Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tuesday Afternoon

(Couldn't resist continuing my theme with that title... it so rarely is Tuesday afternoon when I hear that song. Let's play a game, for those who already know what I'm talking about: tell me your favorite line from the song. No fair playing if you have to look up what song I mean first!)

Now, on with the real post...

You know how in the Tri-State area, nearly every bridge/state line you cross charges you a toll? That is not the case here, very fortunately for me. I cross the Columbia so frequently, they'd be making a fortune. That's what happens when you're kind of hovering between Portland and Vancouver, though. It would be nice to come down firmly on one side or the other, and only have to worry about visiting the place where I don't end up. Instead I'm job-hunting across the state line, and switching between staying with my family in Vancouver and staying with my grandparents' old neighbor in Portland. I haven't been able to access the internet quite as frequently in Portland, so this blog post is long overdue. Right now I'm taking advantage of the wireless at Costello's Travel Caffe. I can't believe I didn't used to come here when my grandparents actually lived just a few blocks away. Now I know what my dad was raving about all those years. I finally just got the best spot, too. There's this tiny little desklike table tucked into the front corner facing the window, right next to a lamp and an outlet. :) It's perfect for writing.

And speaking of writing, I have only just slightly over 14k words left to write for NaNoWriMo! This may seem like a lot - in fact, it is a lot - but compared to the 50k I had at the beginning of the month... I'm so excited! Those of you who have done the math may be ready to point out to me that I am still behind. I am aware of this - but I shall prevail! You see, I now have a System.

The other day, I froze in the middle of my writing. I had no idea where to go next. I knew some stuff I wanted to happen, but I didn't know how to get there. I had too many possibilities and not enough detail. I made a list of Things That Still Need to Happen. There were 26, off the top of my head. I then stared at the List. It wasn't really helping.

I called Becca. I complained in despair about how I didn't know what to do next, and that the month was coming to an end far too quickly. After giving several unhelpful suggestions, she made one that stuck: "Why don't you pick something from your List randomly?"

Why didn't I think of that before?

Just to make it even more fun, I decided to start rolling dice to decide what to write next. More specifically, I pulled out the dice program Leah wrote years ago and sent to me (yes, I do still have it - it's not like it takes up much space, after all) since with that I could specify dice with improbable numbers of sides: like 26. Thus, my NaNoWriMo writing became a dice game.

Now, I'm letting the program pick my agenda for me. Whatever number comes up, that's the part I start writing, whether I know tons about it or next to nothing. When I get stuck, I roll another number. Sometimes I get a number I've already rolled. Then I go back to that section and try to unstick myself, even if it's only for a couple sentences. With 26 of these possibilities, there's plenty of material for the next 14k. :) NaNoWriMo has been saved! Thanks, Becca and Leah!

Also, I believe I've found a church... in Vancouver, right before I started staying in Portland. Oh well; they are pretty close together. It's called Compass, and I like the people there very much. They have good music, an articulate pastor speaking on interesting topics, and a heart for serving the community. So far, a winner! (Um... those points above probably shouldn't be taken in the specific order I wrote them.)

I've begun trying to focus my job search in/near Vancouver, as I believe housing will be more affordable there, and Washington has no state income tax. (The things I've learned since coming here...) I'm still looking in the entire Portland area, since I can't really afford not to at this point, but I've decided that's where I would prefer to end up. I'm also starting to mass-apply to coffeeshops and bookstores. I think I would be happier in either of those places than behind a desk deciding which people do or don't qualify for food stamps.

Oh - one Important Announcement! This is directed to those of you in New Brunswick: I will be at the Point on Sunday evening, December 21. That's the day my flight arrives in Newark, and the only Sunday I'll be in town. Please, please, if you will also be in town, be there that night! I need to see all of you! A week is seriously not long enough to do the whole visit home thing, especially a week during which everyone will be busy with holiday stuff.

Ok. I think that just about covers things for now. I need to go make a dent in that 14k. This dice game is really helping me figure out where and how pieces fit together. I think after NaNoWriMo I might be able to make a Real Outline! That's quite fortunate for you alpha readers. It means when I start sending you chapters again, I'll actually know where they're heading. :)

Monday, November 17, 2008

writing, writing, writing

Good news: I met my writing goal for the day. That means I can write this post without feeling guilty that I'm not catching up to the NaNoWriMo pace.

Now, what was I going to tell you guys about?

