I Suck at Decisions (Picking the Nano Project)

As the title suggests- I suck at decisions. I promised myself that I would have my Nano Project picked out by the end of the weekend, it wasn’t an unreasonable goal. The issue is I have far too many choices jostling for my attention. Currently sitting on my shelf are about 10 binders- each one containing the innocent beginnings of a new novel- partially planned out and awaiting my attentions. And then in the desk drawer below that I have a folder filled with a few dozen snippets of ideas that haven’t fully formed yet. These stories also run the gamut of genres. I’ve never liked working in a box, so I have made it my personal mission to attempt them all at least once. Though the majority of my work falls into the general realm of fiction, with a few dabbling into fantasy. Like I said- picking just one to focus on is not an easy task. I keep on bouncing between a few possibilities, and each time I decide that I am going to stick with it- but two hours later I’m floundering again and thinking that perhaps the other idea would be the right choice.

The two main contenders both fall into the realm of fantasy, which, as I said, is a bit unusual for me. The first is a complete re-write of a story I wrote a few years ago. It is best described as The X-Men meets Divergent. The pros: I already know the characters and plot, I just need to re-do it all. The cons: I am worried that the original draft will get distracting and that I will burn out before I finish it. 

The second choice is something I have never done- it falls in the realm of paranormal romance. It’s a Seattle Vampire story that would be most akin to The Vampire Diaries. That’s right, I said it- vampires. This is something completely new, it would stretch my writing muscles in directions they have never gone. It will include a lot of history, a slight romance, a mystery that needs to be solved, secret cults, etc. The pros: it’s a clean slate and something to really test myself with because I have never done a project like this. Cons: I have only the vaguest of ideas on what plot points I want to hit, so it will take a bit longer to prep for, and I am worried it would be very easy to run into creating a cliché piece of work.

So that is the current decision that I am trying to sort through. I can’t really delve into any of my prep work until I make a final choice. So yea- I suck with decisions. The struggle is real. If anyone has a vote, please- leave me a comment, I will take any advice.

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Planning or Pantsing?

As another Camp Nano draws near, the epic battle of the Planners vs the Pantsers is set to commence. For those of you who count yourselves amongst the proud ranks of the Nanoers- I am sure you have your own strong stance, ready to charge into this battle with pens uncapped to slay your enemies with valiant verbosity.

Now, the Planning vs Pantsing debate really boils down to how you decide to write. Do you like to plot out your story in advance and follow an outline, or do you prefer to wing it, to ‘fly by the seat of your pants?’ Never one to shy away from a challenge, I’ve tried both over the years.

When I started writing, I was a tried and true pantser. Planning seemed like an imposter’s role- if I had every detail plotted out, then what would be the fun in telling the story? I wanted to feel the natural twists and turns, and I balked at the idea that of writing within the confines of a plan. After a few novel attempts I learned a few things. Number one: When I pants, I am far less likely to make it past the first ten or fifteen pages. I run out of steam without my direction, I don’t know which scenes I have to look forward to, and I lose interest constantly having to rack my brain for the next mini adventure. Second- when I did make it past the ten pages- I rambled. A lot. I would fill the void when I didn’t know where my story was going, in hopes that my character’s sudden bout of extended dialog would give me a clue about where they should be going next. Out of that period of my life I think I wound up with one finished project- and about two dozen partially started seeds. They were promising seeds, but without proper care, they were simply languishing on my shelf, just one more item on my to-do list.

I knew it was time for a change, if I ever wanted to feel like an accomplished writer, I needed to mature my style a bit. It was time to level up: it was time to plan.

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I was a born planner in my personal life. As nerdy as it may sound, I get a thrill from crossing off items on my daily to-do lists. And I go to bed in shame when there are inevitably a few unfinished items still staring up at me, with what I assume is judgement in their i’s. (See what I did there? That pun is gold- go ahead, feel free to laugh heartily). Planning would be a piece of crumb cake, I would be a natural. So I went out and bought all of the organizational tools I could think of. Binder, loose leaf paper, sticky notes, binder dividers, colored tabs. I was ready to go. I planned everything, running through my story from start to finish, attempting to nail down every little detail. I was excited, it felt like I was adulating all over the place.

