NaNo Day 21: Excuses, Excuses

This day last year, I won NaNoWriMo 2012. I was way ahead of schedule, the writing was easy, and it honestly didn’t affect my life that much.

I’ve done fifty thousand words in the month of November twice before. The first time it was a challenge because, well, it was the first time. The second time was a challenge because it was freshman year of college and people had warned me not to compete in NaNoWriMo because November’s such a nasty month for college students (and never tell me I can’t do something, because then I need to do it).

Maybe I read and slept a little less, and sure I wrote in class a lot more (I still don’t know how I managed to four-point fall semester 2012), but all in all, NaNoWriMo was easy.

Enter this year: Third year in a row doing fifty thousand words. Same number of credit hours as last year, and a whole lot less pressure to perform well in my classes. I only have class three. days. a week. Yet NaNoWriMo is insanely difficult this year.

Maybe it’s because this year is a “been there, done that” situation. I’ve proven that I can do NaNo in college already, so I’m not as motivated. That happened junior year of high school too–I just barely made it to my goal of 25k by the end of the month.

Maybe it’s because Thanksgiving is so late this year, so I haven’t had my chance to write my brains out over the break from school yet, and I probably won’t even get to do that once the break does come around next week, because I have to do a project and write my genetics term paper during it (my prof assigned both a major project and our freaking term paper to be due the day we get back from break–not cool, genetics prof, not cool).

Maybe it’s because my homework level has exploded. I’m barreling my way through internship and study abroad applications; figuring out whether or not to double major or do a minor or find a part-time job on top of writing and critiquing and conference planning. I’m writing and editing short story after short story in order to be ready for my college’s winter writing competitions and lit mag submissions that are all due in a couple weeks.

Or maybe it’s because of everything I’ve been through in the past year. While I guess you can say this is true every year, I’m a much different person, now, as a sophomore, than I was as a freshman. And that’s primarily because of writing. I basically sprinted through writing from NaNoWriMo senior year of high school through September of this year. During that time I wrote two novels, lots of short stories and songs and poems, won contests, got published in anthologies and lit mags, and from February of this year through September, I spent countless hours revising Cadence.

That novel basically became the meaning of my life this summer–during July and August, I worked on it ten or twelve hours a day, six days a week, sometimes more. Then in September I was done and I didn’t know what to do with myself anymore.

I have been so in the mode of Cadence for so long that it’s strange to suddenly be completely out of that universe and the heads of those characters, and thrust into new ones. And as much as I love The End Where I Begin, it’s taking some getting used to.

So: NaNoWriMo is hard this year. A lot harder than usual. But you know what else? My very first year doing NaNoWriMo, I competed in the Young Writers Program, which meant that I could choose my own word count to shoot for during the month. I chose 25,000 words, and I didn’t begin writing that novel at all until the evening of November 21st. And I still finished on time despite that obstacle.

I have won NaNoWriMo every year since freshman year of high school. This is my sixth year competing.

Sure, things are a little harder than usual this year. And maybe (probably) I won’t finish on the schedule I set up for myself. But I’m not giving up–I’m going to keep pushing through.

And I will have 50,000 words written by the end of November.

day 21Thanks for the smiley of encouragement, Hannah.

~Julia

PS. LESS THAN TWELVE HOURS UNTIL CATCHING FIRE!!!!! AHHHHHHHH! MAY THE ODDS BE EVER IN YOUR FAVOR!!!

PPS. Happy day-after-your-birthday to one of my best friends in the world, Tatiana! She is brilliant and the snarkiest of snark monkeys. She hasn’t posted in a while, but you should check out her blog here anyway.

PPPS. BUT SERIOUSLY OHMYGOSH CATCHING FIREEEEE! I CAN’T BELIEVE IT’S FINALLY HEREEEE! WAHHHHHH!!!!!!!

Wordy Wednesday (“Naming Characters”)

I wasn’t sure what to write about at first for this week’s Wordy Wednesday, because the winning option was Writing Process and I’ve already done quite a few of those posts recently. But then my friend/vlogging partner Hannah brought up a good point while we were binging on Doctor Who this afternoon, and that is that I have a sort of actually detailed process for naming my characters. And I’ve never talked about it before.

So, here we go: How I Name My Characters.

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I hardly ever know what to call my characters. This can be a big problem for me, because I don’t like using placeholder names (basically: sticking some random name like “Billy Bob Joe Jr.” in the story until you find a proper one), because I think names are a big part of how a person is perceived. From the moment a character enters the story, I like to know what they’re called, because it also gives me an idea for how other characters should relate to them–Does a character go by their more formal, complete first name when they could easily have a nickname? Do they like to be called by their last name instead? Or do they have a nickname, but it’s one they aren’t fond of?

Sure, sometimes I’ll have to go back and change a name partway through writing or editing, but in general, once I’ve chosen a name, it sticks.

So, how do I choose names?

Sometimes it’s obvious. In the novel I’m querying right now, Cadence, the protagonist’s name is Olivia Pointe. I knew right off the bat that Olivia would be Olivia–just the moment I started writing, I knew she was an Olivia like I knew what her voice sounded like and what kind of person she was. On the other hand, I didn’t know what her last name should be, so that turned into a bit of a scavenger hunt, trying to figure it out.

