The Fallacy of “The Process”

Some writers like to make novel aesthetics to help them visualize their story; others find making such collages a waste of time they could use to write. Some writers like to make extensive outlines so they are never lost in the story once they start writing and can crank out a draft. Some writers just start typing. Some writers scribble in notebooks on public transportation during their commute, others pound away at their laptops after their kids go to bed. Some writers dream up worlds while doing a million and one other tasks while others may stare at the wall but see galaxies instead of shiplap.

The point is there is no one single process. Everyone has their own. It’s important to figure out what works best for you. When you have a routine that fits you, it’s your process, but not the process. It might not work for someone else, even if that someone else is a gifted and ambitious writer.

There are some steps that should apply to everyone. Write. Edit. Revise. Repeat. But how those things happen is very individual in nature. I often do my best work after the rest of my house is asleep, but because I also dislike sleep deprivation sometimes I have to change things up. I know several people who keep a notebook in the bag they carry to and from work and handwrite their notes for each new story. I know still others who get up at the crack of dawn to run miles and miles and then write a whole chapter–presumably all before I ever have my first cup of coffee. It sounds nuts to me, but it works for someone.

I have tried making novel aesthetics. It mostly took up way too much of my time and didn’t accomplish anything. But I have a friend who is awesome with photoshop and the collages she makes help her see the world she’s building a little clearer. Neither of us is wrong. That’s the beauty of writing. It’s not about conforming to someone else’s standard–at least when it comes to a process. It’s about self-expression.

Don’t get bogged down in all the advice like “you have to write at least a few words every day” or “you must finish at least one chapter per week”. It works for some writers, but not for everybody. Even the adage of BICHOK (Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard) discounts the very productive time some people spend spinning worlds into existence while on the treadmill.

There is no one process. That’s a conceptual lie perpetuated by bad and/or blanket advice tossed about on blogs and social media accounts. There is only the process that works for you. Daydream. Plan. Type. Speak into voice typing software while scrubbing floors. It’s okay if what you do doesn’t match up with what other writers do. Write, in whatever way you can. Edit. Revise, no first draft is perfect so take the time to mold and shape it into something beautiful. Outside of those steps, the execution of which could look vastly different person to person, your process can include or exclude almost anything you want.

So when you see someone give blanket advice, keep in mind that what works for them isn’t required of you. If you can’t write every day because your schedule doesn’t allow for it, you won’t automatically be excluded from the club. If you can and do write every day of the week, great.

You’re a writer. You do you.

Full Circle

I registered my oldest son for kindergarten yesterday. On the surface, it’s just some forms to fill out, some documents to hand over, and a preliminary oral exam to assess his readiness. It’s not a big deal at all. I had already completed the forms online, so when I showed up to hand over our documents and have him tested it took less than fifteen minutes before we were back out the door and on our merry way.

But that’s on the surface.

Emotionally, this was a big day for me. My son is ecstatic. He loves school. He loves to learn. Reading is his love language. And when we got to the school he’ll attend next year and saw they had not one but two playgrounds, he was pleased as punch. I put on a brave face.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m so excited for him. I’m excited for me, too. We survived the preschool phase together and are moving into “big kid” territory. Part of me was ready to do a happy dance right along with him as he finished his test and was told he was more than ready for kindergarten and they couldn’t wait to see him in the fall. Big kid school will be a new adventure and we’re both thrilled.

Or, one and a half of us are.

Half of me still wants to hold him tight and keep him with me. He’s my first baby. I’m not ready for him to be a big kid yet. I was fine with him playing Little League. Soccer and baseball are fun for me to watch and I’m there the whole time. I was fine when he started going to preschool two days a week. This is different somehow. I can’t explain it. I did my best to prepare him for this milestone, but now that he’s reached it, I’m terrified. And happy. And sad. And proud.

Kindergarten is complicated.

My own mother died when I was very young. One of the vivid memories I still have of her is of a day when I walked into the kitchen for breakfast before school and found her eating cold pizza and drinking a Coca-Cola. The look on her face screamed, “Eat your cereal and don’t judge me.” To be fair, I was the youngest of four children and my mother was a teacher, so school mornings were always chaos. I have no idea what had happened that morning before I came into the kitchen, but whatever it was, I’m certain it justified her choices.

This morning, I got my children dressed and double checked that my documents were in order and everything I needed for my other errands was ready to go. Then I opened the fridge to see to my own breakfast needs and saw a box of leftover pizza. It was like a message from my mother.

Maybe that sounds crazy. Maybe it is. But that’s how I felt. It was like she was speaking to me this morning, telling me to calm down. It will be okay. This is normal. And if you still needed to fortify yourself before facing the world, a little cold pizza couldn’t hurt. Though, I did at least warm it up.

