Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

Five years ago, I was invited to give the address to graduates from our local high school. I was honoured to do so, particularly since my daughter was graduating, and so I knew many students in the class. Since it’s that time of year again, I thought I’d share my thoughts from that time with everyone. The advice in it is really not only for young people. :)

Good evening, everyone, and good evening especially to you, the graduates of 2012. (And if I’ve been to your English class lately, yes, it’s me again. And I thought talking to twenty of you at once was intimidating!)

Actually, I’m very pleased to have been invited to speak to you tonight. I’ve known many of you since you started school, and I’ve watched you grow into wonderful young men and women. I’ve met more of you through school visits, and I know that this class of 2012 is full of kindness, intelligence, spirit, talent, and potential.

When I was invited to do this, at first I wasn’t quite sure what I should say. My guidelines were to give you some “sage advice.” Now, for one thing, I’m much too young to be giving “sage” advice! But I guess I have learned a few things worth sharing. I think they’re some of the ingredients for a happy life. (Don’t worry, it’s not a long or complicated recipe.)

Learn to say “yes.”
I don’t mean, “be a doormat.” I mean, “open yourself to opportunities.” It’s almost always easier to say “no,” especially if we’re presented with an opportunity that seems intimidating, or outside our comfort zone, or more than we’re qualified for. Say yes anyway. It’s only by taking on things that challenge us that we learn our true capabilities and allow ourselves to grow. So make “yes” your default answer when opportunity presents itself.

Learn to say “no.”
When “yes” is your default, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. So learn to say “no” sometimes, too. I know your life seems quite full right now, but once you add in careers and spouses and children and houses and bills and volunteering and grocery shopping and housework and yardwork and travel and deadlines—it’s going to get busier. And in order to give all those things the attention they need—you need a little time to stop and think once in a while. To refocus on the important things and let go of the not-so-important ones. So learn to balance “yes” and “no” wisely.

Remember that who and what you are today is not necessarily who and what you will be tomorrow.
Life is about change and possibility. There’s a lot of pressure on you right now to decide what you are going to be. Don’t let that overwhelm you. All you are really deciding is what you are going to do—at least for the next little while. If you change your mind later, it’s all right. It doesn’t mean you made a mistake. When I left Memorial, I headed for journalism school. Then I changed my mind and became a lawyer for a time. Then I changed my mind again when I realized that I wasn’t happy—and I went back to writing, because that’s where my heart is. But if I hadn’t gone to law school and worked as a lawyer, I probably wouldn’t have met the person who would become one of my best friends and one of my partners in publishing. So even if your path is a winding one, that doesn’t mean you’ve strayed off course. Very few lives are a straight road—and straight roads are generally not nearly as interesting as winding ones.

Create something.
Without a doubt, we live in a consumer society. We consume material things like clothes and cell phones, we consume entertainment like TV shows and movies, we consume far too much of far too many things that are “bad” for us. So to balance all this consumption, I encourage you to also take time to create something. It’s strange how many people deny their creativity—they say, “Oh, I’m not creative”—when what I think they really feel is that they’re not creative enough to do something that someone else would consider “good.” But I think that making things is good for us. You might be a writer or a filmmaker or an artist or a songwriter. You might build bridges or design buildings or craft a new scientific theory. Or you could be a scrapbooker or a woodworker or a gardener. Or you could take pictures or sew things or make music or restore old cars or make a funny video that goes viral. If you don’t create for anyone else, create for yourself. I like this quote from the American journalist William F. Buckley, Jr. He said: “I get satisfaction of three kinds. One is creating something, one is being paid for it, and one is the feeling that I haven’t just been sitting on my butt all afternoon.”

So even if you’re not being paid for it, don’t just sit on your butt all afternoon. Create things.

Think for yourself.
Every generation probably hears this, but I think it is especially important in the world right now. We are facing a lot of BIG issues—political, religious, scientific, global—and the rate of societal change is possibly the fastest it has ever been. You will have to make decisions on many of these issues, so I urge you to be informed, consider the facts, and decide for yourself. Just because your parents or your friends or a politician or your favorite celebrity or some guy on YouTube tells you something, does not necessarily make it true. You can respect their opinions, but think for yourself, and be true to your own decisions.

Don’t strive for normal.
Since the time you started school, you’ve probably been preoccupied with being “normal” or “fitting in.” But what does “normal” mean? It means “standard” or “common” or “average.” I want you all to do something. Put your thumbs and fingertips together, and look through the opening that forms. That’s “normal.” Now look around you, everywhere else. That’s the rest of your possibilities. Do you really want to fit into that little space called “normal?” Don’t be afraid to live outside the boundaries, even just a little. I think you’ll be happier for it.

You are never too old.
You’ve been told many times in the past eighteen or nineteen years that you’re “too young” to do this or that. And while that is sometimes true—you really are too young to drive a car at age twelve, or get married in Grade Three—before long you’ll start thinking (or society will tell you) that you’re “too old” to do things. Don’t believe it. You are never too old to do things you think you’ll enjoy, and don’t let anyone tell you differently. Want to play on a playground? Do it. Change your job? Do it. Learn a new sport, or hobby, or language? Do it. If you truly believe that you are not too old to do something, then you won’t be. But you have to start believing it now, so that doubts and that tiny space called “normal” don’t hold you back later.

Finally, I want to mention the Ethic of Reciprocity. You may think you don’t know what that is, but I’m betting that you do. You might know it as the Golden Rule, which commonly goes something like: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” But it’s a concept that goes far beyond that. The idea that the best way to get along in life is to treat others the way we would like to be treated stretches back as far as the ancient civilizations of Babylon, China, Egypt, and Greece, and it stretches across almost every world culture, religion, and ethical code. In Islam, it’s “wish for others what you wish for yourself”; in Buddhism, it’s “treat not others in ways that you would find hurtful”; in Judaism, it’s “what is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.” And so on, and so on.