And then I started to write. It didn’t take long to realize the error of my ways. You see, in all of my time planning, I had thought of my characters and what they would do in my imagined scenarios. But I had never ‘met’ my characters. Thinking about how they will be, and then seeing how they translate on a page are two very different things in my experience. Through my writing I discover who they are. This method didn’t allow for those variations in personality, nor did it give much credence to any spur of the moment creative decisions that I love to make to develop my story. Planning was a bust. I had tried too hard, I had overshot the goal.

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Back to the proverbial drawing board. This is the moment when my true style came into being, the hybrid that has served me well for many years now. I am more of a pantsing planner now (or a planning pantser?). I still have the binder, I still have it sectioned out between my character analyses, world building, and the plot points. But before I start, I only write down the bare bones of the story, a few key plot points that I know I will want to hit, the rest of it remains blank. Think of it like a road trip: I mark the cities I want to stop in at, but I’ll choose which roads to take me there as I’m driving. I get the best of both worlds: creative freedom to follow the story where it chooses to lead me, but I still have a roughly drawn map in my back pocket when I find myself mired down in the pits of writer’s block. If things aren’t lining up perfectly, that’s okay. I will take the time to close any gaps and make stronger connections between a few of those dots when I run back through for editing.There is no right or wrong way to work through your story. You have to experiment and find what works for you. It took me years to find my perfect balance, but I couldn’t be happier.

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So where do I fall in the epic battle? Somewhere in the middle- the peace negotiator who needs both sides to survive. So please, my friends, stop throwing pens like they’re arrows, they are much better used on the blank page. What about you? Leave a comment with your own personal style.

Camp NanoWriMo: Pre-Madness Month

It’s official, there is less than one month left before the start of the July session of Camp Nano. The site is open and ready for you to sign up and register your novel. I am so excited, and yet a bit apprehensive. There is so much left to do before the end of the month, how am I going to find the time? Because missing a Nano is out of the question.

For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about- I’ll give you a quick run down. Camp Nano is an offshoot of the main Nano, also known as NanoWriMo, which stands for National Novel Writing Month. It’s a virtual writing challenge where thousands of people across the globe sign up to tackle a single venture at the same time. The main event takes place every November. The challenge: to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Nano has actually been around since 1999, but I didn’t discover it until 2013- I haven’t missed a Nano or Camp session since.

The Camp Nano is the figurative little brother of the November session. It has more of a community focus to it. If you sign up, you get the option to join virtual cabins- either of your own creation or through a bot that will randomly place you. You also get to set your own customized word count goal- whatever you want it to be. Every person in your cabin has their own project to work on, but you get to network and talk throughout the month as you all embark on the adventure together. Rest assured, it is a virtual camp- there is no ravel required, and no real roughing it unless you decide to take your laptop out on the back patio.

I am addicted, I’ll tell you that upfront- and if anyone reading this is interested in writing- I strongly suggest you give it a shot, what do you have to lose? It’s such a positive community, it is one of the few places where I feel completely accepted. My oddball interests and quirks suddenly aren’t so strange anymore. Plus- there are thousands of writers who have years of experience, tips and tricks to share. And they are more than willing to help anyone who stumbles across their path.

So here we are, at the beginning of June, less than one month out from the start of camp. There is so much to do to get ready this time around. I still have to decide what project I want to dedicate my time to this year, preferably something that wont require massive amounts of research to prepare. I think I’m going to be trying something crazy again- as I said before, the usual word count goal is 50k, which is a challenge when you have your regular life still moving forward without pause. So far I’ve managed to hit it every time. But the past few sessions I made my own private goal: one I still haven’t touched. I want to hit that coveted 100k in 30 days. That’s it- the big dream, the word series kind of goal I have fallen just shy of every other Nano.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t apprehensive- I have a lot more on my plate this year that I have had in the past. It’s quickly turning into vacation season at work- which means I will be busy covering everyone who is out of the office. Besides that, I have this blog that I refuse to neglect. There are a few side projects that I am hoping to have in full swing by the time July rolls around. And who can forget my regular life that I can’t just hide away from- there will be no living in seclusion this Camp. In spite of all of the demands for my time, I know I have to try anyways. I have to beat my old record, I have to get better this time. If I plan it right, I might be able to push for it. It’s just going to be one hell of a month.

