Sunday, February 5, 2012

Writing Tech and the Unintentional Hint

New toys can be a lot of fun.

At Christmas 2010, my big new toy was my iPad.  My husband has this wonderful habit of listening to me and coming up with gift ideas that are not only fabulous, but something I honestly wasn't hinting at or expecting.  The iPad was such a gift. 

"Maybe someday," I would tell him, dreaming of buying one, but only when I had some sort of work reason to justify it.  Then it showed up under the tree.

"You didn't," I said, just like a surprised wife on a Christmas commercial.  What a great guy.

In addition to the various other great things about owning an iPad, I discovered something I could edit my manuscript on it.  I bought the Pages app for about ten dollars.  I transferred my manuscript via email, and then all of a sudden my editing was even more mobile than it had been when I was working on my netbook computer.

This last year, as Christmas approached, I found myself trying to look back over my conversations with my husband to see if I had accidentally "hinted" at something I hadn't realized.  I could think of anything.  I thought this year I hadn’t done any hinting like I had in the past.

And then there it was.  Among the video games, perfume, and Rey Mysterio action figure (look him up), was the gift I hadn't realized I had asked for:  The Bluetooth keyboard.  As soon as saw it I remembered. 

 I had been hovering around them at stores for almost a year.  A Bluetooth keyboard connects wirelessly to an iPad, making it possible to type with a real keyboard rather than the virtual one on the screen.  I liked them, thought they were cool, and then thought no, they were too expensive. I repeated this over and over again.  It was my same unintentional M.O. as before.  I liked an item, but in my mind it was too much money so I wouldn’t go for it.  Then my husband (who is wonderful for so many more reasons that just his gift-giving skills) gave one to me as a Christmas gift.

How about you?  Do you have any cool gadgets that help you get your writing done? 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Losing Momentum


Well, I picked it up again.

And wow, has it been hard to be motivated.  About a week after I put up the previous post, I got a cut on my eye, which also caused a condition called iritis.  Needless to say, not fun.  And even though I was functional for most of my recovery, it was still a very demotivating thing.  It's hard enough to get working when you're healthy, let alone when you have blurry vision.

I was laying on my couch this evening, thinking about my lack of work on the writing and the blog, when it came to me.  Why not now?

It's a momentum issue.  Once you stop rolling that metaphorical boulder it's so much harder to get it going again.  Once I get used to not editing the book, it's so much harder to pick it up again.  Do I really have to face that embarrassing writing again?  After going for a week (then two, then more) without updating the blog, it gets easier to let that go by, too.

Granted, the work I did today was very short, but at least it counts as something.  I actually picked up the thing and worked again.  If editing is a boulder, I started to budge it a little.  And hopefully that's a first step in getting rolling. 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Writing and the Working Girl


It's been awhile.

This is not a new phenomenon.  Writer has intentions, maybe even a good story - and then life gets busy. 

Earlier this month, I started a new job working part time at a local nonprofit.  Which is excellent. I'm very glad to have it.  Knowing I was starting new work, I mentally cut myself some slack. Going back to work meant an adjustment in my schedule and a change in demands on my energy level.  The book and blog could wait.  My nonprofit work schedule is Tuesdays/Thursdays, with some wiggle room in there to shift things around if I need to. 

I began work on October 3rd, a Tuesday.  I then worked October 6th, a Thursday.  On Friday, October 7th, my mother was admitted to the hospital for symptoms of a possible stroke.  I took a sudden trip up to Southern New Hampshire (I live in Massachussetts) for the night.  Thankfully, my mom is doing well.  She was released from the hospital the very next day.  At no point did she lose any motor skills.  She was diagnosed as having suffered a TIA, which is similar to a stroke, but not as severe.

The next week I started teaching my continuing education classes again.  That Saturday, for the first time ever, I worked (for pay) as a private coach for an actress I've had in two of my classes.  If you're keeping track, that's three different jobs starting within two weeks of each other.  Still not busy enough?  I also didn't mention that I started my nonprofit job a matter of weeks before the organization's biggest fundraiser of the year.  That was Thursday.

Life gets busy.

I don't know how to view these times when I don't work on my story.  I don't know all my reader's beliefs or philosophies, but for my part, I believe God has a plan for my life, and that He directs me as to which way to go.  I believe strongly that He has called me to write (notice I didn't say publish - though I hope that happens, too) this story.