When we got to the school, the teacher who came to greet us and help with my son’s readiness test was the mother of a girl on his soccer team from last fall. Once again, it felt like a message. Calm down. He’ll be fine and so will you.

It was still an emotional rollercoaster of a day, I won’t lie. But I realized that life has come full circle. Now I’m the mom eating leftover pizza for breakfast before heading to school. And maybe my son will remember that. Maybe one day, when he’s struggling with something, he’ll open the fridge door and be comforted by the sight of leftover pizza. I was.

Thanks, Mama.

Editing vs. Revising

In English, we often use the terms editing and revising interchangeably. However, when it comes to working on a manuscript, they are not the same. While there are different kinds of edits, most editors are actually pointing out things that the author should consider revising. Editing is polishing up. Revising is deep cleaning.

I’m going to run with that analogy for a moment.

I have two small children. They have a talent for destruction. I generally don’t worry too much about the mess they make with their toys while they are actively playing. But when playtime is over, it’s time to put everything back where it belongs. While they do that, I generally do small, everyday household tasks like unloading the dishwasher, swapping a load of laundry, dusting off the dark wood bookshelf that hindsight says was a terrible idea. That’s editing. Picking up stray toys off the floor and giving things a quick polish.

Two days a week my boys go to preschool. On these days, among 5,000 other things, I generally try to do the bigger cleaning tasks. Scrubbing the toilets. Steaming the mystery stain out of the carpet at the foot of one of their beds. Cleaning out the ears of our large dog–who does not enjoy this process and so participates rather unwillingly–so that his head won’t smell like bacteria and death. This is revising. There is some major dirt that needs to be attacked. It takes time. It can be grueling, and when you’re finished you should feel both a sense of accomplishment and the dread of knowing that this isn’t the last time you’ll have to endure it.

Manuscripts will always need both editing and revising, but they are not the same thing. If you mostly correct typos and fix sentence structure and you’re done in three hours, you were editing. If you spend time beefing up a character arc, reinforcing the themes of your story, making sure the threads of plot and subplots weave together to make a discernible picture, and cutting out unnecessary elements, that’s revising and you probably won’t finish in a single day.

Revising is done largely on your own, while it’s often helpful to have someone else help you edit–like little boys who help pick up toys and sometimes wipe down baseboards, but who cannot yet be trusted with a steam cleaner! And someone who edits your manuscript might also point out something that needs to be revised, so don’t assume that you’re finished after round one.

This week, I was cleaning up our house because my in-laws are coming for a weekend visit. My husband is out of town and won’t return until about two hours before his parents arrive. If you’re wondering, yes, that does have something to do with why my usual Thursday blog post is about 14 hours late. Anyway, before the boys left for school, I had them clean up all their toys and put them away so I could sweep, mop, and vacuum without any obstructions. Then the boys came home from school and toys once again covered the floor. They picked some of them up before bed and the rest they’ll clean first thing in the morning. That’s a lot like what editing and revising can be. A lot of us edit as we go, so we have a pretty clean workspace for revisions. Then we revise our butts off. And then we need to edit again. After that, new people show up, CPs or in-laws, and suddenly we see other things that need to be cleaned! I’m sorry I overworked the analogy, but you get the idea.

All manuscripts need both editing and revising, but they are not the same.

Getting to Know Your Characters

I used to think character interviews were a complete waste of time. I created these people, I know who they are. I know what they look like and how they sound. I hear their voices and the nuance in their language. They take up space in my head. We’re well acquainted.

However. As Rachel from the show Friends would say, “that’s just a fancy but”.

I did take time each time I wrote a scene to get into my character’s head. Yes, they take up space in my brain and now I have to take up space in theirs. Writing is a weird cycle of purposeful insanity, which is why it only works if you love it. Anyway, I realized that the time I took to shake off the world and put myself into the character’s shoes so that I could write in their voice and not mine was basically like a mini-character interview each time I started writing.

“Okay, I’m Livi. I’m overworked, my ex is an inconsiderate manchild who needs validation that I’ll give when Hell freezes over, and I’m in a fight with my best friend. How do I respond? Oh, that’s right. I’m going to down an entire bottle of bourbon, eat greasy foods, make bad decisions and then power through tomorrow like a champ because hangovers are for amateurs.”

That was my character interview. Instead of filling out pages of questions before I ever started writing a draft about backstory, likes, dislikes, hobbies, etc I would go over the highlights before every writing session. In my latest project, I’m doing the full character interview before I ever start. I may end up needing the mini-recap before writing sessions anyway, but if I struggle–as sometimes happens–I’ll have something to flip back to for help.