The first thing I did was take into account the genre of the novel I was writing. Cadence has a focus on espionage, so I looked at the last names of popular characters from spy movies and books–James Bond, Jason Bourne, Cammie Morgan, Alex Rider, Ethan Hunt, etc. Notice anything they all have in common?

They’re all one or two syllables and they have harder, firmer sounds to them. And with the exception of Cammie from Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series, they all also are common nouns that are sort of symbolic for the characters.

Example, Jason Bourne is “born” in his series, when he’s fished out of the sea without a memory, while “bourne” also means a destination, goal, or boundary–things Jason deals very closely with in his role as an assassin.

So, running with this idea, I decided on “Point,” because it’s a short, easy to say name that also conveys a sort of sharp quality in both its sound and meaning, while also being symbolic because Olivia works as an assassin–sort of like a point man for her organization.

I decided to add the E to the end because it adds a little softness to the appearance, while also changing the meaning (although you wouldn’t notice that change when just saying it out loud). “Pointe” is completely different from “Point”–it’s a form of ballet, probably most commonly known for the pointe shoes dancers wear while performing it. It’s a style of dance that takes a lot of experience and training, and can often be painful and dangerous. It’s something that appears beautiful–weightless and breathtakingly easy–but is actually really, really difficult. Kind of like the life Olivia leads.

So, there you have it: Olivia’s last name is Pointe, something with three different layers of symbolism to it, all wrapped up in one clean syllable. Generally, when I choose last names, that’s my sort of process for it.

On the other hand, the way I choose first names is a lot different. Partly because for pretty much any common first name, I know like ten people with it. And therefore I feel SUPER awkward making the decision to use it. Which sometimes leads to things like what I’m thinking of calling the Hannah Phenomenon, which is basically that I have several close friends named Hannah, and because they luckily all manage to be super forgiving (although I do question one of them on this 😉 ), I always name really terrible characters Hannah. Like in one novel, Hannah was kind of, sort of a boyfriend-stealing horror, and in another she’s a just a seriously big jerk to my MC every chance she gets. Hannahs in my stories are always terrible.

So, sometimes things like the Hannah Phenomenon happen, when I know I can trust the people in my life who share the name with a character not to think that the character is any reflection of what I think of them.

Other times, I’ll purposely choose a smaller, side character’s name based on the fact that I know somebody with that name and I want to honor them by using it. If somebody’s in a story basically as just a cameo role, I’m more likely to name them after a family member or friend.

Other-other times, I’m naming a protagonist or major antagonist, which means that I’m back to looking hard for symbolism, names that make sense within the genre and time period, etc.

Like I said before, Olivia was a name I just went into Cadence knowing. However, that doesn’t mean a certain amount of thought didn’t go into it at some point in time. I’ve used the name Olivia in stories before, which means that I’ve looked up its origin and meaning before, which means that almost accidentally I managed to name an independent-thinking, underdog of an assassin something that means “elf army,” while also originating from the French/English name “Oliva,” which is connected to the olive tree–a symbol of peace. So Olivia is a name that depicts both fighting and peace, just like Pointe symbolizes both pain and beauty. Olivia Pointe is a name full of contradiction and inner conflict–pretty fitting for her character.

When I don’t know what the first name of a main character will be, I do one of two things: focus my search on names starting with a certain sound (like for Caden, Olivia’s friend, I knew I wanted a name with the hard C sound, so I searched the C section on BabyNames.com–great resource, by the way) or names with a certain symbolism (Oliva’s cover name at the beginning of Cadence is Aurora, which I chose after running a Google search for names that mean “new beginning”).

Once I figure out one thing–either the sound or the meaning–I run through a list of the names that have what I’m looking for, while searching for something that means the other thing as well. (That’s a really awkward and hard to follow sentence, so let me explain it this way: With Caden, I knew I wanted a name with a hard C at the beginning, just because, so I searched BabyNames.com for names that had this. Then I read through them all, picking out names I liked the complete sound of. Then I looked through all of these for what each name meant symbolically, and finally settled on Caden, because it’s of American origin–fitting for a name Caden’s parents would have picked–and means “fighter,” which is something that Caden very much is.)

As you’ve probably figured out at this point, I’m pretty intense about naming my characters. I haven’t always been this way, but then one day back towards the beginning of high school I was on BabyNames.com of all places (I spend far too much time on there) (in my defense, they do have a Tips for Writers page) and I came across this–a list of the names used in Harry Potter and their meanings. And I realized that almost Every. Single. Name. used in the Harry Potter series means something. And that’s such a crazy bonus for the fans willing to look into what each name means and figure out the connection between the characters and their names. It’s like an Easter Egg, right there and obvious on every page of the books, if you’re just willing to take the time to look into it.

So I made the decision, then and there, to make sure the names I gave my characters weren’t just names, but names that meant things. I don’t think there’s a single character in Cadence who I haven’t really sat and thought through the name of. As my critique partners can tell you, I spent over an hour a couple months back spazzing about the fact that I had named somebody Marvin, trying to decide whether or not to leave it that way or to try to find something better (spoiler: I left it that way, at least for now).

