Wherein coloring M.O. predicts the future

Every Sunday, I spend an hour and a half with five three-year-olds at church. It’s an adventure, let me tell you. I’ve listened in on a lot of jabbering conversations about camping, marshmallows, death (I can’t believe how many discussions they’ve started about death), and the correct way to color.

Yesterday, as I was watching them color a page about the Holy Ghost, I noticed how different their coloring methods are. One scribbles over the entire page with several different colors. Another colors in certain parts, like the eyes or the mouths, with a single color and then flips it over and draws something on the back. Another colors in everything very carefully (well, as carefully as a three-year-old colors) in the right colors. Another rarely gets around to the coloring, as it takes him twice as long as the others to eat his snack.

I was joking with the husband after church about what a kid’s coloring M.O. says about future life prospects. Of course, you can’t predict what a three-year-old’s adult life with be like; but you can’t deny that kids have a very developed personality by three years. So, translating that into the writing world, here’s your writing challenge for this week:

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Write a scene showing a character’s traits as a young child that translate into a distinct aspect of personality later on in life.

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Shaking the Slump

As a writer, it’s absurdly easy to go from feeling like you’re writing the next bestseller to feeling like you’re writing something not fit even for rats to consume. Here are a few suggestions to shake yourself out of that writer’s slump:

  • Get feedback from your mom. Or your best friend, or your significant other, or anyone who is obligated to love whatever you write. Even if it’s someone you normally trust to give an honest critique, tell them straight out that you need a shameless ego boost. We all do sometimes.
  • Reread your favorite part of your story. It’s a good way to remind yourself that you enjoy what you write and that you can write well.
  • Get away from your work. Ideally, get outside. It is winter, so going outside may not be an attractive option, but just do something that takes your focus away from how terrible of a writer you think you are. Exercise of some sort is a great option: going for a walk, doing a few crunches, jumping jacks, anything to get your blood and endorphins flowing.
  • Write something else that will remind you how much you love writing. Even if it’s just a goofy one-off scene that will never turn into anything, write it to remember the joy of writing.
  • Evaluate your motivation to write. If you’re writing for fame and money, you’re in the wrong business, pal. Nothing but fire and passion can possibly bring you through the torture of dragging a book from inside your mind and wrestling it to the page word by word. Once you realign your motivation and remember that you’re writing this book because it has to come out, not because the rest of the world has to like it, it’s easier to get past that fear of failure.
  • If you’re still worried about whether people are going to like your book, remember that there are people in this world who hate Harry Potter. Insane, I know, but there you go. It doesn’t matter how good a book is, there are always people whose tastes will not align with it, and that’s okay. Just because someone doesn’t like it doesn’t mean that it’s terrible.
  • Remember that you’re still awesome. Bad writing does not a bad writer make. Even if you just wrote the lamest scene ever to appear on paper (or computer), you’re still an awesome writer because YOU ARE WRITING. Plan to fix it later, let it go, and keep on writing, because that’s the kind of awesome writer you are.

So there are my strategies. What do you do to get yourself out of a slump?

Winding up for the pitch

Pitches are baffling to me. Or rather, the construction of pitches. Sure, there are formulas all over the Internet on how to craft the perfect pitch, but I think I’ve made clear how much stock I put in those hard-and-fast writing rules. Although I did come up with a pitch for Demon’s Heart, I have far less practice writing pitches than I do writing novels, so creating the perfect pitch seems to me like trying to catch a fly with your bare hands, except that once you start trying you realize that your hands are duct-taped to your knees and, come to think of it, you’re not even really sure there is a fly.

So I’m appealing to the greater knowledge and experience of the Internet to see if I can at least get the duct tape off my hands. When do you form your pitch? Early in the writing process, or are you like me, where you get to the end and think, Crap, I have to sum this up in one sentence? Do you practice your pitch? On whom? How do you get feedback? Have you participated in any of those Twitter pitch contests, or any other sort of pitch contest? What was your experience?

Irrational Fears

Do you know how many times you press the Ctrl key on your keyboard in a day? I never thought about it . . . until mine stopped working. You know, right after I had replaced my power cord. Sheesh. But now I have a fabulous new wireless keyboard and mouse, and I’m wondering why on earth I’ve been using that stupid little touch pad for my mouse all these years. This is amazing!

