When Dinosaurs Attack: On Writing and Motherhood

20160613_163830My baby is much more independent than he used to be. He’s on the verge of walking, and is quite capable of playing by himself. He folds the board book covers back, scoots random objects across the floor, sits on his musical toys so that they play the same song over and over, and when I’ve finally decided that it’s safe to start writing, he appears at my knee.

“Ai-ya-da! Umma-ma-maaaa.”

He whines for me to pick him up. Like the pushover that I am, I obey. My focus has evaporated anyway. Collect a handful of these focus-killers throughout the afternoon and I’ve got a writing-free zone. No prolonged brainwaves allowed.

As soon as I’m prepped for writing, he wanders into the elephant graveyard and almost gets eaten by hyenas. Well, he opens the entry cupboard and tries to eat the Calvin and Hobbes books. Even drafting a short blog post gets an interruption or two. Or seven. Add in that persistent solicitor who just tried to sell house-painting services, and suddenly you’ve got an angry momma. (I closed the door in his face. I normally try to be polite about it, but really? You’re interruping me while I write about…sigh…inevitable interruptions.)

Trouble rears its ugly head when my writing calls so intensely that I get frustrated with the distractions. If I was dealing with a time management issue, I would feel better about it. I could blame myself, analyze the problem, and fix it. But this isn’t fixable; it’s just motherhood. My baby has so much to learn and he’s working just as hard as I am. So who wins out? It’s a matter of priorities, and my baby is at the top. Go baby go! Learn baby learn!

My baby is an adorable giggling, smiling, wiggling, tyrant. Instead of fixing the issue, I just need to love my precious tyrant. I am blessed with a relatively happy one, too. I love him immensely. He’s too cute for words. I will work on better tactics, there are plenty out there, but not today. I just need to accept that sometimes something better crawls along and asks me to tickle him. So if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be blowing raspberries on my baby’s tummy. I’ve been challenged to play a game of “when dinosaurs attack.”

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Drowning in the Ocean of Writing Advice

20160607_090710A surplus of writing advice floats about the internet. Even if you separate the good from the bad, you’ll still be flooded, drowning in opposing voices that support a variety of tactics, mindsets, and organizations. You’d think that good advice would be more unified, but legitimate methods have as much diversity as personality types.

I am currently working on my characters, thanks to the insights of my most recent beta readers (love you writing group!) and in response I’m absorbing as much as I can on the subject. Instead of browsing blogs for unfiltered advice from unknowns (like me haha), I dug into my pile of Writer’s Digest magazines. Their advice can be basic sometimes, but at least it has been vetted. Since I’ve subscribed to WD for many years, I have a huge stack of back issues on my shelf. I sifted through them and found articles that focus on characterization. Lo and behold, there were quite a lot. Characters are kind of important.

But even within WD, the advice varies a lot. Each writer has his or her background, style, and preferred approach. Stephen James wrote about power relationships in “Raise your Characters above the Status Quo” (July/August 2011 issue. I told you. I’ve been getting WD for a while now.) He writes detective fiction, which means that he creates hard boiled PDs. Of course power relationships are key to his characters but are they key to mine? David Corbett discusses action as essential for characterization in “Characters, Scene by Scene.” (January 2015 issue) Action is always an important way to expose character, but I still need to wrap my mind around character goals, backstory, psychology, change, etc.

With each article I round out my personal process. I note advice, jot it down, and tweak it, but many of the tips float away and I won’t bother to catch them. The nice part about having hard copies is that I know they’ll always be there. If I decide that what I retained was insufficient, I can easily reread them.

DSC00723Once my notes are complete, my character profiles can come out for a brainstorm session. I’ve got to let the process get messy again and bring the elements together, like mixing a deck of cards and hoping that a magic trick happens. (That’s how magic works, right?) No matter how well my characters grow, I’ll still have a ton of work ahead of me. It’ll be application time. My current goals (see here) are a little stretching, but I’m always up for a challenge. My stubborn desire to improve is pretty much the only reason I’m still writing. I have one more week to plan and (hopefully!) get ahead. Wish me luck!

A Novelist’s Guide to Goals

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Don’t get tangled up like these crazy succulent vine things. You might have to hack your way out with a machete.

Setting personal goals is all about knowing what you can do and then pushing your limits. You don’t want to push yourself so far that you flop over in defeat, but just enough that you learn more about yourself and about your craft.

Years ago I would set arbitrary deadlines: “I will write 50k by June!” I always failed, but I always learned. I’d write 10 or 20k and be satisfied that I had pushed myself as far as I could. Now I know what prep must happen before I set the goal. 50k doesn’t just appear out of thin air. I’m a planner, so without an outline or clear story goals, I’ll never make it.

Today I’m setting a deadline for draft three of BLOODSTONE, which includes 3 weeks of prep and 18 weeks of editing 2 chapters per week. Some weeks will be easy and some will be grueling, especially considering how busy my summer is going to be.