And there you have it, my extremely long-winded guide to naming characters! What it all basically comes down to is knowing where and when your character’s from, making sure that the name you give them is something their parents would have given them, and trying to squeeze just a pinch of symbolism in there as well. Because while we can’t all be JK Rowling, we might as well give choosing good character names a shot, right?

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How do you choose your character names? Do you have a specific process, or do you just use the first name that comes to mind? Let me know in the comments. 🙂

Also: Let me know if you have any ideas for future Writing Process posts! I really enjoy doing these, but I’m not going to be able to keep it up if I don’t know what you want me to talk about. Anything goes, as long as it’s writing and/or publishing related!

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~Julia

Giveway to Say Thank You!

A lot’s been going on the past couple months, and although I haven’t been able to share the majority of it with you, the amount of support I’ve received has been absolutely outstanding.

So, to say thank you for sticking with me through all my cryptic busyness (along with the fact that THIS IS OUR 200TH POST OHMYGOSH), I’ve decided to do a giveaway! My critique partners are all in the midst of receiving gift bags from me to thank them for editing Cadence, and now you have the opportunity to win one of these fun lil’ bags as well.

Thank You Giveaway 2013

Inside you’ll find a roll of Golden Oreos (my go-to cookie, since I’m allergic to chocolate), a TY Beanie Baby puppy who’s just begging for a good home, and a $10.00 gift certificate to Barnes & Noble to spend on the fabulous book of your choosing.

Sound like a good deal? Enter to win below! (The giveaway will run from 12:00 AM EST, Tuesday, September 17th through 12:00 AM EST Monday, September 23rd. Read the full terms and conditions linked in the widget for more details.)

Click me for the giveaway!

Thanks again for all the support, and good luck in the giveaway!

Snapshot_20130916_4

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday (“History of Me”)

This week feels SO relaxing after having WriteOnCon last week. The good thing about the entire writing conference being online, though, is that all the blog posts, videos, and Q&As are still available for free. You can check them out on the WriteOnCon website here, or read Super Critique Partner Kira’s recap of the whole thing on her blog, here.

This was my third year attending WriteOnCon, and it just gets better every time. I highly recommend it.

Also, a super generous and talented attendee, L.L. Tisdel, drew a picture of Olivia (the protag of CADENCE) for me. HOW AWESOME IS THIS?

Olivia by Laurie TisdelYou should go check out her work:

Website

Blog

deviantART

Twitter

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a song called “History of Me.”

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VERSE1 [C, G, Em, G] [capo 2]

I don’t know what to say, what to do

All I know is I’m staring in the mirror at you

And I’m falling apart

Some of these tears are from happiness rising

Others are from my hopes dying

And my eyeliner’s smearing now

That one song’s playing from the radio

Telling me it’s time to go, go, go

But go where? To be who?

TRANSITION1 [G, Em, C, D]

And I want to be the girl who’s got it all figured out

But instead I can’t even tell if things are going right

CHORUS [G, Em, C, D]

’Cause everything’s falling in place but I’m falling to pieces

Tell me your name and if I can keep this

Just need to know if I should carry on

Life is crazy but I will make it

At least that’s what I say when I’m breaking

Wish I saw the future but maybe not

[C, Em, Am, D… G]

Don’t tell me where I’m going

’Cause I’m better off not knowing

And I’d rather let my dreams rock me to sleep

Dreaming this will someday be

A memory in the history of me

VERSE2 [C, G, Em, G]

I am walking down a street

the sickness is catching up with me

And that sickness is called apathy

For everything in my life

It’s so easy to lose sight of the sun

When you’re so sure someday you’ll have won

The war against the moon

TRANSITION2 [G, Em, C, D]

And I want to be the girl who knows what the future holds

But I don’t know a thing and this night is getting cold

[Repeat CHORUS]

[BRIDGE: C, Em, Am, D]

[Repeat CHORUS]

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 53You should know that I just spent the better part of an hour trying to get this picture. It was this week last year that I started doing the “Thanks for reading!” webcam shots and I decided to try to copy the original… Forty five minutes later, I ended up with this. Not quite the same, but you’re welcome anyway. 😉

~Julia

Story Time: Jump

Before you read this post, please note: A reader brought it to my attention that she thinks it sounds like I’m not willing to take critique, here. That is not my intention.

I love critique. I will always listen to critique, because I know I’m not perfect and I need help to make my writing better. That’s not what this post is supposed to be about. It’s also not supposed to be about me saying that there is anything wrong with my critique partners–between their opinions or the ways they critique–because there is nothing wrong with them. I love them. I love it when they’re sassy or thoughtful or sweet or any combination of the three. Me writing this post has nothing to do with a problem with them and everything to do with a problem with me.

I got so scared of making a mistake, recently, that I could no longer tell whether a decision was right or not.

This post is supposed to be about me learning that my voice matters just as much as everyone else’s–that my novels should ultimately reflect the style and ideals that I want them to–and that I, as a writer and individual, need to learn to trust my own instincts, sometimes.