With all these little wonky things going wrong with my computer, I’ve been growing insanely paranoid about losing all the pictures, digital scrapbooking, and family history books I’ve been working on lately. (But not my writing. That’s already backed up in four or five different places, don’t worry.) So I’ve been coming up with all these crazy schemes to back up those files several times, until my eternally patient husband reminded me that all of these files are also on his computer and our external hard drive, and many of the pictures are on my family blog and other family members’ computers as well. So I guess even if my computer does go crazy and corrupts all my picture files, I won’t lose ALL of my baby’s pictures. (You know, all ten billion of them.)

I still maintain that my fear of losing our photos is not completely irrational, but it got me thinking about those amusing irrational fears that crop up at the most unexpected times. I knew someone who was afraid of stickers. Another, onions.

Me? Play-Doh. I cringe when I’m in the same room with it. I can’t tell you how much I hate the smell and the feel of it. If it’s fresh homemade play dough, I do okay–it doesn’t smell as bad, and it doesn’t feel quite as soul-shudderingly horrifying. But even homemade play dough starts to get gross when it’s been sitting a week or two.

What are some of the weirdest irrational fears you’ve come across? Or some of your own?

And, for your Monday writing challenge:

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Write a humorous scene where one of your characters’ irrational fears comes into play.

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Folded wings beside my desk

Do you ever have a moment where you’re laughing at a totally bizarre, off-the-wall character . . . and then you realize it’s only that funny because it’s totally you?

Like in Okay For Now, by Gary D. Schmidt, where Doug Swieteck comes face to face with the mysterious and eccentric Mrs. Windermere, and she’s so busy hammering away at her typewriter that she can’t be bothered to let the delivery boy in, until she gets so fed up with his persistent knocking that she informs him that he is disrupting a very delicate moment:

“Creativity is a god who comes only when he pleases, and it isn’t very often. But when he does come, he sits beside my desk and folds his wings and I offer him whatever he wants and in exchange he lets me type all sorts of things that get turned into plays for which people who own New York stages are waiting. And right now, he is sitting by my desk, and he is being very kind. So if you would go away . . .” (47-48)

Mrs. Windermere isn’t exactly a major character, but I love her to pieces because I can now explain to my husband that Creativity has folded his wings beside my desk and he knows what I mean.

The thing she doesn’t mention is that Creativity generally chooses to fold his wings at rather inopportune times. Like when I had set aside a week for intensive revision of one book, and instead I’ve spent that week streaming out chapter after chapter of something entirely different.

But hey, who am I to argue with Creativity? If I keep up at this rate, my pancake draft will be done in another two or three weeks. Considering that I am not and have never been a NaNoWriMo type writer, that’s an impressive feat.

Okay, the wings are flapping impatiently. I better get back to work. But leave me some comment lovin’ and tell me–what does Creativity have you working on these days?

Defined by Books

I’ve been spending a lot of time on character development for one of my current projects. Mix that with an interview and a discussion of books and reading I’ve got going this week, and I started to wonder . . .

Which books would my characters enjoy?

It’s something that I inadvertently touched on in various drafts of Demon’s Heart, though only a tiny bit of it made it in the end. Rustav is into the histories and wars. Dantzel is more of the mythology and folklore type. Cabel would be all over the great epics.

But with my other project being set in the real world, I started thinking about specific titles that my two protagonists would read. I suppose it’s somewhat limited, as I can only come up with the books that I’ve actually read and I don’t think either of these two would share all my literary tastes, but you make do with what you have.

Enoch’s the easier one. At twelve, I’m sure he’s already read the entire Harry Potter series. Chronicles of Narnia, of course. Percy Jackson. Joshua Dread. Lots of series. Oh, but he would love Wonder. And Al Capone Does My Shirts.

Tom’s a little harder. He’s not much of a reader, but he’d love Michael Crichton. He might enjoy The Hunger Games, but I’ve never read them, so I’m not sure. The Giver would resonate with him. Possibly Holes. He also likes some of the Shakespeare movies his mom watches, though he’d never admit it to anyone.

So this week’s writing challenge is less writing and more challenge. Tell me—what books would your characters read? Or what books would some of your favorite literary characters read?

Computers and Fire Swamps

I’ve been without a computer for a week plus, as my laptop cord died last week and I’ve been waiting on the replacement. It came today, and let me tell you, I’ve never been so happy to touch a keyboard in my life. Recording pages of creative inspiration on a tablet took way too much thumb dexterity. Thankfully, it has now been fully transferred back to my computer to be expanded using more than two fingers, and my thumbs have been relegated to space bar duty.

While my computer was out of commission, I had a guest post over at Meet Your Main Character about my days working in the Fire Swamps. Or, well, something like that. Check it out!