So I wonder:  Are all these "dry times" in my work a failing on my part?  Should I be working at a quicker pace?  Or are these delays part of the planned timeline?  Either way, I know none of this surprises God.  And I know that He is merciful.  And I know that sometimes, a plan for your life can take a long time to unfold.  When I look back at how long this journey has been going on (since 2006), a break of this size is kind of small in comparison.  When I was planning my wedding and working full time, I stopped work on the book for about a year or so.  And then I picked it up again.

So maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but God willing, I will pick up the manuscript again and keep going.  And I hope to keep you all informed of my progress along the way :)

Please feel free to connect with me via twitter or by leaving a comment on this post.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Book Tuesday


                Writing can often be a struggle of time management.  Whether we are very busy or are simply very good at procrastinating, it can be hard to find time to sit down and write.  It was for this reason that I started Book Tuesday.
                The original idea behind book Tuesday was to block off a day to write.  I was un- or little-employed at the time, so I was in a good position to make this sort of declaration.  By “clearing my schedule” so to speak, I tried to eradicate the guilt I would feel if I took time to write instead of doing other things around my home.  And so it began.
                The base of operations for book Tuesday was a Starbucks at my local mall.  I would go there, order a drink, and sit and work on my manuscript.  As time went on (and as I drew attention to myself with my giant manuscript in front of me), I got to know the baristas a bit.  I developed a regular seat in the shop, at the counter that overlooked the barista’s work area.    One of them wanted me to write a coffee shop into my work (and I think him as a character).  I believe I told him that I might do something like that in the next one.
                Getting to be a regular was a fun experience.  It wasn’t quite a Norm form Cheers thing (“Norm!”) but it still felt good.  The baristas got to know who I was and what I was trying to do.  I formed a bond with one barista in particular.  She was (and is) a college student named Brittney.  Granted, our chattering back and forth when I came to visit didn’t help either of us get more work done, but it was nice to see a friendly face and catch up.
                My initial dream of spending a large portion of the day working on my book didn’t ultimately come to be.  I may have spent more time working during the early Book Tuesdays, but eventually it became a shorter event.  But, as I’ve pointed out, even a little work still counts.  On Tuesdays (at least most of them) I would go to Starbucks, work on my book, and visit with Brittney if she was there.  It was forward motion, but there was also something more going on.
                One of the other benefits of this exercise was in perception.  Writers talk about procrastination, yes, but one thing you may hear from writers - both published and not - is the reluctance to identify themselves as writers.  Going to the coffee shop on a regular basis and forming relationships with the people there made me “confess” to them what I was really doing and what I was trying to be.   For better or worse, I was honest with them.  And here’s something great about that: the people were nice about it.  It’s hard to take myself seriously as a writer, but Brittney did.  Without reading a word of what was on my laptop screen, she believed in me.  And that is something very special.  If you’re reading this Brittney, thank you.
                And now the epilogue.  I started teaching on Tuesday nights one fall, and I stopped coming in for book Tuesdays.  Eventually my husband lost his job and then got a new one that moved us out of town.  Interestingly enough, Brittney moved too, so she doesn’t work at that location anymore.  Book Tuesday, in a way, has essentially ended.
                But today is Tuesday, and I wanted to tell you this story.  And today I worked on the book.  I didn’t go out to Starbucks. My Gold Rewards Card stayed tucked away in my wallet.  I didn’t sit at the counter overlooking the barista’s work area, but at my own dining room table in my new condo.  There’s no Brittney the barista to talk to, but interestingly enough today I’ve been texting with a new friend who lives around here, named Brittany (note the spelling difference).
                So what about you?  Do you do anything interesting to make time for writing or other pursuits?  I would love to hear from you in the comments.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011



Say it with me now:  "Eight-ty pa-ges." *clap clap, clapclapclap* "Eight-ty pa-ges." *clap clap, clapclapclap*

Anyways, on to today's topic..........