That does not mean I will not take critique. That does not mean I’m not willing to rewrite scenes and revise plot lines and work with someone else to make my writing stronger. It just means that I’m learning to bring myself into the equation, as well. If I disagree with a suggestion, I’m going to bring it to the other person’s attention, and work with them to come up with something that we both agree on, rather than blindly following what they tell me to.

Critique is good, dear reader. But it’s all about how you interpret it. And that is the point of this post.

I really don’t know how much of all of this I should be saying. And by “all of this” I mean “talking about the revisions I’ve spent the past month doing on CADENCE.”

I wasn’t planning on talking about the revisions at all, actually, but Wednesday felt like a perfect time to mention them. And, here I am again, two days later, writing another blog post.

Because while I wasn’t planning on talking about them, right now I feel like I need to.

I finished my own changes to CADENCE on Saturday. They involved lots of rewriting, cutting and condensing and adding scenes, and attempting to deal with my apparent obsession with dialogue tags (I have no idea WHY there were so many dialogue tags in CADENCE up until this point, but I cut about a thousand words worth of them during line edits last week). Then I sent the manuscript off to four critique partners, all of whom I would trust with my life, and therefore I trust with a red pen.

The first critique landed in my inbox just a few hours after pressing send: CP Numero Uno loved the novel, loved the changes I had made (she and CP #2 had both read an earlier draft, back right before I began querying) and had very minimal suggestions for improving it.

The next day, CP #2 sent me her critique of the first few chapters, with the same sorts of suggestions: “Oh, there’s a typo here, an awkwardly worded sentence there. Maybe add something to further flesh-out what you’re saying in this paragraph?”

–All in all, those are the kinds of critiques I live for, because they mean I must be doing something right. They give me confidence in my decisions as a writer, and make me feel like my “maybe, someday I’ll be good enough to be published” pipe dream isn’t all that much of a pipe dream after all. I happily implemented my CPs’ suggestions and tucked the manuscript away for when the critiques from my other two CPs–the ones who hadn’t read CADENCE before–began appearing in my inbox.

The next couple days passed in a whirl of WriteOnCon and relaxing with books that have already been published (because, believe me: you get tired of reading ones you need to edit, after a while). Then Thursday came, and with it the next wave of critiques.

And Critique Partners Numberos Tres & Cuatro were not nearly as glowing as the first two.

Now, don’t get me wrong: neither CP #3 or 4 were mean or rude or ANYTHING of the sort in their critiques. These girls are awesome, and they really have just been giving me the tough love treatment I ask my critique partners to hit me with. However, their tough love also involved comments on rewriting scenes, restructuring whole chapters, and other major overhauls that made me want to simultaneously vomit my heart out and throw my laptop against hard surfaces. Like concrete, from the top of a very tall building.

I trust my critique partners with all my being. I know they just want what’s best for my novel. There’s a reason I chose these particular four people, out of the more-than-a-dozen who volunteered to read CADENCE without my even asking*, to be my CPs.

But as I sat alone in my room freaking out last night about which comments to take seriously, and which ones to disregard as we-write-different-styles opinion, and which ones to take into consideration but ultimately not act upon right now, it occurred to me that I’ve been spending so much time trusting my critique partners’ judgement–trying to make the novel what they want it to be–that I’ve stopped trusting my own.

As much as I love my CPs and want to make them happy, what’s ultimately important, with CADENCE, is making myself happy. It needs to be the story I want to tell, the way I want to tell it. And if I don’t agree with one of their suggestions, I should trust my own judgement enough to make a decision on how to handle it.

It’s hard to swallow, but it’s true. This is not something to rely on other people to figure out. If they don’t like something that I’m doing stylistically, or they don’t like my plot or narrator’s voice, oh well. It’s not for them to decide. It’s my responsibility.

I don’t know if it gets easier, when you’re older, to look at these sorts of things and go, “Okay. I value your opinion. But since this is my novel, ultimately I need to value mine more.” Maybe it’s just because I’m nineteen years old and everyone always talks about putting others first. But it’s difficult to look at something and truly believe that my opinion matters more than–or even just as much as–someone else’s.

And I’m working on that. When it comes to me, when it comes to my own personal work, my opinion needs to matter, above my friends’ and family’s and colleagues’. I have the final say in what happens with my writing for a reason. While most of the time it’s good to put others before me, this is one situation where it’s important to put myself first, because CADENCE is my novel. I need to take ownership of it. I’m the only one who can.

So yes, it’s important to listen to and respect my lovely, wonderful, brilliant critique partners (you have no idea how much I love you guys). But it’s also important to look at some of their suggestions–like rewriting my opening paragraph because it didn’t grab CP #4 enough, despite the fact that none of the other CPs had problems with it–and say, “You know what? This opening paragraph has been working just fine for me so far. It’s gotten me requests from literary agents. I like my opening paragraph and I worked really hard on it. At least for now, I’m not going to change it.”

Someday down the line, I may rewrite that opening paragraph anyway. But for now, these opinions on CADENCE are just that: Opinions. Not law I need to follow. And they’re coming from only a couple of readers (most of whose advice has been oh-so-helpfully contradicting one another’s), out of what will hopefully someday be many (knock on wood).