It’s easy to say it, but when you take a step back and look at it, it’s quite elegant in its simplicity. You can hang almost every other moral and ethical principle on this one directive. Take a minute and really think about what kind of world we would live in if we always considered the other in all of our social interactions. In business, in relationships, in our everyday life. If we always took a brief second to judge our actions by that one, simple test—if someone did or said this to me, would it harm or upset me? If you forget everything else I’ve said here tonight as soon as you leave, I hope this one, at least, will stick. I really think it has the power to change the world.

And that’s it—say yes, say no, expect and accept change, make things, think for yourself, forget about normal, never think you’re “too old,” and always consider the other. My recipe for a happy life! You have already made all of us—your parents, your teachers, your families—incredibly proud, and I hope that as you start down your own winding paths, you’ll find some of these ingredients useful.

There’s a quote that goes: “When it comes to the future, there are three kinds of people: those who let it happen, those who make it happen, and those who wonder what happened.”

Go and be the ones who make it happen!

Thank you.

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

A long, long time ago, over at The Scriptorium, I had a feature page called the Alternative Expletive Project. Here’s how I explained it then:

For many writers, the use of expletives in our fiction writing presents a quandary. Do we go ahead and use one of those infamous “seven words you can’t say on television” (although I think they’ve all been said there by now)? Do we tone down one or more of those words, making the work less likely to offend–but, some would argue, less realistic?

It’s a personal choice that we all must make at some point, when our character smashes a thumb with a hammer, loses everything in the stock market, gets into a huge screaming match or realizes that the spaceship’s life support system has just failed. To swear, or not to swear, that is the question.

For those who’d like to walk the line somewhere between an “R” rating and an unbelievably dull character, The Scriptorium presents the Alternative Expletive Project. Our goal: to offer writers real-life, inoffensive examples of what folks say in times of anger, pain, despair and other emotional extremes.

I asked The Scriptorium’s readers to send me their examples and suggestions, and the response was…edifying, to say the least. So I collated all the responses into one large (partially) alphabetically-sorted list. As responses continued to roll in, I gave up on alphabetizing them. It’s interesting to note that today’s possibly most popular swear-without-really-swearing, “WTF,” did not even make the list at the time.

When The Scriptorium underwent a redesign, that page was overlooked and didn’t make it back onto the new site. So I present the list here, for your browsing and reference pleasure. You never know when it might come in handy–and it’s fun, at any rate. Do you say any of these? Do your characters?

The Alternative Expletive Datalist

Ah, Buddha All-fired Blamed
Blast Blasted Bleeding
Blimey Blinking Bloody Mary
Bloody Blowed Confound it
Confounded Crap Crappola
Crikey Cursed Cussed
Dammit Dang Danged
Darn Dash it Dashed
Dern Dungduggetty Mud Durn
Feck off Fishcakes Frig
Gee C. Cow Gee Gol-danged
Gosh Heck Jehosophat
Jiminy Crickets Motherfather Motherflower
Poop Rats Sugar
Ballspun Road and Crumpets Fiddlesticks Sugar and (bloody) cats
That’s SpongeBob (means “That’s B.S.!”) Bother Botheration
Tidy Bowl Shiver me timbers Dag nabbit
Split me infinitives By carbonate of soda no Fark
Cheese ‘n’ Rice For frog’s snake Fudge
Good Gravy Jeezly Heavenly Day
Good Googa-Mooga Go to Halifax Gol-dashit
Ficky-doo BALLoons BASTion of indecency
Mother flubber Cock-a-doodle-diddle Drat
Shoot Jeepers Flick
Boulder Dash Chickens Fudgesicle
Nuts Sugar Honey Iced Tea Fungus
Jackrabbit Crappers Dadgummit
Pickles FartBurgers Criminy
Sammich Bachkalooey Hajamabajah
Rat Farts Jolly Bad Luck Jolly Rotten Luck
Dorkburger Filth Belcher Dirt Merchant
Chickenplucker Cheezles Flackit
Summon a witch Grudge damn it Faff (off/you/this)
Judas H. Priest Bollards (load of) Bilge
(you) Richard Cranium Baloney Fricking
Jeeze Louise Cheet Beach
Sugar Plum Fairies Flipping Frack
Howling Horse Biscuits Cheesers
Shittles Skittles Shootles
I could spit nickles Fack Ymir’s Bones
Son of a Biscuit Eater

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

Well, yes, on the East Coast of Canada, we certainly get more than two weeks of winter. Winter meanders in sometime mid-November, hunkers down, and usually has to be forcibly evicted sometime in May. Occasionally it will pack its bags in April, if we’re really lucky.

But the past two weeks have been…worse than usual. Last week my high-school-aged son had three snow days…this week he’s had four. He’s not complaining, and I’ll admit it–I’ve enjoyed being able to sleep later than usual. But–wow. I’m not sure what the two-week accumulation has been, but in one day we had 70+ cm (that’s around 28 inches for my non-metric friends), so you can imagine that the two-week total is considerable. My office window sits at ground level, and it’s a good thing I have an OTT Light on my desk, because sunshine’s been in short supply.

My office window on Valentine’s Day. Not much light creeping through that snow drift!

We had more last night, although a mere few centimetres. And the forecast for the next few days…only flurries!

I’ll believe it when I see it.

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

Nano2012

Today we jump ahead to 2012 in the NaNoWriMo Retrospective. This was the year I wrote most of the first draft of The Family Business, which is, sadly, another of the still-unfinished manuscripts waiting for my attention.

