahafoster. Let's buddy up!

23 October 2013

To Blog or Not to Blog

My goal for this blog is to post something every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Most of the time, however, that doesn't happen. For all of my various excuses, I think I've really narrowed it down to two.

The first reason we'll call exhaustion. I think this covers both long work days (like my 13 hour shift last Monday) and just generally being tired. So even if I have time to write a blog, sometimes I'm just too tired to actually do it. I know this isn't a very good excuse, but I'm sure most of you can also relate. Also, the solution to this problem is pretty obvious. I need to write my posts ahead of time. I could even type the posts up on Blogger and just save them rather than posting. Then on the posting day, just click Publish. It's that simple.

Of course, it's easier said than done. Finding the time to get a bunch of blog posts done is difficult, especially when there's editing and NaNo prep, and well, life. And there's also the problem that is my second reason for not blogging regularly: not having any ideas.

I think my two problems are combined most of the time, actually, but it's the second one that really stops me from blogging. How do you blog when your mind is blank? When there are no ideas that pop up, nothing interesting going on to tell everyone about. I'm in between things right now, I finished my book and I'm waiting for November to start my NaNo book. So there's nothing going on right now. I haven't gotten deep enough into editing to offer any progress or advice. So what the hell do I write about?

That was my problem for today and answering that question will only work for this one post. If I have the same problem on Friday, then maybe I won't blog at all. Which leads to me to an even bigger question: is it better to not blog or to blog about nothing?

I suppose the obvious answer is that you must, under any and all circumstances, blog something. Surely you can find something to talk about, even if you're just rambling about life in general. I guess the only problem with that is that you still want your blog to have some focus. I write about writing, so if I'm not writing, then what do I write about? What sort of topics are going to intrigue my followers or anyone who stumbles upon my blog or my tweets to actually read through to the end? Should I be writing about more topics, things that interest me or relate to my writing somehow? I really don't know. But it is something I've been thinking about.

So what do you think? Blog or not blog? Where do you get ideas from? Should I expand on the things I write about?

18 October 2013

Post Book Stress Disorder

I know, I know, I said I would blog on Monday. I forgot that I also had to work thirteen hours that day. Yeah, that was fun. I don't really have an excuse for the other days, except maybe exhaustion.

Anyway, I feel like I'm having some sort of anxiety attack. And I have no idea why. I don't think it's because I have to go back to work tomorrow for a twelve hour shift. It might be because I feel like I've wasted my two days off, not accomplishing much besides watching a couple movies and a trip to Wal-Mart. It might also be because I have no idea what to do next.

Maybe this is all subconscious. Maybe being in the stage where my book wasn't finished was a safe place. Now I have the daunting task of editing, then query letters, then rejections. It's terrifying.

But this is supposed to be a happy time! And it is, really. I'm glad the book is done. I suppose I should start with the tale of how I finished. Last Friday, a miracle occurred, and not in that I finished the book, but that I had the day off. Since my boyfriend was going out, mostly my plans consisted of eating leftover chicken tacos and watching a movie on demand that I'd been dying to see. But I also figured I had time for writing.

Back during my vacation in July, I discovered the magical Twitter hashtag that is #writeclub (check out the website here). At the time, a small group of writers were using it nightly, but its real purpose is for Friday nights. This is when writers get together and write for 30 minute sprints, not stopping until time is up. It runs for at least twelve hours, starting at 7 PM UK time. So that's 2 PM for me. And I thought I'd get an early start in the afternoon, then do my planned activities and get back to writing late night when my inspiration is really at its best.

What I didn't plan for was the muse being so active. On the first sprint I joined, I stared at the blank screen for at least five minutes. I couldn't think of how to start my last chapter. Then I thought to myself, "It isn't going well." And then I typed it. And it just seemed to work. It's exactly how Jordan feels at this point in the book, about his relationship, about his life in general. This sparked a whole scene in my head, a discussion with his best friend, Eric, who usually ends up being unintentionally insightful. And so the words started flowing.

And I just kept writing. I only stopped once to have dinner (yes, tacos). I never watched my movie. The breaks between the writing sprints were agonizing because I just wanted to keep going. I would cheat and write a few sentences when I wasn't supposed to be writing at all. And, by some other miracle, at exactly ten minutes before midnight, I typed out the last line. At this moment, I think I had a good panic attack. I couldn't breathe for a moment. The last line, which I had never once envisioned, was perfect. The ending was heartfelt and sad, but real. The sex scene, which certainly wasn't perfect, still had a good balance of vagueness to vulgarity. You only know what the narrator is comfortable telling you. All in all, it was a good wrap up for the entire novel, the main theme saying not that you should embrace every aspect of who you are, but that you are helpless to fight it. I know, it's a bit daunting, but while it's not a happy ending, it is an ending of acceptance.