 

Life and Work: The Balancing Act

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Like nearly all other writers out there- I have a day job. Now, fate was kind to me, and it is a job that I deeply enjoy- but it is also a job that takes up the majority of my week. Between the time it takes me to get ready in the morning (I move glacially slow before 7am), my commute to and from work, and my time actually spent there- that is about 12 and a half hours of my day, 5 days a week, already spoken for. That’s just for my regularly scheduled programming; sleep sold separately.

We live in a world where we are constantly moving, other people and things are poking and prying for attention- in fact as I sit here typing this, I have a black and white kitty attempting to head butt my fingers off of the keyboard to pet him already- before giving up and sitting on them. That will show me.

I wish I could tell you that there was some secret to making it all work- managing to have your day job, your writing career, friends and family that feel both valued and loved by you, and still squirreling away some time for yourself. I would love to impart some words of wisdom that would transform you into the superhero of your own life, kicking ass and taking names.

But if we writers know anything, it is that growth is only born from the struggle. Becoming a good writer is like anything else in life- you have to fight for it. You have to decide that it is important enough. You have to learn the balance that will make you (and those that you love) happy. Now, I don’t have a magical solution- but I do have years of trial-and-error that have helped me get closer to my own balance.

For starters, and I can’t stress this enough- whatever you are doing, be present in it, be fully immersed- in all aspects of your life. If you are writing, be in your writing, not poking around online (unless it is research that you cannot make it through another scene without). If you are spending time with loves ones- be in the moment. Do not ‘take two seconds’ to check up on the status of your last blog post- because trust me, if you seem to be distracted they will probably notice and say something. And that conversation will go much better for you if you don’t have to ask them what they said because you were only halfway paying attention. We live in an age of instant gratification- don’t fall victim to it.

Second, know and maintain your schedule. When you have a laundry list of things to do each day, and only a couple of free hours to cram them in- take the extra time to plan. Perhaps you have happy hour after work tomorrow, and you know you won’t ‘have just one and head home early’ (even though you always tell yourself that you will)- maybe you should go to bed early tonight, so you can wake up and get a bit of writing done before work. Or perhaps your schedule fits better as a lunch-hour or weekend writer- know yourself and your schedule, otherwise you will be setting yourself up for failure.

Don’t run yourself ragged. You need time for yourself too, after everything else is said and done. You need to recharge. Getting outside and going for a walk, or starting a workout routine can be helpful. I know it seems counter-productive, this whole post is about finding time to write in your busy schedule, so why add something seemingly unrelated on top of the heap of items you should accomplish? Trust me- your work will thank you. Your brain needs a break too. A big part of finding the time is to use the time you have available more wisely. I am a firm believer in working smarter, not harder. So give yourself regular breaks, get your blood pumping and your brain working more efficiently- then you will need less time to produce a higher caliber of work. Sometimes the answers are hidden in plain sight, and sometimes all you need is to take better care of yourself.

At the end of the day, it will come down to you, it will come down to whether you want this enough. Writing is one of the hardest things I have done, but I don’t know how to be me without it. That is my reason, that is my purpose. I do this for me.

 

 

Jumping off the Bridge (crossing out of the comfort zone)

I once jumped off of a bridge because my friends did. (Sorry mom, but I can explain).

It was early spring, and still cold enough to be comfortable in jeans and a sweatshirt, but the sun was out and there was not a drop of rain in sight (a rare treat in the pacific northwest). We were on a white water rafting trip for my friend’s birthday- the first time I had ever done something like that. I was already feeling emboldened because I had not only managed to climb into the raft without any help, but I had also succeeded in staying in it the entire time- didn’t even lose my paddle! So naturally, being dry and warm in my wet suite- it seemed like a perfectly logical idea to take the guide’s offer to climb out of my little raft and scramble up to the cement monstrosity we had just managed to pass under. I even convinced my sister to follow along (again- sorry mom, but big sister peer pressure is a force to be reckoned with).