I had a lot of fun with this one; it’s a ghost story and a mystery, and it’s definitely one I want to finish. Here’s the blurb:

Stella McKarron is sorry when her Uncle Ambrose dies suddenly, but she doesn’t think it will actually change her life much. They’ve never gotten along terribly well, anyway. So it comes as a surprise to learn that he’s left her his cat (she’s allergic), his car (she doesn’t drive), his private detective agency (she’s a librarian) and his collection of ten thousand books (she’s actually okay with that one). The bigger surprise is yet to come, however, when his ghost appears and tells her that he was murdered, and the first case he wants her to take on is his own…

familybusinessHere’s my hastily throw-together cover mockup; I still like the concept although it could be MUCH better executed.

The November draft came in at just barely 50k, since I was also working on the rewrite of One’s Aspect to the Sun that month. I see from the notes in my spreadsheet that I actually did not have an idea for what to write this year until I actually sat down to do it. I’m trying to remember where the idea eventually came from, but it appears to be lost in the mists of time.

Notably, this was the year I set up my treadmill desk, and this was the first project I wrote at it. I don’t seem to have stats from that month, although I suspect they are around somewhere…I do like obsessive record-keeping from time to time.  We do seem to have had a lot of word wars in the Ramsey household, according to my notes, and some successful write-ins with other Cape Breton Wrimos.

I believe that this one remains unfinished because I made that classic error of trying to write a mystery without enough advance planning. Other genres can work out okay with the “gardening” approach, but mysteries require more of the “architect” thinking. Or as I once said in a radio interview, “When it comes time to lay down a clue, you’d better have a clue.”

Someday soon I’ll pull this one out and see what it needs. It’s  fun tale with some quirky characters and deserves to play out to “The End.”

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

Poppies by Benoit Aubry of Ottawa

This morning I walked “into town” to observe the Remembrance Day ceremony. I do actually live in the town, by the way, but on the outer edge, and going “into town” has always been the family nomenclature. I had planned to walk with some others of my family, but due to this and that I ended up going alone with a new plan to meet them there. It was a sunny morning, and the wind held a jagged edge–but, hey, it’s November in Cape Breton–and altogether lovely for walking.

Since I was alone and hadn’t taken my headphones to listen to music, I set my mind, as I walked, to the problem facing me in my current novel project. Which, coincidentally, had to do with war. The question I have been trying to answer is basically, how can a small group of people stop an interstellar war?

The obvious answer, I suppose, is: they can’t. But this is fiction, and that wasn’t the answer I wanted. I wanted an answer that involved cooperation, and determination, and compassion, and alien races working together. I just couldn’t seem to find the right way to make all those pieces fit together into what also has to be a good story.

So I mulled it over as I walked, and I thought a bit about war, and a bit about my Great Uncle John, who fought in the Second World War and did come home, if a changed man. I thought about the characters in my book, and what’s just happened and is happening in the United States, and about other wars and other places and other stories. And I came back to my characters and all the bits of the novel that have already been set in motion.

And. I think it worked. By the time I met up with my family members, some very important story pieces had fallen into place, and others had revealed how they could work together, and new pieces had appeared, too. I didn’t quite dance in the street since it would have seemed quite disrespectful under the circumstances. But I felt much better than I had about the story in a while.

There isn’t really a moral to this story, but I suppose if there is one for writers, it’s that sometimes you have to give your brain a quiet place to churn, and let it go. Maybe it means a change of scenery or activity, maybe it means a nap or just a break from staring disconsolately at the screen. Maybe it’s not forcing ideas, but nudging your thoughts in a certain direction and letting them run, instead of staring at an outline that isn’t working any more. Maybe it’s a walk on a sunny, windy day, alone with your thoughts and a question to be answered. If you’re stuck, try all of these things, and more, if that’s what it takes. The pieces will fall into place.

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

NaNoMusingsEspecially in the second week of NaNoWriMo, writing and the dream of writing can be a switch flipping between elation and despair. While the first week is usually a glorious outpouring of fresh new ideas taking form for the first time on the page, the second week becomes hard work. Those ideas don’t seem so fresh any more, and suddenly things are supposed to start making sense. You haven’t thought this through, and you’re not sure how you’re going to get these characters from that beautiful beginning to a satisfying ending, through a middle of vitality and meaning.

That’s okay. The only way to get there is to keep going. The only way to make it better is to write it badly first. That’s how the dream becomes reality.

Keep going. Week Two shall pass.

*The Dream Called Life – Edward Fitzgerald

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

my-tools-1239864-639x426So I had this idea to write a sort of weekly roundup/review post, and call it the Friday Desk Report. I envision it as sort of a brief review of the week’s projects, word metrics, links, and anything else notable that happened during the week. As much for myself as for anyone else, I suppose, but it could turn out to be interesting.

Will I be able to keep it up? Only the future will tell. Traditionally, I’m not so good with consistency, but it’s possible I’m improving with age. Come on, it’s possible.

So, what do I have to report? This week I did the most sustained new writing I’ve done since my mom passed away at the end of August. Still not a lot of new words, but it felt good to work like that again. I worked on a short story I’m writing about giant monsters who have laid waste to much of the continent and now threaten my protagonist’s small Nova Scotia farm.

I also worked on a book trailer for The Seventh Crow, and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. I’m waiting on a couple of images I need to replace some placeholders, and then I’ll be uploading it to share. Should be available sometime next week.

I wrote a book review I’d promised, and drafted a guest blog post I have to turn in by the 15th, so I’m well ahead on that. I also put together a new outline template for Scrivener and began using it to work on The Chaos Assassin, and this morning I sent out a short story submission.