So it was done. First my Twitter account was bombarded with congratulations, then after I announced the event on Facebook, several coworkers offered their support over the next few days. Of course, it was often followed by the inevitable, "what's your book about???" that I'm always too terrified to answer. But that's probably another issue entirely.

Well now it's been a week. I've let the joy settle and now I'm really starting to think about editing and finally deciding on a title. It goes between excitement and mind-numbing fear. And that's probably why I'm stressed out. I know I should also be plotting out my NaNo book, but part of me also just wants to write it out of thin air once November 1 hits. I'd love to join #writeclub tonight, but I don't actually have anything to write. Just a whole lot of editing. I do want to also write a brief synopsis that I can post on here so that my readers can actually know what the book is about besides all my constant vague references.

So I've got editing, I've got NaNo. I want to write poetry again and even personal essays. There's a lot to do. Strangely enough, I think the last two sentences of my novel are quite appropriate, despite the fact that there's still a lot of work to do, and I'll never really move on:

What's left, anyway, after something is complete? You just move on to the next thing. 

11 October 2013

THE BOOK IS DONE

Yes, you read that correctly. I didn't want to save this news for Monday. After about two and a half years of bitching and moaning and not getting much done, I finally finished a complete first draft of my novel. There are fireworks going off in my head. Anyway, I'll come back on Monday to explain more.

Next stop: TITLE! But probably NaNoWriMo first because coming up with a title for this book is a bitch....


Points, Pounds, and Prose

Let the counting begin!

It’s now my fifth day on Weight Watchers. I did it once before, about three or four years ago, with great results. I don’t quite remember how many pounds I lost at the time, but I remember how much I gained back. I mostly blame my job. I don’t think I should mention where exactly I work, but I’ll say it’s in a restaurant that has very fattening food and even worse desserts. And by worse I mean delicious. And I have absolutely no will power. So I’ve gained roughly 30 pounds working there, despite the fact that it’s such a physically demanding job that I should literally be working my ass off.

I only quit WW before because I was unemployed and couldn’t afford to keep going to meetings or buy all the fruits and veggies that you’re required to eat. Let’s face it, the foods that are bad for you are also the cheapest. But since I’ve recently come in to some money, I figured a great way to spend some of it would be to better myself.

It’s a lot of work. But since I think I’m pretty fixated on food, it’s a good program for me. You have to keep track of what you’re eating, making healthier choices and getting in specific servings of fruits and veggies, dairy, etc. And I’m taking vitamins. If I could only get myself to floss…

Something else I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is word count! In order to win NaNoWriMo, your novel has to meet at least 50,000 words. I haven’t quite mapped out a schedule yet, and it will probably be hard to do so since I get my work schedule less than a week before it begins. So it’ll probably be a day by day process. But I have begun mapping out my novel. I’m even finally breaking in my free trial of Scrivener. We’ll see how it all goes.

I thought I’d reveal something about my NaNo book with every blog post until November 1, when I’ll post my synopsis on my page there (I’m still fine tuning it, actually). Something that I’ll have to use in this particular story that I’ve never used before are flashbacks. There are some details about my protagonist that while they aren’t essential for the plot line itself, they are necessary in order to understand the character and his situation. Like, if I left these things unanswered, the reader would be confused. They’d want answers. But I think flashbacks can be tricky. Certainly I’ve alluded to the past with other stories before, but that’s usually not more than a few sentences. For this particular book, I’ll have to include whole scenes of flashbacks.

I’ll probably be able to write more on the subject of flashbacks once I actually write them. I do think you have to find a good balance, not overdoing it and finding the right spot to include each one. The flashback should be relevant to what’s happening in the present.

Oh! I almost forgot! If you want to be buddies on the NaNoWriMo site, check out my page here (which I promise to develop more): http://nanowrimo.org/participants/sarahafoster

07 October 2013

Jordan Takes Over: Musing Around

**The first Monday of every month, I let my muse take over the blog. I apologize in advance...**

Did you miss me? I know you did.

So. Business. Blech. This will be short, though. We’re gonna be doing a revamping of the whole Muse Mondays thing soon, so that it’s more concrete and easier for other people to do. But not right now. We’re way too busy. Trying to finish this book, right? Then stupid NaNoWriMo, which she just insists on doing, and I guess I have to help. So I’m thinking December-ish. Just in time for my birthday! So think about what you’re all getting me.

There’s supposed to be a point to this, right? A certain point to each post I make. Like, I’m supposed to give you some insight from the point of view of a muse and character. Well, I don’t really feel like it. I mean, why do I need to solve your problems anyway? So I’ve got no major points to make today, no writing tips or advice. I’ll save that for the writer.

