When to Ignore Writing Advice

Jul 27, 2010

There have been several posts today on writing advice-- both the good and the bad. This is still one of my own favorites I've ever received.

I've gotten a lot of "advice" over the years, in the forms of classes, critiques, conferences, and blogs. My head overflows with the shoulds and shouldn'ts, the dos and do nots. And much of it, I'd even say most of it, has been very good advice. If it isn't, it usually doesn't take too long to figure that out.

There's a problem though-- it's just too MUCH.

I had another panic moment with Devolutionaries the other day in which I was sure my first chapter sucked. It didn't do this, and it didn't do that, and therefore, it failed! Except, I really liked my first chapter... Again, it was my wonderful hubby who reminded me that I am the writer of this story. I'd become so entrenched in a few of those "rules" I forgot that this story is mine. It doesn't have to follow anyone's rules. If it works, it works.

I once heard someone say that writing classes are turning all writers into the SAME writer. Now, I don't necessarily think that's true either. But I think it's important to remember that, despite any advice you've ever received, you are the writer. It's your story. Listen to the advice, but listen to yourself.

Sometimes, you can come up with your own best advice.

Sign Me Up for Jane Austen's Fight Club!

Jul 26, 2010

This was too funny not to share!

Hey, it could happen

Jul 21, 2010

On my research trip to Dugway, I got probably the greatest thrill of my writing life (not counting acceptances of stories). The guide was introducing everyone on the tour, and when she got to me, she announced, "This is Shallee McArthur. She's an author."

Just remembering it gives me a buzz.

I've always dreamed of being an author, starting from about age 5. So to be introduced as one, to be declared "legit," as it were, was a dream come true.

Dreams are part of who we are as writers (authors!). I have dreams of my book being used in high school English classes, or of a person at a book signing telling me how my book changed their life. I want my books to mean something to other people. I want to write something that touches someone's life the way so many books have touched mine.

Some of my dreams are silly, even vain. (Is it okay to be a little vain about my writing dreams? I do spend an awful lot of time being humbled as a writer, so I'm going to say yes.) You know how big-time authors claim they hate getting the "Where do you get your ideas" question? I've always wanted to get that one.

"Mrs. McArthur," an adoring fan will ask, "how do you get your ideas?"

I'll smile, and answer: "Ideas come from all around me. Sometimes in the quiet moments, like when I'm in the shower, or in noisy ones, like when I give my son a bath. I got the idea from Devolutionaries from watching an episode of Fringe.* It's important to remember, though, that ideas are common. What really matters is turning your ideas into a kick-butt story."

Of course, this assumes I'll have adoring fans, but it could happen! It's something to cheer me up when I get another rejection for the short story I've been shopping around, at least. (Numero dos for rejections on that one.)

Now, I want to know: what are your writing dreams? Whether they be serious, silly, or vain, let's hear them!

*In Fringe 2:21 (Over There part 1), Walter says: "We all had these abilities, until there was a moment in history when something was done to us and it was shut down. I suspect aliens." I'm willing to bet that a dozen people could hear that quote and all come up with different ideas and stories!

Which Dystopic Future is Right for You?

Jul 17, 2010

Go decide now-- you're future could depend on it!

My Crit Group is P90X for My Book

Jul 16, 2010

This week, I started the P90x exercise program. We have a date for it to kick my butt from 6 to 7 a.m. every morning. I love that it makes me feel energized and in charge of my body. I hate that I've spent the last three days in perpetual pain. But I know it'll be worth it when, at the end of 90 days, I'm significantly less flabby and weak.

On Wednesday, I hauled my sore butt to critique group, just like every week. I listened, taking diligent notes as they carefully shredded my chapter. I cringed to see it treated thus, but I loved the clarity that came from hearing the group's reactions. You see, right now, Devs is feeling awfully weak and flabby. I didn't know exactly why, or how to fix it. Then, while musing on their comments on the drive home, I had an epiphany. I knew exactly what was wrong. I knew exactly how to fix it. It includes much tearing up of major plot lines and other seriously huge changes. I'm pretty excited about it.

That's when I realized, my crit group is like P90X for my book. Just like the workout rips up my muscles to make them stronger, my crit group rips apart my book to make it better. We're a hard-core, all-truth kind of group-- one that helps me find the flab and weakness in my book. Not that we're mean. They didn't beat me up last night. They just point out the flaws so I can work them out. In fact, I've learned more about how to be a better writer in the several months I've been part of this group than I have in all the years I wrote in my lonely cave. And I love them for it.