I read far too much on Facebook about the upcoming federal election and decided I need to stop worrying about it and being disappointed in people. It’s far too negative. All I can do now is cast my own vote and encourage others to do so, and hope, hope, hope for better things to come.

NearspaceBibleToday I’m working on my Nearspace series bible, in preparation for NaNoWriMo and the novel I’m planning to work on in November. I already had such a thing but it was NOT well-organized or complete. I found this video from Kami Garcia to be quite inspiring in this regard and look how well it’s coming along!

In other Nearspace news, I also put up another free Nearspace story on this site today, which you can find here. It’s a peek into Nearspace and the first contact story between humans and Lobors, before wormhole travel was possible.

Some cool things from the internet this week:

Okay, I’m impressed. That’s a pretty good report! So back to today’s project…

 

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

No, this is not a post about knitting or weaving…at least, only figuratively.

This week I’ve been struggling to pick up an unfinished manuscript and get it moving forward again. I wrote over 50k words of a second Magica Incognita novel last November, and expected to finish the first draft early this year with an eye to rewriting and editing in the spring, and maybe a publication date this past summer.

Well, due mainly to consuming family issues, nothing beyond projects I had outside commitments for happened from early spring to fall this year. I’m very pleased that I was able to keep all of those commitments…but other projects fell by the wayside.

I’ve said before that the key to a really successful NaNoWriMo draft is getting to “the end.” It doesn’t matter how much work that manuscript will take in revisions and rewrites and adding new subplots and taking it apart and putting it back together again–it’s all easier if you have a finished first draft that has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Well, I didn’t get anywhere near “the end” of The Chaos Assassin. And the intervening ten months or so have effectively blurred the progression of plots and clues and conversations in my mind so that I sat down at my desk this week not really knowing where to start. Reading through the existing manuscript was a good place to start, of course, as well as reviewing all my notes and mind maps. I also made a timeline of the existing events in Aeon Timeline, a program I recently purchased. Seemed like a good way to try it out, and so far, I like it.

But even all of that didn’t get the story back in my head the way it was when I was writing that first draft. I still feel like I’m floundering around with a fistful of plot threads and no clear idea what to do with them.

So I am going to try making an outline.

Yup, me. Making an outline. Weird, right? Not just of what’s already written–I usually do that anyway, after the fact or as I go along, because it’s invaluable for rewrites later. No, I’m going to go further. I’m going to catch up to where I have written and keep going. Plan out the rest of the novel and then write it.

My head’s almost exploding at this point.

Since I’m not an outliner by nature, I decided to get a little help by looking at various outlining methods online. I wasted  spent a fair bit of time perusing articles, charts, worksheets, etc., but in the end came back to one I’d looked at before and that sort of spoke to me: Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet. Actually, an enhanced version of it by Tom Gowan. And a little bit of Dan Wells’ 7-Point Story Structure and a Scrivener version thrown in for good measure. No, I’m not dedicated to following it rigidly–just to using it as a guide to help put the manuscript back into perspective for me and assist me in finding my way forward.

So here we go. If nothing else, it’s colourful and pretty!

BeatSheet

 

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

Library_Pataskala_025I’m working my way through my 52-book Goodreads Reading Challenge–a little bit behind, mainly because of writing projects. I haven’t done an actual survey of what I’ve read this year, but I’m going to guess that they’d shake out like this by format: Audio, then Ebook, then Print.

(Well, now that I’ve wondered about it, I DO have to go and check.) Yup, confirmed. Print is at the bottom of the list.

It’s not that I don’t like print books anymore. It’s a matter of convenience–I can multitask and do stuff around the house and garden while I listen to audiobooks. I can easily have an ebook with me wherever I go, on one of my ereaders or even my phone. So while I still love the print format, it’s harder to find space for it in my life.

But not in the summer.

Perhaps because reading print books has become more of an indulgence, they seem to go best with summer reading. I usually devour books in the summertime, and one of the things I love best is the Summer Library Read.

This is the book that you had never heard of before you stopped into the library today. It’s probably the book you wouldn’t be quick to buy, because you know nothing about it, and little about the author. But as you ran your eyes and fingers along the shelf, it spoke to you. The spine caught your eye. The title intrigued. The blurb piqued your interest.

And there was nothing to stop you from giving it a try. Zero committment. Nothing down, nothing to pay (unless you don’t return it on time). You just picked it up, took it to the desk, and then walked out with it. And you’ll settle in to read it at the most indulgent times. When you’re up late because it’s vacation and you don’t have to set the alarm. When you’re at the beach. At the cottage. Sitting out on your step with a cold drink and a bit of shade. Indulging your love of print books, and library books, and the absolute joy of discovering something wonderful and new.

The summer library read. If you haven’t tried it lately, I recommend you give it a whirl. You never know what you might find.

Photo credit: click at Morguefile.com

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

256px-Book_burning I’ve read some books I didn’t particularly like. I’ve read some books that I thought had many technical and craft-related flaws. I’ve written reviews on some of those books.


I’ve never felt the need or desire to destroy an author or their book in one of those reviews. I don’t think it’s necessary, professional, or entertaining.


I’m not writing this post because I’ve received any sort of review like this for my own work (or if I have, I’ve been lucky enough not to see it!). But I’ve read some others lately that alternately make me cringe, and make me angry. Have you seen reviews like this? Where the reviewer seems to take a sick delight in completely eviscerating the work–and by association, of course, the author? They can be cleverly written, sure. But their vitriol against the book is actually repulsive. I’m not going to do any of them the service of linking to them. Sadly, they’re not all that difficult to find.


