darkemeralds: Dark Emeralds in red glasses (Default)
Now playing in my Audible library: Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.

Liz (I call her Liz) says a whole bunch of the things Steven Pressfield said in his wonderful The War of Art, but I vastly prefer the way she says them. Pressfield uses a lot of sports and war metaphors that don't resonate much with me. Liz, as you might expect from the author of a book called Eat, Pray, Love, has a more spiritual and nurturing approach.

But they both talk about creativity and fear, and they both have a primarily writerly bias, so they're both inspiring to me in their ways.

Liz, more than Pressfield, focuses on creative self-expression no matter what. She specifically does not talk about "winning". Her anecdotes don't end in, "and then she won a Pulitzer," but rather in, "and then she was happy".

Both of them embrace a concept of inspiration as a real, living thing, existing independently outside of us, and interacting with us. I like that. For Pressfield it's the Muse; for Liz, "ideas". Pressfield sidles up to the metaphysical in a slightly embarrassed way, whereas Liz has it right in her book title: Magic.

Big Magic is read (wonderfully) by the author. It runs about five hours. It's fantastic for me as a writer. I'd think it would be inspiring to anyone who makes anything for any purpose.
darkemeralds: Photo of fingers on a computer keyboard. (Writing)
In my quest to level up in my writing, I set out blindly last summer to revise my novel.

My friend Sue lobbed inspiration at me in the form of The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, and I began to see myself as a Warrior for Art. It was a thrilling time, overcoming Resistance, writing every day for four hours, and going outdoors in the early evenings after a hard session, with the deliciously overtaxed brain of the Real Writer.

Though I was fixing small things in my novel, I sensed I wasn't really making progress. But I was inspired and hopeful enough to give a large sum of money to a professional editor, who, I believed, would guide me to the next level. Alas, the professional editor couldn't, or wouldn't, My hopes--not to mention my pride--went down the drain with my money.

It was a sad time. One of my nieces, always kind and inquiring, asked me one day, "How's the writing coming?" and I said, "Oh, I've given up. I'm not calling myself a writer at all anymore."

It was a low point in my writing life. )
darkemeralds: Dark Emeralds in red glasses (Default)
Brilliant critique group today! Everyone's submissions showed evidence of real story-structuring and genuine improvement.

The ladies all approved of my heavily revised Restraint Chapter 1, and while that was nice, what I really loved was that we all knew why it was better. Not just, Wow I like this, but Wow, this really moves, it has an arc, I can feel his conflict, I love the turning-point, I want to know what happens next.

Even the "I hate Jane Austen" contingent admitted that when the story is working, the language doesn't get in her way. I was so happy! I've been really tempted in the past to disregard her comments on the grounds that "she's just not my target audience," but I've learned that in an editing group, the "target audience" concept isn't valid. If a reader of normal intelligence looks at my chapter with open-minded intent to follow along, and then can't follow along, it's my fault, not theirs, even if they would never voluntarily read this kind of thing in their leisure time.

I've completed second-draft level restructuring on Chapters 1 through 5. Only...35 or so more to go, and then it'll be ready for a third draft.
darkemeralds: Dark Emeralds in red glasses (Default)
Tuesday critique group keeps getting better! We have now left copy-editing behind, and everyone is pumped up about making real, structural improvements to their work.

The beauty of a weekly group with the same people is that we all commit our pet faults over and over, so I get to see Faults A, B, and C* every Monday, and every Tuesday, I get to dig deep and find constructive suggestions for fixing them. And every Wednesday, when I go back to my own writing, those faults leap off my page at me, like whoa, I didn't realize I was doing that!--and I now have an idea of how to fix them.

And in this way, little by little, I'm learning to fix the faults before I commit them! Like, not committing them in the first place, almost!

I never realized before how valuable a writing group could be, but it's turning out to be priceless.

*Here are the some popular recurrent problems I've learned to see so far, thanks to this group:

Pulling punches: can't bear to be so mean to your characters. A comfort after every hurt. People agree. Things Are Nice. This is a beautiful place. Please don't fight. (I am so GUILTY of this!)

Swallowed the SHOW DON'T TELL pill which is a beginner pill that should be spat back out as soon as possible: dares not tell us a character is surprised; instead bends over backwards to describe surprised facial expressions and body postures. AKA The Eyebrow Problem. (I err in the opposite direction.)