I’d like to encourage you to set goals for yourself. Measure how much you can accomplish and stretch yourself just a little further. You might need to start with arbitrary goals like I did, but you can also analyze your process a little and see where you’re weak: outlining, character growth, plot formation, simple butt-in-chair time. Writer’s block doesn’t appear out of thin air. It has a source, and your job is to locate the root and rip it out.

Why I’m Outlining my Next Novel

20160418_095515My first novel, Bloodstone (working title), which is currently in its 2nd draft (more like 7 or 8, if you count the early attempts) started with a raw outline. But I was a teen when I started it. I didn’t know how stories work or how to create realistic characters, so the outline broke down very quickly. I spent most of high school and college reworking the story in my spare time, teaching myself to recognize crap and scrape it out.

While my writing group reads Bloodstone’s 2nd draft, I’m starting a new novel. The whole ‘discover it as you go’ process was fun last time, but Bloodstone took 10 years to write. Now that I know what I’m doing, it’s time to try a different approach. For this WIP, I want a full first draft in 1 year, maybe even 1 month (I’m looking at you, NaNoWriMo!).

Since I know how to create rounded characters and dynamic plot lines, I can plan ahead. And since this novel has a Korean protagonist, which I am super excited about, I need to research a ton. My goal is to gather enough material so I can blast through NaNo and write a bulletproof draft 1. With a baby to take care of, I don’t have time to churn out draft after draft, so I’d rather use my experience to create a better product in the first go. (Dare I say product? Many cringe at that word, but if you plan to publish, get used to business/marketing speak)

For the new WIP, I have an elevator pitch (seems backwards, but Save the Cat supports my impulse to get to the heart of the story ASAP), a few rough character profiles, an outline of act I, and many miscellaneous plot points. I plan on sifting through information until I can wrap my mind around the entire plot and until I have all the ‘why’s addressed, so I don’t stumble on plot holes mid-draft. There are a lot of ways to outline a novel and in my preliminary research I found a few helpful articles:

Are you an outliner? Why or why not?

 

 

 

Starting Fresh

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The weekend is coming, which means more Appa-Eigi walks in the park!

Friday afternoon, with a mocha, Disney music, and a sleeping baby. I rest. I work. With my MS 2nd draft handed out to my writing group, I’m detoxing, scrubbing it out of my skin and, well, planning a new novel.

It has been years (and years) since I started a new novel, but my characters are already rounding out and demanding that I fall in love with them. First I brainstormed on any/every scrap of paper. Characters, images, dialogue, themes, etc. Good or bad, I wrote it down. Then I organized notes into character profiles and plot points. This stage will take me a while, because (unlike last time) I want to make sure that I’m ready to start. The key differences between this start and my last start are age and experience. I was in high school when I started Bloodstone (working title), and I didn’t know how to write a novel or even a fully functional scene. I made lots of mistakes and researched endlessly. Thankfully, I’m stubborn enough to learn and improve.

So here I am, with two novels in progress, and it’s immensely refreshing. I can’t wait until I can share them with you.

Breaking Down the Publishing Process

12552586_10153834381808491_2114924493088080220_nSince I’m nearing the end my YA/NA urban fantasy’s second draft, a couple of people have asked me “Do you have a publisher yet?” At first I was taken aback; I feel a million miles away from publication. But the question makes sense, especially coming from someone who doesn’t know how traditional publishing works. Here’s a basic breakdown:

  1. Write a book: It can be anywhere from 60,000 words to 110,000 words depending on the genre. 80,000 words is a generally good goal.
  2. Edit the book X times: The first draft is awful, the second is okay, the third is passable, and so on. You need perfection. Good luck with that.
  3. Research your market: Know where your book fits into the publishing world and find agents that represent books like yours.
  4. Query agents: These are the middlemen, the gatekeepers. Expect a million rejections and hope for that one, magical acceptance.
  5. Start a second book: Start writing whether or not your first book has been accepted. If it’s all rejection, either your book isn’t publishable or the market isn’t ready for you.
  6. Get a contract: The agent should know the market and hopefully will get you a good deal with a good publisher.
  7. Market yourself: Publishers don’t put enough money into marketing, so be prepared to work hard.
  8. Finish your second book: If the first goes well, your publisher will be hopefully want to sign another deal.

If you’re one of those people who is wondering when on earth I’m actually going to publish my novel, here are the steps. Thank you for checking up on my work; I’ll keep you updated as I go along. I’m working hard on step 2, but I’m also preparing material for steps 3, 5, and 7. It pays to be prepared!

 

 

How Writing Groups Grow

IMG_1383My writing group has created a space where trust and friendship permeate every aspect of our work. It’s a creative family, a safe haven.

We troubleshoot character motivation and excavate plot holes; set goals and cheer each other on; and share manuscripts that represent years of hard work. We play hard. We geek out. I am enormously proud of my friends, so I can’t help but boast a bit about them. They have worked so hard to improve their work as they progress through outline after outline and draft after draft.