Yes, there are probably more flawed books available now than there ever were before (although don’t think they don’t/didn’t exist inside traditional publishing since its inception). But I don’t know what can prompt a “reviewer” to write such a screed. Even if you think a book is the worst piece of drivel ever written, that opinion doesn’t give you the right to decimate another human being. You can discuss the flaws you found in the book; you can discuss why it didn’t appeal to you; you can even make suggestions for what would have improved it for you. Those thoughts might be helpful to an author in writing another book, and they might be helpful to other readers in deciding whether to read a book.


But if you’re not writing a review with those goals in mind, why *are* you writing it? If it’s to make yourself look clever and rapier-witted at the cost of destroying someone else–you’re just another online bully. And your credibility with me is a big fat zero.


Photo credit: By Patrick Correia from Northampton, MA, United States (Book burning Uploaded by mangostar) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

coffee-1289296-m

Not all goals are this simple.

I’ve been struggling with a particular character in this novel rewrite, and her motivations. I think she deserves a bigger place in the story than she has now, but I can’t really figure out what she wants. It’s driving me kind of crazy.

One of the points K.M. Weiland makes in Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story, is the importance of knowing your characters’ goals early on. This makes sense, of course, since it is goals that mainly drive all character actions and reactions. I’ve felt that I really needed to know this character’s motivations and goals before I could go any further, but she was stonewalling me.

However, I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe that’s not actually the problem. I think maybe this character doesn’t really know what she wants, or how she feels about my main character. That would actually make a lot of sense in the context of their history (or more accurately, their non-history). And it also explains why I can’t figure out what she wants or how she feels–she doesn’t know either. She is curious, she thinks she dislikes the main character…but that’s all she really knows. It’s going to take a while for her to figure things out for herself, and figure out what she wants to do with that negative energy.

In our daily lives, we’re frequently conflicted about our feelings, especially toward other people. Often we are not really sure how we feel about someone until we’ve had some interaction with them. We’re all set to like or dislike them based on external factors or things we’ve heard from someone else…and we’re thrown off-balance when the interaction doesn’t meet with our expectations, for good or bad.

So I’m thinking maybe this is not a bad thing with regard to this character. I think we’re going to make this journey together, she and I, and we’ll see how we feel at the end of the story. It should be interesting.

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

ladder

Look up…look waaaaaay up….

A long time ago, in 2001, when ebooks were barely a “thing” yet and the only format for them was .pdf (ancient history, I know), I self-published an ebook for writers. It was called The New Writer’s Guide to Just About Everything and yes, it’s still around, although it’s sorely in need of an update and a new edition. Another thing on my too-long to-do list. But I digress.

Today I am thinking about a piece in that ebook, titled “The Writer’s Ladder of Success.” In it, I talked about how some new writers think their first sale is the top rung of that ladder, but in reality, that’s only a few steps up. Writing, I said, is the first rung. Finishing is the second. Submitting is the third. You may be stuck on that rung of the ladder for a while before you can climb up to the next one, which is making a sale. That analogy still holds true, I think.

Then, I said, you climb back down and start climbing all over again, writing, finishing, submitting. I think now, with the wisdom and experience of my years of writing (stop laughing!) I’d look at it differently. I think instead of climbing back down, I’d say we can look at it one of two ways: either we go sideways onto another ladder and start climbing from there, or the ladder we started on just keeps going, stretching up into the distance ahead of us. Either way, we’re not starting from scratch; we’re building on what we’ve already accomplished in order to climb to greater heights. Some might find that long, long ladder too daunting to look up at, and like the idea of shorter ones that lead to another, so either way works.

And either view is far more encouraging than feeling like you’re starting every piece from scratch. Of course that’s true in a way, since each writing project is new and comes with its own unique challenges. But we always have the comfortable cushion of our past accomplishments to buoy us up as we tackle the new.

There’s a saying that a writer is only as good as his or her last book. It’s true that we’re often judged that way–and we have to keep our fans happy or we’ll lose them. That’s a lot of pressure, though. I think we’re much more likely to succeed if we continue to feel good about our past successes–and not lose sight of that part of the ladder we’ve already climbed, stretching away below us. One bad song doesn’t make a failed musician; one strikeout doesn’t make a failed baseball player. Why do we hold ourselves as writers to a stricter standard? Why do critics and readers? I’m not really sure.

I closed out that section of the ebook by saying, “…you were a writer from the time you reached that first rung. Don’t let anyone tell you the ladder is not yours to climb.” I think that’s still good advice. I don’t think I’ll change that, should I ever get around to producing a second edition of The New Writer’s Guide.

Keep writing. Keep climbing. Build on what came before. Good advice, and advice I have to keep reminding myself of as I tackle a new project and a new deadline. Because frankly, I like the view from up here.

Photo credit: mensatic

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

Boxes1

I actually have fewer than half this many Christmas boxes. Honest.

I’m not one to get over the holidays very quickly or easily. It’s only a few days since my tree and decorations came down and were put away, and as I write this, mere hours since I finally cleaned all the remnants of holiday leftovers out of the fridge. I love Christmas and New Year’s; they’re happy and busy times for our family, and I like to string them out as looooooong as possible.

However. There does come a time when I have to accept the notion that it’s really, really, really time to get back to work. And that means coming up with a new working plan.

I wonder how many writers there are out there who just work on one project until it’s finished, complete it absolutely, and then move on to the next one. Show of hands? Whew. That’s what I was hoping. I didn’t see a single hand out there among you. Like me, most of you have several projects on the back burner, shoved there by time or necessity over the holidays, just simmering until it’s time for you to stick the spoon in and give them a stir. The question for me is always which one to stir first?