It’s time to stop listening to what everyone else wants CADENCE to be, and focus on making it my own instead.

Everyone in the publishing industry is always talking about how you need a thick skin in order to take rejection and critique and reviews. But I think there’s also something to be said about knowing when to look someone in the eye and say, “No.” There’s something to be said for standing up for yourself, against your own doubts and fears; in trusting your own judgement.

I will never be able to please everyone with my writing, but at the least I should be able to please myself.

Of course I’m going to listen to my CPs about some things–like maybe how a sentence reads awkward or a paragraph needs a little more fleshing out or a sequence is confusing. But otherwise, it’s time to start listening to my own judgement. It’s time to start believing in and backing my own decisions. Because at the end of the day, this novel isn’t theirs. It’s mine.

One of my major fears, last night, in deciding what to do about these not-so-glowing critiques, was trying to figure out how I would feel over CADENCE being rejected, based on whether I took the suggestions or not. If I took them and agents rejected me, would I feel like I’d sold out? What would those what-ifs be? “What if I hadn’t listened to my CPs? Would the agents have still rejected me if the novel was more my own?” But what if I didn’t take the suggestions, and they rejected me then? “What if I had listened? What if the agent had preferred the plot to go in that other direction instead?”

I will never know how this whole thing would have turned out if I’d decided to rewrite parts–and possibly most–of CADENCE, based on the conflicting, confusing reactions of my critique partners. But it’s not something I should worry about.

I would much rather have an agent reject me for something I’ve consciously done on my own terms than accept me for something that no longer feels like it’s mine.

This story isn’t over yet. I don’t know how it’ll turn out, where it’ll end. Maybe it’ll be a happily ever after, and maybe it’ll be yet another dead end on the path to publication. But either way, it’s time to start trusting myself again.

I don’t know which is worse, jumping blindly or jumping with your eyes wide open. And I’m not exactly sure which I’m about to do.

But I’m tired of being afraid. I’m tired of not trusting my own judgement and trying to please everyone else, even at the detriment of my own happiness.

So I’m going to jump. And I’m not looking back.

 

~Julia

*If any of you are reading this, by the way, I want to give you a massive hug, because you’re great and I love you and I’m so thankful for having you in my life. (But no, you’re not getting a copy until it gets published. And that “until” should be read as a very big “unless.”)

Wordy Wednesday (“The Practice of Learning”)

Before today’s Wordy Wednesday (whoohoo, a writing process post, what what!), one last reminder that the super totally crazy awesome WriteOnCon is going on right now. (CHECK IT OUT HERE.) If you’re a writer, you don’t want to miss this. (Please note that all the posts and videos will still be available after the conference is over, so even if you do miss it, you still, you know… haven’t actually missed it.)

Oh, and I got a Twitter. In case you want to be cool and follow me or something. (I’ll probably more than likely follow you back, if it’s looking like one of my more technology-savvy days.)

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I haven’t talked about it much in public, but for a little over a month now, I’ve been doing a pretty intensive round of revisions on Cadence.

If you’ve been here for a while now, you probably know what Cadence is.

If you’re new (Welcome! I love you!), Cadence is a young adult spy novel that I’m currently querying. (And if you don’t know what “querying” means either, you lovely non-writer, I explain it here.)

IMG_1875This is my kitchen table covered in a chopped up list of the scenes in Cadence. It was this way for about a week. My parents were ready to put me up for adoption.

Why am I revising? That is something for me to know and you to maybe, someday find out–if we are all incredibly lucky and pray really hard and the Writing Industry Fairies smile down upon us. (That exact combination of factors. It can’t happen without that exact combination of factors.)

However, what I will tell you is this: Revising Cadence for the past month has taught me a ton about writing. Which seems crazy, because I just began the first draft a little over a year ago–and I just finished said first draft in January–so how much more could I have learned already?

It turns out, quite a lot.

Of course, it helps that since January, I’ve taken an intro to short story writing class through U of M, attended the Writer’s Digest Conference East, gone to a couple of writing workshops, and oh yeah–it’s WriteOnCon right now. Not to mention reading a more-than-obsessive number of blog posts and articles on craft and revising and all that awful fun stuff.

But truly? Most of what I’ve learned–or at least, most of what I’m taking into account while revising–is stuff I’ve taught myself.

Reading articles and taking classes based on other more experienced people’s observations on writing is great, but the real learning has been coming from the things I observe and take note of myself. Like how, while rereading Divergent by Veronica Roth, I found that one of the things that helps establish her rapid fire pace is her short, snappy sentence structure; and after sifting through some of my other favorite YA page-turners, I found the same thing. So I was able to go through Cadence and work on pacing by restructuring my sentences to make them shorter and therefore punchier.

Other lessons came from my own writing. My short story The Things I Leave Behind won the children’s/YA division of the 82nd Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition. I wrote that story back in January for the U of M intro to short story writing class (just a week or so after I finished Cadence, actually) and ever since then, everyone who’s read it has adored it. None of the other short stories I wrote winter semester garnered anything like the reactions I’ve gotten to that first one.