That was all it took- not even gentle prodding, just the mere mention of this possible adventure, and there I was. Standing on the cement railing, staring down into the dark rushing waters below me as four rafts of college aged students (most of which I didn’t even know) stared up at me with gleaming expectation in their eyes.

Now, let me explain something to you- a vital element to this story. I have two big fears: heights and deep water. And there I was, standing on the edge of a bridge glaring into the eyes of both of them. I remember thinking that after everything, I wouldn’t be able to do it. I would be the only one to turn tail and walk sheepishly back down to the rafts, dry as a bone. I stood there and nearly froze, perched precariously on the railing, staring down into the black water. And then my friends started cheering for me- perhaps they were able to see the slight hint of panic in my face, or they noticed the way my muscles tensed and I stopped breathing.

I knew that all I had to do was take one step off of that ledge- just one, and then there would be no more going back, it would be done. It would be over in a heartbeat. All I had to do was go- and forget the fact that I was stepping out into a void of nothingness. Before I could let my brain catch up and realize what I was doing, my body moved.

You always expect that something crazy and adventurous would go quickly, it would be over in the blink of an eye- I would hit the water, and all would be right in my world once more. Don’t let the lies fool you- that’s not how it happened. Everything was suddenly going in slow motion. I had more than enough time for my brain to catch on to what was happening and berate me for what a stupid decision I had just made. Jumping off of a bridge? Really Katie? A bridge? Isn’t that the exact example all parents use because its just so ludicrous, who in their right mind would do it? I am pretty sure I could have read the entire works of Sherlock Holmes and Don Quixote- and still had time for a spot of tea- all in that endless moment from when my feet left the cement bridge to when the water engulfed me from below. And all I could do was stare at it’s lapping waves as I approached, as the dark expanse of water slowly grew larger. The whole time I was hoping it wouldn’t hurt too bad when I hit, and secretly willing my body to magically learn the art of teleportation and zap me back up onto the bridge.

And then I was in, the water was cold as it enveloped me, slowing me down as I sunk towards the bottom. It was done, I was kicking towards the surface, fleetingly wondering how deep this little water hole really was, and whether Lake Placid style crocodiles could ever hide in a place this far north (fully immersed underwater, it seemed like a plausible possibility- so I kicked harder). I half floated, half swam back to the raft where my friends pulled me in and I looked up to watch the next person take their death defying leap.

I grinned like a Cheshire cat the rest of the way- and I’m actually doing it again now as I relive this memory. There is something about knowing your boundaries and your fears- and tossing them to the wind anyways.

If there is anything that I have learned, it’s that every story we have worth telling starts at the edge of our comfort zones. We just have to be brave enough to take that leap outside of our self-imposed boundaries. I am the first to admit that I forget this fact a lot. But this year I have been fighting for my adventures, the spice that peppers my writing. Some days all I want to do is curl up on my couch and ignore whatever is waiting for me outside that door. But the other thing life has taught me- you never regret opening that door, even if it all turns out disastrously- you have one more memory, one more moment to shape who you will become. I don’t know about you, but I want to be the girl who did something- even if it was as crazy as jumping off of a bridge in spite of your fears.

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Write drunk, Edit Sober: The Controversy

I can confidently say that there are people who don’t understand this blog or it’s intent- they think that I’m touting alcoholism and writing as something funny or glamorous. So it seemed like today was a good opportunity to delve into this debacle.

“Write drunk, edit sober,” four little words that seem to stir up debates no matter how you spin them. Let’s start with who said it- this quote is most commonly attributed to Hemingway, you can look at nearly any Etsy store with a literary theme to see his name plastered right beside it. Although more recently, some in the community have been contesting it, making a firm stand behind American novelist Peter De Vries as the true author. In fact, he has another quote that strikes a suspiciously similar chord:

“Sometimes I write drunk and revise sober, and sometimes I write sober and revise drunk. But you have to have both elements in creation- the Apollonian and the Dionysians, or spontaneity and restraint, emotion and discipline.”

Sounds pretty familiar, right?