I want to spoil this whole NaNoWriMo thing sooooooo bad. But she’d kill me. I mean, like really, she could kill me off (pfft yeah right, I could barely say that with a straight face). But I’ll give you some little tidbits. Well the great thing about being a muse is that I can dig through memories and old projects and find some juicy stuff that we can make even better. So it’s something old. Something she started when she was a teenager, but didn’t have nearly the amount of insight or, ahem, inspiration that she does now. It started out as a really bad short story and a few cute but not well plotted vignettes. But we’re taking the characters and giving them whole new life. Or death, for some. Get it yet? I can’t say anything more. I’ll get in trouble. Wouldn’t want to get BITTEN or anything.

I swear I’ll come up with a better idea for next month’s post. I’m open to ideas, too. Like, what would you want your muse to explain to you? Why they exist? Why they’re such assholes? Or what would you want to ask your characters? We’re like real people, just living in a world that you designed. That’s some crazy philosophical shit, right? 

JP

04 October 2013

Crazy Super Awesome Goals

Time for a quickie. Yeah, I said it. I regret nothing.

I was just browsing through some tweets this morning when NaNoWriMo came up. And as usual, I thought to myself, "pfft I'm not doing that." I've really only tried to write an entire novel in the month of November once, when I was still in high school, and I gave up rather quickly. There's the usual excuses, I don't have time, I don't have any ideas, which are of course true. But isn't the whole point of NaNoWriMo to push yourself, to make it happen? To go beyond the lame excuses that you let yourself get away with during the rest of the year?

Anyway, since I've tried to get more serious about my writing after college, I've considered doing it. The problem was always that I already had another novel in progress, one that I certainly didn't want to interrupt. And I never had any other ideas that were good enough to try.

Well yesterday I wrote about a page and a half of my sex scene for the final chapter. It's handwritten and in a smaller notebook, but at least it's something. I've started to make some progress. So really, I don't see any problem with finishing the whole book by the end of October. There goes my first excuse.

So what about the second? Well, it just so happens that I came up with an idea for a novel about a month or so ago, one that I think I actually could write quickly. I've only written the first paragraph, but I've played out the scenes for pretty much the entire plot in my head over and over again. The best part is that this is a story that combines my two favorite genres. If you don't know what those are, you'll have to stick around to find out (insert evil laugh). But the whole thing is rather sexy and suspenseful and I've only put off writing it to finish my current WIP.

So! My goals are to finish my WIP by the end of the month and to FINALLY do NaNoWriMo. And I mean actually do it, not just say I'm going to, or write a few chapters and give up. I mean, the whole thing. Hopefully everything will work out.

Oh, I need to give a shout out to my former muse, Amber, because today's her birthday. I swear I'll get back to her story eventually. I had a dream once that she and Jordan met up and we were all going to go to a carnival. I have no idea what it meant.

02 October 2013

The Stupid Sex Scene

Ok, so I've decided it's about damn time to kick my butt back into regular blogging. And what better day to start! It's time for another Insecure Writer's Support Group post. Check out Alex J. Cavanaugh's blog to learn more. 

First Wed of Every Month


Lately I’ve been insecure about a lot of things. What I want to do with my life, what sort of career I should be pursuing, how to get back into blogging and trying to do something with the piles and piles of poetry that I’ve written.

But mostly it’s this stupid sex scene.

Ok, really, it’s more about finishing the book in general. It’s about figuring out how the book should end. Because obviously I know what needs to happen (sex scene, duh), but it’s a bit more difficult figuring out why it happens. As I was writing the book, whenever I would think about the ending I would always say to myself that I would know what to do when I got there. That I just couldn’t picture the ending without getting through the rest of the plot first. Well, now I’m here, and I still don’t know.

And yes, there’s also the sort of physical mechanics of the sex scene that are bothering me. I still don’t know how vague or graphic to make it. I feel like going in between will be some sort of cop out. Making it vague might make sense to the plot, but I feel like it would also disappoint my readers if they go through the book waiting for the juiciest part and it just fizzles out. But writing a straightforward, graphic scene doesn’t feel right either. I mean, I haven’t exactly held back in any descriptions before in the book, but none of those were actual sex scenes. There was always a limit.

I try to tell myself constantly, “Ok, just write it one way and see if it works. If it doesn’t, try another.” But every time I even try picturing the end, it’s like my brain shuts off. Like it’s just too difficult to deal with and figure out. And I’d rather just watch TV or something. But I want, no, need to finish this freaking book, like, right now. I just can't figure out how to do it. 

I suppose the best thing to do is just to write and write, and write some more. Even if it's horrible. Because then at least there will be something. Even if I have to rack my brain for twenty minutes just to get one sentence down. It's better than nothing. And if I keep trying, maybe I can figure it out.