So what makes The Things I Leave Behind–which was just another story to me while I was writing it–so special? I finally just sat down and read through it the other day, from the perspective of someone who’d done far too much analyzing during AP English, and I realized: it’s the back story. At any given point in time, there are at least three layers of narrative occurring, one over top of the other: (1) what’s happening in the present, (2) how the narrator is reacting to it, and (3) how the bits of personal history she reveals affect both 1 & 2.

It’s because the story has layers. It’s because a good piece of writing is like an onion.

Snapshot_20130814_7Do I get a thumbs up for a Shrek reference?

Not to say that The Things I Leave Behind is good, per say, because believe me–I don’t want to pat myself on the back. But obviously something about it is working, if it’s been so successful.

While the industry pros are always going on about how there shouldn’t be too much back story, I’ve learned, now, that having too little back story can also be a problem. It’s important to develop your world and the characters within it–and then to share that back story. Not only enough for the reader to be able to understand what’s happening on the surface level (1), but also enough to understand why the main character and their supporting cast are responding the way they are (2).

Both learning that writing shorter sentence increases pace (and often tension) and that back story can be used as a device to better allow the reader to connect with the story are important lessons–and they’re just two of the many that I’ve learned and applied to Cadence during the past month of revising. I’ve also learned that using descriptions rather than dialogue tags to identify a speaker can make a scene more immersive, saying things like “I realize” or “it occurs to me” are distancing, and there is such a thing as too little foreshadowing (because while some surprises are good, others just completely throw the reader for a loop).

Cadence is the fifth novel I’ve completed. I began writing it just a few months after finishing my fourth novel, and I can tell you without a trace of doubt that my first draft of Cadence was a hundred times better-written than the most recent (ergo, best) draft of Dreamcatcher. And now my most recent draft of Cadence–the one that I just finished my intensive revisions on, and is now making the rounds with my critique partners–is the strongest draft of a novel I’ve ever written period. By far.

Although I’ve been writing for longer than I can remember, I’m still learning. Every day I’m learning. I learn from going to conferences and workshops and reading articles with tips and guides, and I learn from reading my favorite books with a critical eye. I learn from talking to people, going out and doing things, and studying my own writing.

Even revising has become a learning process–every time I finish a draft, I know more about voice and structure and plot and sentence structure and character development than I did going in. I have a better idea of what I want the novel (or short story or whatever) to be. And I know more about who I want to be as a writer.

IMG_2021Me being a Super Cool Writer Person in Chicago last week–because the kind of writer I want to be is one who does proper research instead of blindly rambling about a subject.

Learning, just like anything else in the writing industry, and life in general, is a developing, changing practice. It’s something I’m beginning to embrace more, now, as I get older and realize how much I truly still have to learn. And it’s a great thing to look forward to–knowing that while the Writing Fairies might not smile down upon me in the near future, they have at least granted me the the gift of everything I’ve learned over the past month or so. And that, in itself, has been worth it.

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~Julia

Wordy Wednesday (“Novel Inspiration”)

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is going to be an overview of how I got the inspiration for my novels, as suggested by my writing friend Joan of The Spastic Writer. (Check her out!)

I’ve written five novels so far, along with co-writing This Is a Book with Mel, and I’m currently writing a sixth novel. I’m only going to talk about a few of them today, though, because at least two of those manuscripts will never see the light of day (I pray to God). Let’s get started!

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Forgotten

What It’s About: Forgotten tells the intertwining stories of fourteen-year-old Janie Adams–a seemingly normal high school freshman–and fifteen-year-old Kyle Orchar–a spy working for the US government. When Kyle is assigned to track down a young terrorist at Janie’s high school, chaos ensues as Janie develops a crush on him and he decides she’s the terrorist. But who is Janie Adams really?

My Inspiration: I wrote Forgotten my freshman year of high school. At the time, I had never before read a spy book or seen a spy movie or even had any inkling of an interest in spies. But I somehow had gotten this random idea about a teenage boy spy falling in love with a civilian girl with a shifty past, so Forgotten was born anyway. Freshman year was fairly boring–my classes were easy and I didn’t have a lot of friends–so I basically just thought up things that would make my school experience more interesting, and that ended up being Forgotten.

The novel’s shallow and pretty poorly written, but I still love it for acting as my training wheels in the publishing industry. Although it’s the second novel I completed, it’s the first one I queried, and Forgotten really taught me the ins and outs of the process.

*****

Dreamcatcher

What It’s About: Dreamcatcher is about Lauren Brender, a sixteen-year-old girl who realizes she’s in a coma and the past several months of her life have actually been taking place in a dreamworld constructed by her subconscious to try to confuse her out of waking up. With the help of her conscience, personified in the dream-version of her best friend Joshua, she has to fight against her subconscious and the lures of the dream in order to return to reality–but is it worth it?

My Inspiration: This was the fourth novel I wrote, but the first one that I planned very much ahead of time. I wrote Dreamcatcher for NaNoWriMo my senior year of high school (Forgotten was my freshman year NaNoWriMo), and I began working on plans for it around March of my junior year.