The point is, just because a character or a story lives in your head, doesn’t mean you don’t need to take the time to get to know them. Even if–no, scratch that, especially so you can understand the parts of the backstory you might not use in the draft. Just because I’m not going to write about the precise moment that Livi realized she needed to leave home all those years ago doesn’t mean I don’t need to know about it. It will affect her decisions and her relationships with other characters.

I need to know what happened to Scarlett’s parents and why she was living with her grandmother to begin with. I need to know about Eitan’s deep need to protect the people he cares about because of the one time in his childhood that he couldn’t. These moments shape our characters. It shapes their personalities, their voices, what drives them. When we come up with a character, they’re not fully developed. How you choose to fully develop them is up to you and your process. But I’m woman enough to admit that I was wrong. Character interviews are not a waste of time if they help you round out your character so they can be multi-dimensional.

Give a try. Google character interviews. There are tons of resources with lists of questions to get you started. Maybe it will work for you. Maybe it won’t. Maybe you’ll end up looking crazy because you’re talking to yourself and answering as if you are more than one person. That’s okay, too. You’re a writer. You’re like Alice in Wonderland. You fell down the rabbit hole the minute you committed to letting that first story out of your head.

giphy

St. Jude Trike-A-Thon

Today is a special day for my kids. Their preschool is participating in the St. Jude Trike-A-Thon and today is the big day! Together they have raised hundreds of dollars for St. Jude, and along with the rest of their preschool, the overall donation from the event will be in the thousands.

It starts with them learning about bicycle safety. Then they get to bring their bikes, trikes, or other riding toys to the school and spend a part of the school day doing laps on the “track” in the parking lot with their friends. They have an amazing time and we get to talk about St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and generosity.

Did you know that families never receive a bill from St. Jude? Not for treatment, travel, housing, or food. Everything is covered by grants, donations, and special fundraisers throughout the year. My husband has run in the St. Jude Half-Marathon, the 10K, and the 5K. And last year my oldest son was old enough to participate in the Kid’s 1-miler. While they have enjoyed the races each time, that’s not the reason they do it. The fact that the families at St. Jude can focus on their children without the added anxiety over what the final bill will be is huge. Did you also know that St. Jude freely shares its discoveries? Every stride made in research and treatment, every child saved at St. Jude, provides knowledge used the world over to save others.

We don’t live far from Memphis, where St. Jude is located. We know people who work there, we know people who work for their partner organizations, and, yes, we know families who have spent months praying for miracles. It’s not a concept for us, but a concrete reality.

The Trike-A-Thon at my children’s school is not the only one. There are others held all around the country on different dates. Schools can actually find information about hosting their own Trike-A-Thon on the St. Jude website.

My kids are so excited to have fun riding bikes at school. But they know–at least the older one does–why they’re doing it. They are still collecting donations even today! Together they have raised more than enough money to feed a St. Jude patient family for an entire week. I couldn’t be prouder.

I am well aware that not everyone can donate, or participate for that matter. But I’m grateful that my kids get to be a part of this event. They are learning about generosity in a way that is fun and age appropriate. I can’t put a price on that.

Trifling Tuesday

The unplanned blog absence last week was because my kids were on Spring Break. I lost track of what day of the week it was at first and then I decided to roll with it. I’m sure my tens of readers were sorely disappointed and all, but my kids start back to school again this week so I’m back. Go ahead, break into a happy dance.

I jest.

Anyway. While I was on hiatus, a lot happened around the world. In happy news, my younger son turned two! It was a small celebration, but it was pretty momentous for us. He got a big boy bed and we dismantled his crib. I’m still struggling with how I feel about that. My baby isn’t a baby anymore. But he’s so excited to have a bed just like big brother. The smiles and giggles are magic.

News from elsewhere isn’t as happy.

Storms ravaged….everywhere. Here in the States, Nebraska is mostly underwater. I’m sorry. Eventually, the floodwaters will recede and you will surely not be alone in the recovery efforts. For many, too much has been lost, I know. I’m not good with condolences, but you are not forgotten. Know that. You are still on the hearts of your countrymen.

In New Zealand, hate struck hard.

To the Muslim community, I’m sorry for your loss and the hurt you must be feeling. I don’t know what else to say. I don’t hate you. For what it’s worth to know that one, random, rambling, Christian, white girl from the States, does not hate you. My God tells me to love my neighbor. You are my neighbor. No matter where in the world you may be.

You’d think I’d be better with words as a writer, but I’m not. The truth is out.