Today I read a blog from fellow twitter person Elaine Allen (@mousicorn) about books being adapted to film.  The concept of film adaptation has been a fascinating one to me for awhile.  It's not just our favorite reads that are getting the Hollywood treatment.  Comic book characters and video games are also undergoing the transformation.  I feel I may have a unique perspective to add to the conversation.  I've been writing prose stories for years, but I also went to film school, where I learned screenwriting. 

The biggest issue, perhaps, surrounding a film adaptation is how well it keeps to the original.  It's a fair concept, to be sure.  If a movie is going to bear the title, display the characters, and ideally draw the fans of the original work, shouldn't it bear a striking resemblance to what we already like?  I would agree with that, but as someone who has studied film structure, I understand that there are some changes that are almost necessities.  Literally putting the book/comic/game events up on the screen may sound like a good idea, but I would caution someone in that mindset to be careful what they wish for.

Keep in mind, film communicates in much different ways that the written word.  In a novel, the author can take us directly into the mind of the characters.  As readers, we can process information about exactly what a character is thinking along with the physical realities (action, dialogue) around the characters.  Maybe this is one reason why the film version of our favorite characters can so easily dissapoint - by virtue of the medium we are cut off from their inner monologue of thoughts, which we perhaps relied on more heavily than we realized when we first read their stories.  Add in each reader/viewer's take on what a character should look/sound/behave like, and no wonder it's so hard to find an adaptation satisfying.

But some can be.  I would refer you to The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.  I'm a fan of the book, and really, the whole series.  It was a set of books I first read as a child, and the series remains dear to me to this day.  Now let me say this:  the film is very different from the book.  It's as though the filmmakers cut the story up, shifted it around, and added some things of their own.  But the cool thing is, IT WORKED.  In the book, the four Pevensie siblings from the first installment return to the magical land of Narnia, only to discover it has been hundreds of years since they ruled it as kings and queens.  Not only that, but the land has been overtaken by a neighboring race of humanity that has all but exterminated the original talking animals that were the indigenous population.  They meet up with a dwarf, who fills them in on the fact that the human prince has defected to the side of the Narnians and is mounting a (now failing) attempt at a revolution.  The siblings join up with the prince and help work toward the liberation of Narnia. 

Sounds good enough, right? But think about it - how cinematic is it to meet a character (the dwarf) partway into the movie, and have him sit and tell you this whole long story about Caspian, and that his uncle tried to have Caspian killed after his own son was born?  And don't forget we need to know how Caspian met up with the Narnians and about the revolution.  Kind of boring, as a film.  As a book, it works just fine.  The medium of words on page serves that very well.  The slower opening of the children making it to Narnia and discovering things works.  The telling of Caspian's tale comes off fine.

But what did I see when I went to see the movie?  First up, Caspian's aunt giving birth.  The uncle learning he has a son.  A cloaked figure moving through the castle at night - it's the beloved professor, coming to wake Caspian, and get him out of the castle before his uncle can have him killed.  Caspian narrowly escaping the castle on horseback.  Caspian galloping on a horse away from the castle, the guards in hot pursuit.  The music swells, the title rolls up.  Tears prick my eyes.

They nailed it.  They totally did.  That was what we needed to see to make the opening dynamic enough to fit the needs of the film.  I don't hold it against them that they changed the opening.  In fact, I'm glad they did it.

There are other changes too, and to go into them would make this post way longer than it already is.  They added a sequence about a castle raid that wasn't in the book at all.  But to my surprise, it actually reinforced a key theme in the book for me.  The original villian from the first novel returns briefly, when she never appeared in the book.  Some may dismiss it as a marketing ploy - a way to get the actress's name and image involved with the second film.  But I don't mind it.  The actress they chose to play this villian was so good in the role, it was great to see her for the limited time we did.  And the scene provided a great moment for one of the sibling characters who had a lot to do with her in the first film.

So, I guess changes to beloved source material does not always spell doom.  I hope to delve into this subject more in future posts.  What about you?  What do you think about adapted works?  Are there any that have surprised you in a good way?  Please post on this blog to let me know.

Here is the link to Elaine's blog, which includes the post on adaption:

Friday, September 9, 2011

Ideal Writing Towns


Above my desk I have a small piece of art.  It's a rendition of the main street of Essex, NY.  The town is a very special one to my family. 