So, tell me friends. Do you have a crit group or partner? Why do you love them/hate them (hopefully you don't hate them)? How have they changed or helped your writing?

P.S. Chersti and Rachel, two of my group members, have blogs too! Go check them out.

Getting Fresh with Your Writing

Jul 14, 2010

In my last post, I mentioned that I once hit a boy in a skating rink on a class assignment. Actually, it was on a creative writing class assignment.

My freshman year of college, I had the world's coolest creative writing professor. One of our homework assignments was to do something we'd never done before. The purpose? To look outside our own perspective, to view things outside the lens we unconsciously get trapped in by our daily activities. To get a fresh look on the world.

Being freshman, my friend Reece and I got a brilliant, ridiculous idea. He'd never been slapped before. I'd never slapped a guy before. Neither of us had ever created a public scene. So, we planned an epic imaginary break-up at the local skating rink. We snagged our friend Emily to help us out, and the whole thing played beautifully.

Shallee: [seeing Reece taking off his skates in the seating area] Reece! What are you doing here?
Reece: [looking guilty] Oh, hey. Uh, just skating.
Shallee: [confused] I thought you said we couldn't go out tonight because you had homework.
Reece: I, uh, finished early.
Emily: [appearing from the skating rink] Hey, Shallee!
Shallee: Emily! What are you doing here?
Emily: Reece asked me to go skating with him. Are you here with somebody?
Shallee: [clenches teeth]
SLAP! [Yes, a real, full-on, cheek-reddening slap across Reece's face. Cue guy sitting on the skate rental counter jumping off and hollering, "Whoa!" Cue every eye in the rink on us.]
Reece: OW!!! What was that for?
Shallee: You jerk!
Emily: [aghast] Shallee! What...?
Shallee: He's going out with me. [glares at Reece] At least, he was.
[Exits stage right. Cue all skating rink patrons rubber-necking as they try to figure out who to watch-- the angry girl stalking off, the slapped and incredulous creep, or the crushed date.]

And there you have it. Not verbatim, but not a bad representation.

So what did I learn from this?
1. It's hilarious to stage a fake break-up in an ice-skating rink.
2. Slapping a boy hurts your hand.
3. Even if you're horrible actors, people will often believe what's happening right in front of them because it's, well, happening right in front of them.

Of course, number three was the most essential to my writing, though the others helped too. What can you do today to help yourself gain a fresh look on things? Go the opposite way on your usual walking route? Order a bizarre menu dish at a restaurant and be that picky patron? Take your kids to a park you've never been to before?

It's amazing how just little differences in your routine can make you look at the world in a different way-- and make your writing that much fresher. Isn't that what the writing world wants anyway, something fresh?

Blog Award!

Jul 12, 2010

I got my first blog award today, courtesy of Krista at Mother. Write. (Repeat.). Thanks Krista! She writes YA Dystopian as well, you should check out her blog!

So, to claim this, I've got to tell you seven things about me. I'll try to get creative.

1. My husband and I have pet rats that we named Faye and Ed after characters in our favorite anime, Cowboy BeBop.

2. I have been skinny-dipping (alone!) at 3 am in a lake in Africa.

3. I play the piano and the guitar.

4. The first time I ever went shotgun shooting, I hit every single clay pigeon but two. I have yet to beat that record.

5. I once slapped a boy in a skating rink for a class assignment (I'll tell you the story sometime).

6. I dared my husband to kiss me on our fourth date.

7. I have worked in several book-related places: a library, a bookstore, and a book bindery.

Alrighty, I now pass this on to Andrea Pearson, a YA fantasy writer whose first book is coming out this fall or spring, and Angie Lofthouse, a science fiction writer who was my boot camp buddy at the LDS Storymakers conference!

Sweet Contest!

Jul 10, 2010

'kay, folks. Tara over at The Bodacious Pen is having a hecka-awesome contest! Actually, it's the Big Honkin' Contest. But whatever you call it, it rocks. So go check it out.

Thanks Tara!

I Suck: A Writer's Greatest Fear

Jul 6, 2010

So I love the WiP I've got going right now, as I've mentioned. I think it's fun and that my ideas are original. Isn't that what we writers always think when they start something new? That it's fabulous and unique and going to take the world by storm? With this in mind, I've written the first 20,000 words.

And then today, I panicked.

How did I know this was as original and fun as I thought it was? What if I'm bringing a sword to a gunfight, as it were? Just recycling plots and characters and ideas that everyone else has already mastered and moved on from? What if it sucks? What if (gulp) I suck?