Telling the Truth Instead of Telling a Story: "but they need to eat! This restaurant scene makes perfect sense" in the middle of an action arc. AKA "shoe leather", "stage directions", and "macro lens". (Still struggling with this one every day. I suspect it will only go away completely in third drafts.)
darkemeralds: Photo of fingers on a computer keyboard. (Writing)
One member of my ladylike critique group submitted a good, solid kidnapping scene for our review this week, but it wasn't as exciting as it should have been.

Thanks to the Global Story Goggles I've been learning to use, I was able to see what was wrong and give a brilliant-if-I-do-say-so structural edit, to which everyone--including the author--went "Ooooh!"

Little boats )
darkemeralds: Jensen Ackles in Regency Attire (Restraint John)
I'm tearing up the world with this Story Grid method! It's amazing.

Fully 43 scenes lacked Conflict, Arc, Turning Point, Stakes, and/or Plot Purpose. Some can be fixed, but a whole bunch are deadwood. No matter how much I've loved each of their conflict-free little faces, they're on the chopping block.

Now that the deadwood is off my mental radar, the real heart and bones of the novel have started to emerge. It went something like this:

ME: I've written a gay Regency romance with one major flaw: it doesn't have a happy ending.

STORYGRID: No you haven't. You've written a historical social drama that doesn't require a happy ending. Its major flaws arise from your misconception about its genre.

ME: But...but...it's all about love!

STORYGRID: No it's not. It's about self-expression, honor, and keeping your place in society.

ME: Well, but my Antagonist, the ex-boyfriend, is motivated by jealousy and greed, just like a romance antagonist.

STORYGRID: No, your Antagonist, Society, is motivated by its desperate need to maintain the status quo, just like a Social Drama Antagonist. It gives the weapon of blackmail to its unwitting accomplice, the ex-BF, who is nothing more than Society's bitch. Society needs to be rid of him just as surely as it needs to destroy the Protagonists.

ME: But my Protagonist wants love, just like in any romance!

STORYGRID: No. Your Protagonist wants to surrender to his sexuality but he needs to, ahem, Restrain himself. He wants to flout Society's rules, but he needs the goods that social conformity provides. He wants Tristan because he needs guidance and structure and cover to be his true self.

ME: Oh! I get it! And Tristan needs to prove he's a real legitimate grown-up nobleman, so he takes on the role of John's protector.

STORYGRID: And it just happens that true love arises from that, but look at the tragedy that comes with it.

ME: Wow.

STORYGRID: Do you still think you were ever writing a Regency Romance?

Me: *tiny voice* Nope.

STORYGRID: *dusts hands together*. Okay. Get back to work.
darkemeralds: Dark Emeralds in red glasses (Default)
Until I came along, my new critique group was just four nice ladies copy-editing each other's draft chapters.

Well, I've been languishing for years on that turd-polishing plateau, and fixing a troubled novel doesn't happen there. Sure, that's where I put in my 10,000 hours learning to wield the language, but I should have moved on ages ago. This critique group wasn't helping, and I was ready to quit.

Two weeks ago I found a path to my next level. It appeared in Shawn Coyne's The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know*.

Coyne's highly analytical method comes from 25 years as a developmental editor at big New York publishers. He's giving away his trade secrets now because even if you get a book contract at Random House, there are no developmental editors left there. It's a DIY game.

Infrared Writing Goggles )
darkemeralds: Photo of fingers on a computer keyboard. (Writing)
I've just joined a writers' critique group. I don't think it's a great fit for me, but before I go shopping for something different, I thought I'd ask here.

Have you ever been part of a critique group? How about other writing groups (like beta partners, writers' organizations--places where you work on your writing "out loud" as it were, with other people)? What kinds of writerly interactions have helped you become a better writer? Finish something? Polish something? Has a critique group been valuable to you? In what way? Or in what way did it fail expectations?

I'd love to hear about it.

Critique groups )


Jul. 29th, 2015 09:08 pm
darkemeralds: Dark Emeralds in red glasses (Default)
...who else thinks Impastor is hilarious? Because I do.
darkemeralds: Naked woman on a bike, caption "I don't care, I'm still free" (Bike Freedom)
*taps mic*

*peers out past the lights into the auditorium*

Is this thing on?

*clears throat*

I have missed personal blogging! My online life has dwindled to Twitter (@darkemeralds), where I get all my news, including fandom news. I think I'd like to expand back onto the internet again. Maybe.

Dipping a toe back in )

Okay, not exactly a mic drop. Just life. What's new with you?
darkemeralds: Purple patent leather Doc Martens against a multi-colored carpet with the title True Colors (True Colors)
Can you believe it? IKEA discontinued my pink couch and sold the very last one in the Pacific Northwest yesterday!