Right, I promised a better account of dinner with the Writing Excuses guys back in October. Well, let me tell you, it was amazing. All three of them came to meet me at Chili's in Orem, UT. For those of you less familiar with Writing Excuses and the three authors who created it, let me give you a quick summary:

  • Brandon Sanderson: fantasy writer, author of the Mistborn trilogy among other awesome books, and the guy chosen by Harriet to finish The Wheel of Time
  • Howard Tayler: webcartoonist, author of Schlock Mercenary, which you can read for free every day at www.schlockmercenary.com
  • Dan Wells: horror writer, whose first book is being published by Tor sometime next year

Every Monday, these three release a podcast at www.writingexcuses.com in which they give excellent advice to aspiring writers through a discussion that lasts roughly 15 minutes - and last month, all three of them took time out of their very hectic schedules to come have dinner with me as I was passing through Utah.

It was very surreal to actually have a conversation with writers I admire. Before last month, I'd only met authors briefly at book signings, just long enough to ask one question, and even those experiences had me incredibly nervous. A lot of you who know me also know how nervous I tend to get - especially you girls at NCBP, who know exactly how long it takes me to write emails. :) Well, my nerves didn't leave me alone this time either, which is another reason I was glad all three of them came. It didn't matter as much that I'm such an awkward conversationalist, because they're already so familiar with each other that the conversation never had a chance to lag. It wouldn't be possible to recount everything that was said at dinner, so I'll just list some of the advice I got from the three of them.

  • I should not get a writing job. If I spend all day writing for other people, I will burn out faster and be less motivated to do my own writing away from work.
  • I am not allowed to have a hobby. Working and writing seriously is the equivalent of having two jobs, which doesn't leave time for hobbies. This rule is reversed when I actually sell something and am able to make writing my full-time job. At that point, I must have a hobby. Pete, Andrew... Warcraft will have to wait until then. Sorry. :)
  • I need to start going to conventions. They provide good opportunities to meet people in the publishing business. Editors I meet will have a face to put with the manuscript that's been sitting on their desk for months, which will make them more likely to actually pick it up and read it.
  • When I go to said conventions and meet said editors, or agents, or authors I'm hoping to get advice from, it's always better to approach them with another person. This makes them more comfortable, as they feel like they're speaking to an audience rather than being subjected to a job interview.
  • I told them how I'm working on a pet project that's been in front of me for far too long, and how I wonder sometimes if I should just give it up and go work on something new. I also told them that part of me thinks if I do that I'll just hit another rough patch in my next project that I won't want to push through, and never end up actually finishing anything. They advised that if I do give up my current project, I definitely need to finish the next thing I try. I think it was Brandon who said if I just go ahead and write my pet project, let it sit a long time, and then come back to it, it might not be as bad as it first seemed. Dan said I might have to just resign myself to writing a bad novel, and let the experience teach me how to write a novel. I think Dan's right. In any case, I decided to keep my project.
  • I also asked a question about outlining versus discovery writing. I've never been an outliner, no matter what I'm writing. I could never even bring myself to outline a paper before writing it. I've made lots and lots of notes about my characters, the story, and the world it's set in, but I have no real outline. I have an idea about what I want the ending to involve, and I know some of the points I need to hit along the way, but that's about it. So, my question was whether successful writers tend to be outliners more often than discovery writers, because sometimes I feel like I should be outlining more than I do.

    I got lots of good information out of this question. The first tip was that many discovery writers who think they can't outline discover later that they really can. Part of my problem with outlining could be that I've still never finished a whole novel, and I'm still learning about how they need to be structured. It's going to be hard to see some of the things I'm doing wrong until I reach the end. Once I learn more about writing, I could find that outlines help me a lot more than I thought they did.

    Here was the advice I really loved, though - and I believe I can attribute it to Howard. He said that if I discovery-write my way through a rough draft, that draft can be treated like an outline. Through that writing, I can see what did and didn't work in the story, where it needs to change, how the characters developed... it basically becomes a road map for the next draft. I'd never looked at it that way before. It was really good timing to hear that, though, because I'd just recently gotten as far as I was ever going to get in my rough draft, and I was attempting to start what I keep thinking of as "a real draft". And it's very true: even though most of what I wrote from February through September will never end up in the story, it still has some valuable guideposts to help me through the draft I'm working on now.
So, all in all, it was an excellent evening, and I got tons of great advice from people who have already done what I'm trying to do. As an epilogue to the tale, I saw Brandon Sanderson again recently on his book tour, and got to chat with him a bit more, and also listen to him answer other people's questions about writing. I love listening to other people's questions; they always come up with stuff I never would have thought of. Anyway, I told him I was using NaNoWriMo as motivation to get through my next 50,000 words by the end of the month, and he told me to email him if I make it so he can encourage me to keep on writing that much. :) He's a very friendly guy. They all are.