I remember reading somewhere that if you never have a moment of panic about how much your work sucks, it probably DOES suck. So I guess maybe I'm okay. I've just got to commune with the muse-fish and get a pep-talk from my hubs. He's a good one for pep-talks because he's honest, so I know I can trust him when he says I don't suck.

What about you? What's your strategy for beating the "I suck" moments?

The Road to Dugway: A Writer's Guide to On-Site Research

Jul 1, 2010

On Wednesday, armed with a notebook, pen, and an audio book of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, I headed to a military post in the middle of the desert. The goal: on-site research.

In Devolutionaries, the world was devastated by biological warfare 10 years prior, and a portion of the book has several characters being trained in their special...talents...at an abandoned military base. While in the initial research stages, I learned that Dugway Proving Ground, a mere two hours from me, is an Army post dedicated to research and defense against biological and chemical weapons. It was a perfect setting for my book. And as such, I knew it would be incredibly helpful if I had a chance to visit it.

Boy, was I right.

Not only did I get a feel for the atmosphere, weather, and environment, I learned a heck of a lot about the base. I got to see the garrison, where the soldiers and their families live; I had a drive-through tour of the testing areas; I had a chance to explore a mock town used for training in real-life scenarios; and I got a close look at German Village, an old WWII-era building originally used for target practice. I also learned a few things about conducting on-site research, which was a new experience for me. Lucky for you, I'm going to share.

1. Prepare ahead of time. Do online and book research before you go so you know what you're going to be looking at! If you just show up, clueless, you'll not only LOOK clueless, you'll get a lot less out of the trip. Because I had checked out their website, Google maps, news articles, etc., I knew enough ahead of time that I was able to focus on the details once I was there.

2. Start writing before you go. Before the trip, I went ahead and jumped into writing some of the scenes on base, even though I knew I'd be rewriting portions. This helped me immensely in knowing what kinds of things I needed for the book work. Even if you just outline or even brainstorm ahead of time, it'll help. Just be willing to change things-- I thought I wanted to use a particular place as a key setting, but it turned out another one worked better. It'll require more rewriting, but it'll be that much cooler.

3. Make your plans early and be accommodating. Depending on your research, you may have to get approval beforehand to get onsite. This was the case for Dugway. It took several emails and several weeks to work things out-- I couldn't just show up and ask to look around. As you're making plans, remember that they are doing you a huge favor by allowing you to come in and look around! Do whatever you can to make it easier: be flexible with dates and times if possible, or volunteer to go with a group. And don't badger them with incessant emails and phone calls, either. Be persistent if you have to, but be nice.

4. Get a competent person to show you around. Sure, there are probably places you could call and they'd let you come poke around on your own. You won't learn nearly as much. When you have someone who really knows what they're talking about take you around, you'll see all the little nooks and crannies you would have ignored. I had an awesome contact who went above and beyond to show me and the other two on the tour fascinating things I didn't even know existed. She knew details and stories, and had the connections to get me to places I didn't think I'd be able to see. If you want the inside scoop, you need it from an insider!

5. Don't ignore the little things. I barely looked up from my furious note-taking at Dugway, which probably drove my poor patient contact nuts. A lot of notes came from what she shared with me, and some came from things I experienced. I payed attention to things like driving distances, what buildings looked like, how the dirt felt under my feet, and the sound of the wind. They were tiny things, but important ones to making the scenes in the book come alive. Pay attention to everything, and WRITE IT DOWN.

6. Learn more than just what you need. Am I going to work into my book the Army chain of command at the base, or the portable meteorological testing devices? Not likely. But it sure was cool stuff to learn. My readers won't need to know about the unmanned aerial system (basically, remote-controlled airplane) I saw being tested, but I found it fascinating. You can learn a lot more than just things for your book! The most important thing I learned was that there are scores of dedicated military and civilian personnel giving their all to protect our soldiers-- and the rest of us-- from the real and deadly threat of chemical and biological agents. It gave me a whole new respect for those people, and for all those who willing put themselves in the way of that to protect our country and the people in it.

7. Be appreciative. You've been given a special privilege to experience something pretty darn cool (it better be, if you're writing about it). So say thank you! Shake hands, smile, let them know how much you appreciate their time and effort on your behalf. On that note, I'd just like to say another huge thanks to Paula, my awesome guide and contact. She made it a beneficial, informative, and fun trip.

And finally, I'd just like the say that the best soundtrack you could get on a four hour drive to do research for a post-apocalyptic novel is The Road.

Shallee McArthur © 2013 | Designed by Bubble Shooter, in collaboration with Reseller Hosting , Forum Jual Beli and Business Solutions