Starting a writing group is incredibly easy. At the beginning all it takes is some emails and a coffee shop. Then you ease into your dynamic, not forcing it to take any specific shape. You hang out, find your rhythm, and learn how much you can trust each other with your work. Some writing groups are casual. You don’t need to share all of your work with each other, and you don’t expect others to edit for you unless they specifically offer. You can share or hold back as much as you’re comfortable with. For a tighter writing group, trust is crucial because expectations are higher and critiques are more personal. It can take time to get there, so enjoy the process and keep exploring your community.

Writers need to stick together.

 

 

 

 

3 Types of Motivation and 1 Type of Irony

20150616_071256Life with a Little is the busiest I have ever experienced. College got pretty busy, but my homework didn’t wake me up at night unless I had a high-pressure exam the next day. So now that I’m sleeping much less than I would like (thank you, Little’s lower central incisors) I have set some pretty high goals for myself: finish the second draft of my novel. Soon. If I’m going to succeed, I need as much motivation as I can get. Thankfully, I have three types:

Now or Never

One good thing about being so busy is that my mindset is always “work now, or else you’ll never get to it.” There is no room for procrastination. It’s ironic, but I just might get more written now that I don’t have free time.

My goal is to finish editing my first act by New Years (or by Christmas if at all possible) and the next two acts by March. If I don’t work on it every day, I will fall behind. So I can at least take some time during Little’s naps or while he plays happily in the morning. There is time, I just need to find it and steal it away from other tasks like dishes and laundry.

Competition

These goals are also part of a competition. Even though ‘now or never’ gets me going pretty well, my internal motivation isn’t strong enough to withstand sleep deprivation. To battle this, I am competing with a writing group friend. We both set the same two due dates and we’ll trade our works by the end.

Expectant Readers

As if this wasn’t enough, another friend demanded that I let her read the novel at the end. If I didn’t trust her to handle my novel well I wouldn’t even consider sending it to her, but she is a conscientious person who I’m sure will be able to give a thoughtful critique. This also gives me a good excuse to print off the whole manuscript, which is always satisfying. Having few readers will help me meet my deadlines, and their notes will give me clearer direction for draft three.

Though each form of motivation helps keep me going, I still have some serious time restrictions no matter how determined I am to write. So wish me luck! I’m going to need it.

A Freelancing Mom’s Game Plan

20150711_094550A lot of mothers have gone before me as stay-at-home moms. And a lot of professionals have gone before me as stay-at-home freelancers. I am thankful for all of them, their advice and their example. But I am also thankful for those who combined the two and lived to tell the tale.

As I type, my son grunts and squeaks his way through tummy time, lifting his head and then dropping it in frustration. He’ll build those muscles soon enough, and I get to stay home and watch it happen.

Motherhood is a challenge. Even as I write that, I have to start typing one handed as I scoop little Yoon up and distract him with a toy. Baby attention spans are short, and babies are still developing the skills necessary for, well, everything. With that in mind, freelancing in the midst of motherhood is a double challenge. But it’s one worth taking. In order to really get my work done, and done well, I have to develop new tactics:

  • Babysitters. Knowing who I can ask, and when they’re available. One lesson I’m still learning is to accept offers of free babysitting from friends and family without feeling guilty.
  • Naps. Using the baby’s naps for either focused work or genuine rest. Sometimes I’ve got to get a nap of my own in order to function.
  • Flexibility. Using those 10 and 15 minute windows instead of waiting for a whole hour. As Maria from The Sound of Music so sweetly says, “When God closes a door, somewhere he opens a window.” (Thank you Julie Andrews!)
  • Grace. Forgiving myself for being tired and less productive than I’d like. It’s a work in progress, and I’ve got to remember how much I’ve already progressed over the last 3 months.

It’ll take time to get used to everything, especially since children develop at an amazing rate during their first year. So, fellow freelancers and fellow mothers, how do you make it work? 

Writer. Wife… Mother.

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Back when I was just starting to show. I should probably take another picture, huh?

After neglecting the blog for about three months, I should let you know why. I prefer to use the blog as a place to hash out writing analysis and tips, but since I will be MIA for a while, I might as well explain.

My novel is my baby–it’s practically an adolescent by now, if I’m honest with myself–but it’s being superseded by a real baby. I’m due in a little over a month and life is undergoing many transitions. The nursery is coming along well, with fresh paint and some new furniture. I’ve got four crafty projects going for the nursery (Bunting, mobile, flannel blanket, crocheted blanket…a little overboard maybe?) and I’m reading far too much about labor, postpartum, nursing, etc. In the midst of everything, writing in general has been sidelined. It’s nesting time! Whee!

Though this is a crazy stage that is pulling me away from my writing, it’s just one stage of many. When Mr. Yoon and I have adjusted to life with Little Boy Yoon, I plan to dive even further into freelance work and the novel’s second draft. So until I return, enjoy writing!