I have one obvious answer this year, a project I’ve been mulling over and even picking at a bit over the holiday break. But there are also a few other unfinished bits of business; a manuscript I have to send out for a critiquing swap, one I have to read for Third Person Press, a couple of stories to line edit, and of course, the queue of stories that prompted me to resolve to make 2014 the Year of Finishing. If I’m gonna finish those, I have to pick them up sometime.

The big project has to be one priority, but does anyone else find they have this little voice in the back of their brain as well, saying, “Oh, but look at this one–it wouldn’t take any time at all to finish! You could get that out of the way first.” Which is a big fat lie, in most cases, because if it was that simple, it would already be finished, right? This is my brain trying to sabotage me because it doesn’t want to go back to work, and what the big project needs right now is going to be…well, I don’t want to say “hard.” “Hard” is digging ditches or working backshifts, and I can’t really lay claim to anything like that as I sit here in my cushy office, can I? But it’s going to take work, and my brain is a lazy old thing.

I think that’s part of why it takes me so long to let go of the holidays. My brain is loathe to go back into “work” mode, so even the end of the season…taking down the decorations, cleaning out the fridge, putting the house back to rights…must take as long as possible. But this is it. The end of that road. The house is back to normal. The fridge is clean. Fresh groceries have been purchased, the laundry basket is empty.

Assess, prioritize, tackle. Working plan, here I come.

Photo credit: By skrewtape (http://www.flickr.com/photos/skrewtape/851672959/) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

girl-silhouette-1193153-m

Who are you, anyway?

I have this character who’s been on my mind a lot lately. She’s a part of the novel I’m re-thinking and rewriting right now, and she’s sort of a sub-villain. Well, that’s not exactly right–she’s not really a villain at all, but definitely an antagonist to the main character. She’s had an interesting life, lived largely in the grey areas of society, because of who she is and who her father was. In a way her life has been a big lie, or a series of big lies, but since her father passed away, she’s felt the itch to do something. To confront the forces from her father’s past that impacted their lives every day. She plays a moderately important role in the draft as it stands now, but lately I’ve been thinking her part needs to be expanded. In fact, I’m thinking about getting inside her head a little more, and giving her more of a voice in the story.

She likes the notion, although she’s not giving up all of her secrets to me yet. I know she’s a bit of a maverick, with a devil-may-care attitude and a motivation to make life difficult for my main character. As she’s written right now, that’s almost all I know about her, and that’s the extent of how she comes across. That, and the fact that she has some secrets she’s not yet ready to share.

However, I’m thinking there’s more to her than that. I’m trying to understand her motivations, and, even more importantly, her goals.

Her goals as she was written in the first draft were mainly to find out more information about my main character, and hassle her a little without doing any real damage. Those goals work, but I’ve come to realize that they are not deep enough, or at least that I have not thought them through enough. I don’t really know why she has these goals. I don’t know if she really hates my main character, or only thinks she ought to hate her. I don’t know what she thinks she will get out of her current course of action. I’m not sure she knows, herself.

I do understand something of her motivations–my main character’s family “wronged” this character’s family, or at least that’s the way she sees it. And she definitely wants to do something about that. She’s driven by a mix of curiosity and a desire for vengeance, but she’s also searching for something. She knows that in some important ways, my main character and her family are like her, so I think she’s unwittingly drawn to them. It could be that without meaning to or expecting it, she actually comes to like my main character.

That may influence her actions, or it may only influence how she feels about her actions. I’m not sure yet. The storyline as it currently stands leaves much about this character unresolved, left for another time and another book. I’d like to retain some of this open-endedness, but I’m not sure how I’m going to do it if I do end up inside her head. I’ll have to reveal a lot more about what she knows and how she thinks. It might not be as neat and tidy as it is now.

But I think…I think it will make for a much stronger story, which is really the bottom line, isn’t it? And once we start hearing these little whispers from the characters in our heads, they become pretty difficult to ignore. She’s telling me “I have more to say,” and I think I’d probably be wise to listen…

Photo credit: mzacha

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

pizza-oven

Some things cook, and some things burn.


I don’t know about other writers, but I, for one, am always looking for a better recipe for writing success. Of course, no single recipe is going to work for every writer, and sometimes it takes a lot of trial and error before you find the combination of ingredients that works for you. Thus, the writer’s test kitchen.


Admittedly, we’re all working with a lot of the same ingredients. Twenty-six letters, check. Determination, check. Imagination, check. Mad wordsmithing skills…hopefully. But that’s not really what I’m talking about. I’m talking more about the practical methodologies, strategies, tricks, lies, and motivators we use to get the job done.


This year, as I mentioned previously, I’m working at being more consistent, and less procrastinate-y. (Is that even a word? If not, I’ve just coined it. Feel free to make use of it as you will.) So here are some of the ingredients I’m cooking up in my test kitchen to see what comes out of the oven at the end of the year:


One daily dose of writing at 750words.com. Yes, I’ve experimented with this ingredient before. It’s got a lot going for it: privacy, motivation, cute badges to earn, reminder emails. I think my longest streak prior to this attempt was 46 days, so I’m out to beat that, at least. 46 days is 34,500 words right there, so whether I use it for blogging, fiction, private rants, or stream of consciousness, it’s productive.


Public goals. Yep, I’m telling the world that I’m finishing some stuff this year. This is a good motivator for me, because I really hate to look like a failure. In anything. Ever. (Note that I have not yet said how many things I will finish this year. Because, see previous sentence.)


Treadmill desk. Although I logged a goodly number of miles at the treadmill desk at the beginning of last year, I did fall off (although not literally) as the year progressed. There were many reasons for this, which I will not bore you with here. However, I have found that I am generally highly motivated to keep writing as long as I keep walking, which should prove useful in trying to be more productive. Also, benefits health-and-weight-wise.