In other news, Ruthann Continues the Job Search, and Ruthan Begins to Develop a Social Life. Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Ways = The Mines of Moria?

Today I watched The Fellowship of the Ring for the first time in ages (*gasp* Ruthann! Get back to your NaNoWriMo writing!) (that’s what all of you should be saying right there) and a few things struck me. Robert Jordan has been on my mind this week, which made it a lot easier to see some of the connections between The Lord of the Rings and The Wheel of Time.

It started with just words here and there. I was trying to listen to the Elvish lines while reading the subtitles, and managed to pick out one of the two Elvish words that I’m capable of recognizing: galad, which means “light”. (If anyone is curious, the other word I know is estel, meaning “hope”, which is also the name Aragorn was known by while he was growing up. Incidentally, if you think of Aragorn and hope as interchangeable, a few scenes in the trilogy – especially The Two Towers – gain a whole new level of meaning.) I immediately thought of a WoT character named Galad: a man whose defining characteristic is that he always does what is right, to the letter, no matter what the cost to himself or other people. His half-sister doesn’t like him very much, but he certainly was an appropriate character to be named after a reference to light… hey! That was foreshadowing! Now I really feel like an idiot. Of course his name means light! He joins the Children of the Light, and if I remember correctly he recently became the leader of a segment of them. Hmmm. I wonder if that also means he’ll succeed in gaining control of the rest. Leah, make a note of that. I’m interested in your thoughts on the subject.

Anyway, the comparison that really hit me during the movie was how similar the journey through the Mines of Moria is to the journey through the Ways in the first WoT book. They are journeys of similar duration, where the only illumination is a torch or lamp that barely penetrates the darkness all around; the pathways in both places have severely deteriorated and are still crumbling; there are goblins in one and Trollocs in the other (although the only ones they see are already dead, this time); and finally, near the exit of both, they encounter a dark evil which they just barely escape. Granted, the WoT company has better luck evading Machin Shin than Gandalf with the Balrog, but the loss of Gandalf actually means that they end this section of their travels with groups of equal number: eight.

It’s not surprising to see connections. WoT is full of references to the legends and mythologies of more cultures than I can name. That’s part of what gives the series a legendary feeling itself. It's fun to recognize stuff. Galad's half-siblings are named Elayne and Gawyn - Arthurian legend, anyone? That's in addition to an ancient hero named Artur Hawkwing, by the way. There are also allusions to Japanese literature here and there. Those are just the things I recognize; I'm sure people familiar with different subjects would catch different references. It adds to the depth of the world of The Wheel of Time. The references are so ecumenical because the story encompasses the entire world and all the cultures contained within it. The carriage house where Robert Jordan did his writing contained (besides a wide variety of hats, a pipe collection, and several hundred bladed weapons) literally thousands of books. I have no doubt that he used a huge portion of them in his research.

I was just talking with Leah this evening about how Robert Jordan is the Tolkien of our time. When he wrote The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien really set the standard for what fantasy was going to look like in the decades that followed. His work affected everything in the genre that came after it. Robert Jordan’s work is the next stepping stone in the progress of the fantasy genre, and the effects can already be seen.

If you are still reading this, you have dedication. I applaud and thank you. I also promise to soon give a better-detailed report of my dinner with the authors from Writing Excuses. For now, it’s back to NaNoWriMo.

Sunday, November 2, 2008


Dear Everyone,

In case you didn't know already, November is National Novel Writing Month - or, as it is fondly referred to, NaNoWriMo. Thousands of people all over the world are committing to write 50,000 words between November 1 and 30.

For the first time ever, I have decided to join the NaNoWriMo rush. I'm already working on a story that I don't want to put on hold, but I intend to write the next 50,000 words of that story before the month ends. I don't really have as much excuse not to try it as I did last year, when I was just getting started on my crazy and over-ambitious thesis.

So, my friends, it is up to YOU to nag me about my progress! This task will not be possible without massive amounts of encouragement from every corner! One of the great things about NaNoWriMo, though, as I have discovered, is that they have awesome forums on their website full of people helping each other out in their efforts to complete this very difficult challenge. It's nice to be so easily connected to thousands of people going through exactly the same thing as you.

By the way, it's not too late to sign up! Only two days have passed so far; if you're feeling ambitious, there's no reason why you can't jump in and get writing. I'll be happy to commiserate with anyone who finds themselves struggling to hit 50,000 words.

Good luck to all writers this month!