One word I do know is trifling. In English, if something is trifling that means it’s trivial. Small. There are enough big problems in the world. I, as an individual, don’t have a lot of power to change that. But I can do small things. I can show kindness. It won’t solve much, but it surely can’t make it worse.

If anyone wants to join me, please do. Look for little ways to be kind, to take care of each other. Recycling. Nice words. Help someone up. Listen. Something small. It may be trivial to you, but maybe it won’t be trifling for someone else.

It’s corny. And maybe stupid. I’ve certainly done things that are plenty of both. But I’m starting today. It’ll be a trifling Tuesday. And then maybe tomorrow will look a little bit better.

 

 

10 Things About Tornadoes

Since I mentioned the communities in South Alabama in a recent post and asked you to take a moment and send a kind thought their way, I’d thought I would talk a little more about what a tornado actually is and does. Some of my readers are from parts of the world where tornadoes are less common than where I live and aren’t as familiar with what that kind of storm entails.

Also, as an update, the communities I told you about have been on the receiving end of such an outpouring of generosity that they have now asked that people stop sending donated items. They have the physical items they need to help the population at the moment, and are now in need of money and extra hands for clean-up and rebuilding.

As for my fellow writers, a lot of people will say that unless it’s pertinent to the story not to write about the weather. But sometimes, it makes a difference. And for worldbuilding purposes in Fantasy and Sci-Fi worlds, you might want to think about what kind of weather would make a difference. Perhaps the spaceship can’t enter the atmosphere in the spot it needs to because of a large lightning storm. Or maybe your wind mage is throwing a hissy fit that could level a town. Sometimes the weather does matter.

Anyway, here are ten things you might not know about tornadoes:

  1. Tornadoes can and do form in every U.S. state and, in fact, have been recorded on every continent except Antartica. While they are more common in some regions than in others, and in some places are quite rare, they can form anywhere.
  2. The most commonly affected place in the United States (and by a small margin, the world) is known as Tornado Alley and encompasses The Great Plains and large portions of the Southeast, though no exact boundaries have ever been defined. This is largely due to both geography and topography, specifically the areas between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachian Mountains, with weather patterns greatly affected by the jet stream and the Gulf of Mexico.
  3. A common misconception is that tornadoes cannot cross mountain ranges or bodies of water. While it’s not a common occurrence, storm cells have been recorded passing over mountain ranges. And a tornado passing over water is a common enough occurrence that a tornado over water has a special name–a waterspout.
  4. In the current early warning system, a Tornado Watch means the storm conditions in the area are conducive to creating a tornado. A Tornado Warning means a tornado has been spotted on the ground or via radar and you should take cover immediately.
  5. Tornado warning systems have steadily improved over the last seventy years (since the first warning system in 1948), but because of the nature of the type of storm, the longest warning times average about thirteen minutes. Most of the time, people in the affected area have less time than that to get to their safe place.
  6. The tornado warning system has about a seventy percent false alarm rate because it’s better to be safe than sorry when strong funnel clouds start appearing on radar. However, this means that some (large portions) of the population don’t always take tornado warnings as seriously as they should. Also, some people wait to hear their local tornado siren, but it can be easily drowned out by the noise of the storm–or be destroyed by the storm before it has a chance to alert locals.
  7. In a tornado, the safest place to be is underground, preferably in a concrete storm cellar. If no storm cellar is available, the bottom floor of a house or building, in a room with no exterior walls or windows, especially under stairs. In my house, my master bedroom closet is the only room that fits this description–and yes, I’ve dragged my kids and my dog into that closet with flashlights, snacks, a weather radio, blankets, and pillows when the local tornado sirens have sounded.
  8. Tornadoes most commonly have wind speeds less than 110mph and are about 250 feet in diameter. They also only commonly travel a couple of miles before dissipating. The largest tornadoes on record, though, had wind speeds exceeding 300mph, diameters of approximately 2.5 miles, and traveled dozens of miles.
  9. Tornadoes are rated on an EF scale. The EF stands for Enhanced Fujita and is an upgrade from the previous Fujita scale, named for the scientist who created it. The scale ranges from EF0–where a storm will down trees, but probably not cause significant damage to substantial structures–to an EF5–a storm that can rip houses off their foundations and pull large trees out of the ground or snap them in half. It is common for a tornado to have its rating on the EF scale upgraded after assessing the damage it caused.
  10. A single tornado can be a single vortex or a multiple vortex grouping–meaning multiple funnel cloud formations that officially touch down to the ground, but all originate from the same cell.
lightning and tornado hitting village
An example of a single vortex tornado (from pexels.com).

So all you Fantasy writers out there with wind mages in your story, they are not to be underestimated!