Storylines. Nothing helps me wrangle a manuscript into shape better than doing an index card layout in Writer’s Cafe Storylines. I can visualize the entire story arc, see where characters appear, note the flow of plots and subplots, and insert revision notes exactly where they have to go.


Nirvana app. This little online beauty is great at helping keep goals, lists, and next actions organized and focused. It works on the Getting Things Done principle, and I started using it partway through 2013 with pretty decent success. I’m hoping it will help me stay organized, focused, and also keep me from getting bogged down in those not-writing things.


Evernote. Invaluable for storing notes, ideas, lists, and everything else I will need to keep organized. I use it in conjunction with Nirvava because I like to use Nirvana for time-sensitive things, but Evernote is for, well, everything.


A batch of unfinished manuscripts. Of course, a core ingredient if this is to be the Year of Finishing. I’ll have to vet, assess, and categorize these right off the bat, to see how they might each fit into the yearly plan. For this, I’ll likely use Evernote.


Add all ingredients, mix well, and bake in a consistently hot oven for a year. We’ll see what tasty treats emerge at the end.


Photo credit: Lotus Head




Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

the-road-to-your-destiny-by-stealth37-nice-wallpaper-1600x1200In other words, looking back and looking ahead. :)


2013 was a great writing year for me. I started the year by completing revisions on One’s Aspect to the Sun, which then came out from Tyche Books in November. So far it’s been getting wonderful reviews and readers really seem to be enjoying it, which makes me very happy. That was my big news and my big accomplishment, but there were other writing accomplishments, too.


My story, “ePrayer,” came out in Third Person Press’ newest anthology, Grey Area, which also added another notch to my editorial belt. Grey Area was partially funded through our Indiegogo campaign, which was quite an experience in itself–time consuming and sometimes frustrating, but ultimately satisfying. Also with Third Person Press, we read submissions and made final decisions for our next anthology, Flashpoint, so we’ll be moving on to line edits for those stories soon.


I finished a short story for submission to another anthology, and that story became the jumping-off point for my NaNoWriMo effort. NNWM was a win, and although that story is far from finished, I’m pleased with it and will continue to work on it.


I also put two other novels into submission, in March. I’m still waiting to hear on those, and, to tell the truth, I’m getting impatient. Having been through the experience of waiting a long time for a publisher and eventually pulling the manuscript, I’ve vowed not to do that again. That’s a blog post all by itself, though, so I’ll talk more about that another day.


I worked on yet another novel manuscript, which is very close to being finished. I had planned a “novel swap” with a writer friend, but it didn’t come to be. I just couldn’t seem to finish the last few chapters in a way that satisfied me. With luck, he’ll still be willing and we’ll get to that this year, once I wrangle those chapters into shape.


I did preliminary revision work on two other unfinished novel manuscripts, and did some background work on Nearspace, the setting for One’s Aspect to the Sun. Yes, there are more stories to be told in that universe. No, I don’t have any details to share with you yet.


All of which is wonderful but…I could do more.


Once upon a time, I used to start more stories than I finished. Over time, I learned that this was, at least in part, due to starting to write too soon. I’d get an idea and start writing before I had let it “simmer” long enough in my brain. I don’t get along well with outlines, but I’ve learned that I do need to be able to see the structure of the story in my head before I start writing that first scene. That scene usually comes to me full-blown, so it’s very, very tempting to just “get it down” quickly. But as I said, I learned not to give in to that temptation, and finished more stories.


However, I find myself in the position of having a lot of unfinished manuscripts on my hard drive again. I’m not sure what the problem is now; partly trying to juggle too many projects, partly spending too much time on “writerly” things that are not actually writing, partly my propensity to procrastinate. (There, I’ve admitted it!) This time they are mostly novels, as opposed to short stories, thanks to NaNoWriMo, but still…they need to be finished. I came close to finishing that one I mentioned earlier, but didn’t quite make it.


Last year I set just one goal for myself for 2013; I would publish a novel. I’ve decided to make 2014 the Year of Finishing. I’m not saying I won’t start anything new this year, of course, but I really like many of these stories that are languishing only partially complete. I want to go back to them, finish writing them, and make them shine.


I also hope to blog more consistently this year. Last night at our New Year’s celebrations I threw two hopes into the resolution box: more consistency and less procrastinating in my writing life overall. With some luck and determination, they should combine to produce more finished manuscripts in the months to come. Stay tuned and we’ll see what happens from here.


Photo credit: Stealth37

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

typeCN0047Earlier this evening there was a tweet going around, linking to “8 Signs That You Were Meant to Be a Writer.” Of course I clicked over to read the eight signs. I like to see how predictable I am sometimes.

Sadly, I didn’t really like the list and explanations. It’s not that they were wrong, necessarily, but it was all sort of drippy and sappy and the explanations for each item were not really explanations at all. It talked about things like secret dreams (about writing) and excuses (for writing instead of doing other things) and yearning (to write). Which is not to say that these things are NOT signs that you were meant to be a writer. I’m not trashing the article. However, I believe the interpretations were slightly off the mark and I have re-interpreted them in what I think are more realistic terms here.*

1. Secret Dreams. Yes, writers have secret dreams. Sometimes they are even about writing. More often they are about quitting the day job, writing the next breakout novel, or even just getting something published so that your family and friends will stop calling you a “writer” in quotation marks and you can stop feeling guilty about all that money you spent on books, workshops, and computer software for writers.

2. Doubt. Absolutely. Doubt is always sticking its head in at the door and saying “Excuse me, loser, but I thought you should know that last paragraph you wrote is absolutely dreadful, that character is so wooden you should name him Pinocchio, and the plot is so full of holes that you could strain jelly through it.” Is doubt a sign that you’re meant to be a writer? Maybe. Because a lot of people who obviously aren’t meant to be writers don’t seem to have any doubt about it at all.