The idea for Dreamcatcher came out of the fact that, at the time, I had a really huge crush on a boy who just wanted to be friends. I started having dreams in which we were together, and it made me start wondering: if I could stay in those dreams, which were nice but I knew weren’t real, would I? At the same time, I was in a creative writing class at school and needed to write a short story, so I decided to turn my question into my story. Only–after half a page or so, I realized it was going to be a much longer story than I could turn in for my assignment. So I saved it for a novel instead.

Dreamcatcher was the first novel I put a lot of myself into–writing it in order to help me through some problems I was having in my life at the time rather than just writing it for fun, the way Forgotten had been. It deals with divorce (some people I loved dearly were getting divorces at the time), and grief (I had lost both of my dad’s parents and my great-grandmother in the past three years, and my cat died while I was writing the first draft), and a lot of other stuff.

Although I’ve had to temporarily shelve Dreamcatcher because it needs a lot more work than I have the time or capability to do right now, I still think of it as my baby. I really hope someday I can get it good enough to publish, because it means the world to me.

*****

Cadence

What It’s About: Cadence tells the story of Olivia, a seventeen-year-old reluctant assassin who must work for an underground organization of vigilantes in downtown Chicago despite her aversion to their methods of dealing with people (basically: kill first, ask questions later) or find herself on the wrong side of the gun.

My Inspiration: The story behind Cadence is tricky. If you really want to go all the way back to the beginning, it starts with a novel I never finished called Petra’s Driving School, which was a companion to Forgotten. I got the idea for PDS in a dream the summer between sophomore and junior years of high school, because why not, and it was about a girl from downtown Chicago who gets kidnapped by a spy organization (called, you guessed it: Petra’s Driving School) and trained to become a “driver”–basically, the person who drives the getaway car for the spies of the organization Kyle of Forgotten works for. I worked on PDS for more than a year, but could never get it to work quite right, and I ultimately abandoned it.

Fast forward to the summer after my senior year, and I found myself with a whole new story–much darker and bigger–utilizing all the parts of PDS that I had loved.

When it comes down to it, Cadence and Petra’s Driving School are two very separate stories–they’re more like cousins than identical twins. But Cadence never would have happened without PDS.

Like with Dreamcatcher, a lot of the underlying themes of Cadence I took from my own life, as I worked through those questions and problems. Por ejemplo: where I left of with grief with Dreamcatcher, Cadence picks up.

*****

The End Where I Begin

What It’s About: The End Where I Begin is the story of eighteen-year-old Alexa Dylan, who lives in an alternate dimension in which alternate realities exist linearly of one another (basically: you can hop between them if you want to). When Alexa’s reality self-destructs, the government sends her on to the next reality linear to theirs, four years in the past, in order to prevent the same thing from happening there.

My Inspiration: This is the novel I’m working on right now. If everything goes as planned, it’ll be the sixth novel I finish, with Cadence being my fifth. With everything that’s been happening lately (going to college, making new friends, meeting celebrities, etc) I’ve been thinking a lot about change and how I’m basically a completely different person now from who I was at the beginning of high school. I wondered what would happen if someone who had graduated from high school got to go back to the beginning of their freshman year–What would they do different? What would they do their best to keep the same? That plus a fascination with alternate realities eventually led to the idea being The End Where I Begin.

What else will inspire a part of this novel? I guess I’ll find out as I go.

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So that’s it for today. Thanks for taking a trip down memory lane with me, here! (Whenever I think of Forgotten, it makes me feel really old.) If there’s a writing-related topic you’d like me to cover in a future Wordy Wednesday, make sure to vote for that option in the poll below and then let me know what you’d like me to talk about in the comments.

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~Julia

PS. Reminder that I’ll be posting more about my England trip soon, so keep watching the blog for that!

Wordy Wednesday (“Forever”)

So. I temporarily finished revising Cadence last night. And by “temporarily finished revising” I mean “it’s in the state it’s going to be in as I start talking to literary agents now.” And that’s sort of terrifying.

I am all at once this:

Snapshot_20130327_1

And this:

Snapshot_20130327

And this:

Snapshot_20130327_2

… But you know what? The novel is in as good of shape as I can get it, the CPs I sent it to seem to like it quite a bit (thank you again, you awesome people you!), and I think it’s time I let go of the red pen. At least until the craziness of the next few weeks subsides (Writer’s Digest Conference! In less than two weeks! AHHHHH!).

So, while I’m off throwing myself a dessert party for one as a reward, here’s your Wordy Wednesday. It’s a poem I wrote a little under a year and a half ago, after my cat Jesse died. I did a lot of writing after his death, and I’ve shared a lot of it on this blog already, but here’s another poem about him anyway. It’s called “Forever.”

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Leaving.

Leaving entails going off

on some grand adventure, somewhere

new, and maybe coming back

eventually. Leaving;

that’s one thing I can handle.

 

Going Away.

Going away is like going fishing,

going to Grandma’s house, going to college –

it’s a promise: I’ll be back. Going

Away; that’s another thing

I can handle.

 

But Not Being There…

It means not coming

back, not holding me

as I search for you.

Hold my hand. I need

you to hold me, but you can’t.