Read more... )
darkemeralds: Old black and white portrait of DarkEm at the age of three (Little Me)
There are whole communities for this stuff. "Theming." It's a thing. You buy an Android phone and you make it TOTALLY UNIQUE AND PERSONAL through the medium of extremely finicky, detailed customizing apps. We're talking nudging things around pixel by pixel and copy-pasting eight-character color hex codes into font settings. And stuff like that.

What I really want is JARVIS, you know? Never touch the damn thing, just speak my wishes and desires and hear the answer. Failing that, I like a homescreen with almost nothing apparent on it.

Theming. Because I have the time. And the inclination. )
darkemeralds: Old black and white portrait of DarkEm at the age of three (Little Me)
One of my great teachers sent out her quarterly newsletter the other day, and in it she recommended a little exercise for the new year:

Consider in a playful and loving way what symbol or image arises when you imagine being YOU, fully and completely. When you are expanded and unlimited, joyful and brilliant, ask, "When I am my True Self, I am like...?" Notice what comes to mind. It could be a feeling, a word or a metaphor.

She provided an example from one of her clients, who discovered in herself "a Guardian, a Healer, an Architect."

Me? Not so much. )
darkemeralds: Dark Emeralds in red glasses (Default)
You might remember the great bedroom remodel by means of which I transitioned from working into retirement beginning around this time last year. Once the big work was done, I had a punch list of little finishing details to take care of, and I kept doing them and thinking okay, now the remodel's done.

Starry starry ceiling. )
darkemeralds: Photo of an empty room with caption "Imagine an Empty Room" (Empty Room)
I think I'm gonna buy a new couch.

I've never had any kind of guest accommodation in this house. The living room is too cramped for a traditional sofa bed, and there's just the one bedroom. In the past, visitors have slept on a twin mattress on the living room floor, on my undersized couch (she was unusually small), and in a tent in my side yard (sorry, sis!). Others have been directed to moderate hotels not too far from here.

I think IKEA has come to my rescue at last with a sofa-bed that will fit, if a bit massively, into this space.

It's pink. )
darkemeralds: Photo of Downtown Portland, Oregon USA in twilight (Portland)
As [personal profile] ravurian pointed out when I sent it to him in the UK this afternoon, this picture might have been taken almost anywhere in the world.

A view of an IKEA store across a stretch of wetlands, from inside a commuter light rail train

Spoiler: it's in Portland. )
darkemeralds: detail of beaded purse, caption One Bead At a Time (beadwork)
Today my niece came and took away my collection of beads.

Farewell, my little beads. )
darkemeralds: Dark Emeralds in red glasses (Default)
I've been wanting to say authentic things here: deeper, truer things, stuff that makes me uneasy to share (not because it's necessarily bad or dangerous, but because I have a highly-controlled personality and my people place a premium on self-containment and shame-avoidance).

So I'm sort of working up to talking about my long trek through the desert of reductionist materialism into a tentative anatheism, or about transformative experiences that have left no mark on my skin, my address, or my income, and therefore may not look real to other people (and may sound loony).

I want to talk about these things, but I still worry about being cast out of what few communities I can claim connection to, for being something (it could be anything--unacceptable, ill-informed, backward, too far-out, not articulate enough, stupid, outdated, wrong, and, most recently, too old).

So for today I'll leave this as a placeholder, and move briefly on to more mundane things.

Like, OMG was Backstrom as awful as I thought it was? It was, right? Cliché, offensive, derivative, how-the-fuck-did-this-get-greenlit, pretending-to-be-Portland-can't-save-it bad. Right? But maybe the 12 unbearable minutes I gave it weren't enough. Does it deserve another chance?
darkemeralds: DarkEm self portrait in magenta cowl, left profile, against a black wall (Silver Magenta)
The ice must breaking up or something, because I made a thing today, after months of making no things.

I got out my heavy old sewing machine, a magnet bristling with pins, my shears, my cookie tin of threads, and an extra task light, and put two pieces of fabric together.

Just a big rectangle, but still. Making a thing. )
darkemeralds: Dark Emeralds in red glasses (Default)
The one-year mark in the don't-work-no-more phase of my career has come and gone, and I find that I want some structure back in my life. I feel ready to emerge from my cave a little and reconnect, too.

So maybe I can do a post a day for a month.

Boy, am I rusty. Whew. Let's see... [self-censor kicks into high gear: "No, that's unoriginal. No, that would be whiny. No, that sounds like a commercial..."]

Screw you, self-censor. )

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