3. Excuses. I have to do laundry. I have to clean the house. I have to make cookies for the school bake sale. I have to exercise now. I have to scour the bathroom cupboards with an old toothbrush and then paint the barn. I have to redesign my website. I have to use social media for the next four hours to promote my writing career. Okay, excuses: check.

4. Inspiration. If you were meant to be a writer, you probably have a love/hate relationship with inspiration. You know that you can’t always wait for it, and that you must learn to work without it or create your own. But it does come to you at times. Usually when you’re driving on a four-lane highway, taking kids to a birthday party, having an emergency meeting with your boss, or giving birth.

5. Perfectionism. If you’re meant to be a writer, perfectionism will always occur in inverse proportion to the amount that is required in a given situation. You’ll think your sucky first draft is good enough and send it to an editor when it’s still so rough it will scratch the editor’s eyeballs. On the other hand, you’ll rewrite, edit, tweak and polish your novel so much in search of perfection that it will start to wear thin and you’ll never send it out.

6. Admiration. You’ll admire other writers, of course. You’ll admire their writing style, their relationship with their adoring fans, their ability to support themselves with their writing, and the wonderful way they “pay it forward” by taking fledgling writers (not you, of course) under their wing and helping THEM become successful, too. Oh, wait. I was thinking of jealousy.

7. Lacking. When you don’t write, you feel like something is missing. But sometimes when you do write, you also feel like something is missing, because it was something you were supposed to do (go to work? feed the kids?) during the time you spent writing. You could end up lacking a job, a family, or a place to live. Oops. Yes, lacking is often a large part of being a writer.

8.Yearning. Yearning to write. Didn’t we cover this in number 1? And possibly number 7 as well? Okay, yes, writers have yearnings. To write, and sometimes to not write. To find perfection, and sometimes to have someone come in and just fix the whole damn mess for you, slap your name on it and call it a day. To have an unlimited supply of chocolate and caffeine, a brilliant idea, and an all-expenses paid week-long writing retreat? Yearning. Oh yeah.

So…are you meant to be a writer? If you’ve read this far, it’s quite probable, because you’re likely supposed to be editing that novel right now…

*Sometimes I write things that I think are funny. If you don’t agree, you don’t have to tell me about it. Just move along, folks, move along.

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

papercrumpleAs a writer, I’m very aware of the power of words. I hope to write things that harness and use that power, whether I want to make my readers laugh, cry, think, feel–I know that with the right words, I can make any of that happen. I work hard to find those right words, even when they seem unattainable.

I know that it takes hard work to arrive at the “right” words. We write, and then we write again, and then we write again, hoping that each draft brings us closer to the goal. Even then we rewrite, edit, tweak, and sometimes cut out large swathes of the words we had previously worked so hard on, that seemed so right at the time, and replace them with something that works better now. And maybe we finally arrive at the point where we think it’s “right,” and others agree, and we publish it, and there it is, all printed and official and real. Powerful. Persuasive. Permanent.

And then we read it later–maybe years later–and see how we could have made it better. Or we read it and realize that it’s dated, or we got something wrong, or things just didn’t turn out the way we had envisioned. This can be particularly true for science fiction writers. It doesn’t mean our words or the story they told were not good at the time. But if we were writing the same thing today, with today’s knowledge and understanding and context, we would write it differently. Verne’s From the Earth to The Moon might seem silly now because we know that we can’t travel to the moon by being shot from a cannon–and yet it is not completely without value. It remains fun to read as a product of its time, and it inspired Tsiolkovsky to develop his theory of spaceflight. It has been outdated in some ways, but still forms the foundation of what followed.

Sometimes we have to accept that our words–or words we love, or which have great importance for us–get it wrong, or become outdated, or lose some portion of their value. Maybe it’s a function of the time they were written in; maybe it’s a function of imperfect knowledge by the writer; maybe (and this is the most common, I think) the world just works differently now. Does it really make sense to think that all words written two hundred, three hundred, a thousand years ago can apply to the world today? How much has the world changed in your lifetime, or in your grandparents’ lifetimes?

Words that were written long ago, even very important words–although this is painful for many people to accept–can lose some of their relevance. Sometimes they simply no longer apply because society and social norms and values have changed. Sometimes they have been misinterpreted and the results don’t make sense in a contemporary context. Sometimes they have been perfectly well interpreted–but the results still don’t make sense because the world to which they are being applied is not the same world in which they were written. When, in fact, the world to which they are being applied could not even have been imagined by the writer or writers.

As a culture, we value the power of the written word, sometimes further and more blindly than we should. We think we have “rights” because a long time ago, someone wrote it down and others living at the time agreed with it. We think we know how to live in the world because someone wrote a set of rules that made sense at the time and with the state of knowledge and understanding at that time. This is true for political documents, and religious documents, and historical documents.

We cannot take it as a given that all these written words are infallible or immutable–when we do, we run the risk of allowing their power to become twisted and terrible. We can’t simply point to words and say “See? This says X and so that’s the way things are.” We must ask if we can reasonably expect to apply these writings to a world which would not even be recognizable to those who wrote them. It’s quite possible that some parts will stand the test of time. But from time to time they must be questioned and re-evaluated to see if they still hold true and are still relevant. Sometimes we need to think about what it really is we are trying to defend. We may need to look deeper into words to identify their true meaning, spirit, or intent. Sometimes words are not black and white.

And if they don’t bear up under this close and demanding examination, then maybe it’s time to rewrite them, edit them, or acknowledge that they have outlived their usefulness. They are only words, and they have only as much power as we choose to give them. We can always write more, that will serve us better.

June 2017

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