 

Yes, Not Being There…

That’s the thing that breaks me

the most.

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T-minus 9 days to the Writer’s Digest Conference 2013!

 

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday (“The Meadow”)

Gosh, things are absolutely insane right now, trying to pull everything together for Cadence–I think I finally finalized my query letter yesterday afternoon, so now it’s on to transforming that into a pitch for the Writer’s Digest Conference. Which is in less than three weeks. (My heart starts pounding just at the thought of it.) Then I also finished the rough rough draft of my plot synopsis last night, and I probably only need to do another couple rounds of revisions before the novel itself will be ready, and goodness. In previous years I’ve waited until the very last second to get all my preparations done for WDC, but I’m trying to front-load everything this year because of college. Throw Spanish homework and trying to keep up with personal hygiene on top of all that, and you get a very stressed out Julia. An excited one. But also very, veryyy stressed.

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a short story I wrote a few years back called “The Meadow.” Warning: it’s not exactly a happy tale. (Although honestly, what are you expecting from me at this point? 😉 )

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[Taken down to submit to contests/for publication/etc. Sorry!]

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~Julia

Wordy Wednesday (“Cadence, Super Special Excerpt of Specialness”)

We’ve got a three-way tie for this week’s Wordy Wednesday, so between that and the fact that this is the first Wednesday of 2013, I figured I’d give you a special treat instead of the usual poem or something. BEHOLD: A Cadence excerpt.

Back Story: [Redacted]

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[Sorry this is no longer available–I’m editing Cadence now with the hopes of maybe, possibly publishing it someday. Thanks for the interest, though!]

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Before I go, I figured I’d take a second to talk about New Year’s Resolutions, since I’m one of those sentimental weirdos who makes resolutions every year (12, actually–one to represent each month). So, an update on my progress from last year’s Resolutions:

  1. Blog twice a week: I almost succeeded on this one. Almost. But then Spanish class had to come and mess it all up this past semester. I’m still pretty proud of myself for sticking with blogging throughout the entire year, though, since I’ve never been the type of person patient or responsible enough to keep a diary or anything like that. So this is like halfway accomplished.
  2. Write a novel: This is another halfway one. While I didn’t write a complete novel in 2012, despite my best efforts to, I did finish one novel and get nearly 90,000 words into another, so I’d say this one was nearly accomplished as well.
  3. Do my best to get a literary agent: Check plus on this one, although I didn’t succeed in actually procuring a lit agent. I feel like I made some pretty big strides, though, towards snagging an agent someday, this year.
  4. Do my best to get a talent agent: Yeah, this would be a failure. Namely because I realized partway through the year that I really ought not pursue the acting industry–as much as I love it, I don’t love it enough. Which kind of sucks, but oh well.
  5. Make new friends: Check plus, although really: I’m a freshman in college. It would be sort of difficult NOT to make new friends.
  6. Enjoy college, no matter where I end up: When I wrote this resolution, it was because I had just been deferred from the University of Michigan and thought that I was probably going to end up at every Wolverine’s worst nightmare, Michigan State. Not that I personally have anything against Michigan State, really, because a ton of my family went there, but at the same time: A ton of my family went there. And I didn’t want to just be following in the footsteps of everyone else (hence how a born-and-raised Spartan became a Wolverine). Luckily, U of M ended up accepting me a month or two later, and I got to go to my dream school after all. And I have most definitely been enjoying college so far. So check plus.
  7. Get all As for my last two semesters of high school: I was so close. SO CLOSE! And then my senioritis caught up with me at the end of second semester… and in the middle of it… and at the beginning… and yeah. I got a B. Ugh. This is another halfway accomplishment.
  8. Start posting covers of songs on Youtube: Total and complete failure, although I did end up putting up a couple of original songs this year. This is going to be an unofficial Resolution in 2013, because I still think Youtube is the coolest thing ever and I kind of desperately want to find a way to be more involved in it. But anyway, for 2012, this was a failure.
  9. ENJOY LIFE, even if it’s not going my way: Check plus. 🙂
  10. Help someone who I don’t have to – be selfless: Check plus.
  11. Change the world: Check plus, I guess, since I did “change the world” this year, technically, although not in as major of a way as I would have liked.
  12. Find happiness. Check plus. 

And now, drum roll please…

My New Year’s Resolutions for 2013:

1. Do something selfless at least once a week

2. Pass all of my classes (especialmente Españolo), and with a 3.0 or higher

3. Make new friends (but keep the old—one is silver and the other gold)

4. Write a novel

5. Participate in FAWM (February Album Writing Month)

6. Blog at least twice a week

7. Start querying Dreamcatcher

8. Save $365 to give to charity

9. Go to church at least once a month

10. Get a heck of a lot of planning done for Ch1Con 2014

11. Learn how to do a Proper British Dialect (#11 is subject to change)

12. Get my driver’s license (<–Don’t laugh at me. I’ve never had need for it before, but now I do.)

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! Do you have any Resolutions for 2013?

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~Julia

Oh, and PS: I totally 4-pointed my first semester of college. I AM SO HAPPY YOU HAVE NO IDEA AHHH. 🙂