Essex is a tiny little town on Lake Champlain (that would be the lake between New York and Vermont).  One of it's major draws, I would guess, is that it is one of the landing sites for the few ferries that run across the lake.  It also has the distinction of being the home of Champ, Lake Champlain's version of The Loch Ness Monster. 

The Charlotte-Essex Ferry. 
My husband's Grandfather is pastor of the Methodist Church in Essex. He and Granda Hunn live in the neighboring town of Willsboro. My husband and I actually got married in Essex, at the church, officiated by Grandpa.  With that and other family gatherings, I've spent a lot of time in that region.  I could go on and on about how small and rural Essex and Willsboro are, but suffice it to say this:  If you are staying in either one of them, plan on a 45 minute to an hour drive to get to a McDonald's, Walmart, or Regal movie theater.  When I was planning the wedding reception, I had trouble finding catering options because the area was too far of a drive.  Getting the picture?  

Oh, but it is an attractive part of the country, with gorgeous lake views and small town charm.  I remember one day describing-I think it was Essex, specifically - as being the type of town where one would go to write the great American novel.

It really is a charming prospect.  Slipping away to a peaceful part of the country to work on your masterpiece has a certain element of romance to it.  Imagine cool mornings, sipping coffee by the lake, a notebook or laptop within reach to craft your story......

Aaaaaaannnnd, cut.  That's enough.

Let's be real.  Essex may be remote, but it still has the internet.  And cable.  And most likely, as a traveler you will have luggage.  And luggage can sometimes hold other distractions, like knitting or a stack of books you've been meaning to get to.  A change of location won't stop me from procrastinating.  It may change how I procrastinate, but I still would.

So maybe, the ideal writing town for me isn't some remote locale, but instead is the city in which I live.  Maybe there's value in realizing that we don't need to go somewhere exotic to write, that we can instead make it work in our ordinary lives, right where we are.  Where we live is a part of the unique set of experiences we each have as individuals. So why not embrace it, rather than feel like it's something that's holding us back?   Not that we can never go away on writing trips.  In fact, if you do, I can give you some reccommendations of places to visit in and around Essex, NY. ;)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Writing Wallpaper


I finished the scene rearrangement mentioned earlier, and began working on the text beyond that.  I worked in the dining room (rather than my upstairs hall alcove space)  because it allowed me more room for the "visual aids" of sorts that I had made for the scene swap.  Visual aids, you ask?  Allow me to explain.

I had several scenes that I basically wanted to float around, possibly reshuffling them completely in order to strengthen my story.  I don't know about you, my readers, but the idea of staring at my iPad and trying to mentally sort out what should go where was not appealing.  Sometimes, when a task seems too hard for my mind, it tends to just want to stop working.  I don't know if this would have happened here, but there was a way to circumvent the issue completely.

I printed out the section of manuscript in question, then cut and taped pieces together, making several large paper pieces, each one with a particular scene.  That way, I could physically arrange the scenes, making it easier to play with and envision a new order for them.  Once I had the order figured out, I numbered each scene with a highlighter.  When I left the task for another time, it was easy to keep a handful of scenes together, numbered, stacked in order, and clipped together.  It was more prep to actually do my little cut and paste project, but the visual organization was helpful to me.

My recent cut-and-paste scene organization.
Sebastian the cat got involved as well.
This is not the first time I've done something like this.  Years ago, while still living at home with my mom, I printed out the manuscript and taped it up, in order, in my room.  The sheer size of the thing was so daunting, it seemed like it would be easier to get a handle on the big picture if I could literally see "the big picture" of it on my walls.  Pages and pages were taped up.  It took up a large part of one wall, and may have also been spread on to the back of the bedroom door.  An interesting form of decor, to be sure.

I don't know how much the wallpaper method helped back then, but it felt good to do.  I could highlight and color code sections, make notes, and plain just look at the volume of words committed to paper so far.  Rather cathartic, I guess, to let the words out for viewing like that.

Earlier this summer I spent some time with some old high school friends. I found out one of them has employed the same wallpapering technique she saw me do all those years ago, with an unfinished novel of her own.  It was a compliment to me that my actions back then somehow affected hers.  It validated my process, to have her adopt it too.

So if you're feeling stagnant in your work flow, tired of the same view from your computer screen, get creative.  Hit print, break out the tape, and do some decorating.  :)