How Hemingway may have been erroneously attributed these little words of wisdom that have caught fire in the writing community is no real stretch of the imagination. He was a known alcohol in an era that is somewhat romanticized for it’s creative boozers. Acting as a devil’s advocate- even if he did speak these words, they were not a practice he followed.  Hemingway was actually quite sober when he penned his famous works. He was a morning writer, up and working with the first rays of dawn, generally working from 6am through noon. He would do some editing in the afternoon, and usually didn’t start tipping the bottle until about 3pm, hours after his projects had been put to bed. It never seemed to matter how much he drank- he was always up and ready to work again the next day. He spoke of his work, not like a man who needed a drink to discover his muse, but as a man who needed one when he was not in her company. He was an innately creative soul who struggled when he wasn’t in the active pursuit of his writing.

Which brings me to the real point, the crux of my argument, if you will- regardless of who actually uttered the fateful words- what was their real intent? Now, you could take it at its fact value, following a literal word-for-word interpretation. I guess that would give you a good excuse to start taking shots like there’s no tomorrow- and who would I be to stop you? Hell, maybe you’ll manage to conjure up a vision of your muse (though you might not remember it the next day). Unless you are anything like me- then you’ll have a few drinks, laugh at your own jokes, sing a few Disney songs while doing your best impression of dancing- and fall asleep before you ever power your computer up (and if you manage to make it far enough to see the glowing backlight of your monitor- kudos to you, good luck not getting sucked into the Pinterest void).

Now, as a writer- I struggle with the literal interpretation. It could be all of these years of English classes throughout my education that force me to see symbolism in things as innocuous as the color of the drapes- but I believe this quote is more than the sum of its words. After all, the author of this quote was most likely a writer- a creative soul filled to the brim with literary tricks, so why would they do something as bland and boring as a literal translation? No, I think there’s more hidden under the surface, and it really doesn’t take a lot of scratching to see what is hidden underneath.

When they say to ‘write drunk’ it’s more of a state of mind. Any writer who carries a passion for words knows that feverish zone you occasionally find yourself in; when your mind is buzzing, your fingers cant move fast enough, you can see the flash of your story right before your very eyes, and hear the voices of your characters. You want to be brave and bold in your work, open to fresh ideas and new twists, alive with the heartbeat of the world you created thrumming through your blood. You want to be drunk on the words as the paragraphs slip from your mind onto the page. It’s about writing without inhibition, fully exposing yourself and allowing your ideas to stretch beyond your typical boundaries. Writing drunk is about the passion, that driving force that brings us to the blank page day after day because we have a story inside that must feel the light of day.

After the moment has passed, the passionate writing has run it’s course, then it’s time to be sober; to be calm and methodical about your work. It is the tedious process of editing, where you have to look past your emotions and evaluate the bones of your creation. You need to keep a wary eye on your work, view it with the appraising mindset of an outsider, someone who doesn’t intimately know and love your project simply because it is your own heart and soul bled on the page. You refine it, clean up the ‘drunken’ work and make it presentable. You correct grammar, spelling, and all of the other banalities.

As De Vries said, its about the balance. You need both to function in this little world we have created, too much of one will send you spiraling; they are the yin and yang of the writer’s world. So yes, I am a huge proponent of writing drunk and editing sober- and I can do so without a drink in my hand. So write to excess, work without inhibition- be brave and bold- you might be amazed at what you come up with.

 

Cheers to Facing Fears

Bottoms up, my friends, and welcome to my personal niche out here in the interwebs. Can I let you in on a little secret? This terrifies me. Ironic, isn’t it? A writer who is petrified to let others read her work. Always so quick to snap down the lid of the laptop or toss the ink stained page back into it’s binder anytime I think someone has attempted to sneak a peek at my work in progress. And let’s not forget the death glare and eyes shooting daggers that would send even Jamie Lanister running for his mother.  Yes, I am well aware of how ridiculous I sound. It’s like a sky-diver who’s afraid of heights, a baker who’s deathly allergic to sugar. I could go on, but I’ll save you my exhaustive list of analogies.

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Right now you are probably wondering what could have possibly possessed me to go against everything in my nature and send my words out into the ether for anyone to find? Simply put- it was time. I was sick of waiting for that illusive ‘someday.’ I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I could remember, it was a given- that was my calling in life. But the funny thing is, the rest of the world didn’t seem to get the message. When I stepped out my front door to face my future, the literary road was not laid out and waiting for me to come dancing along with a song on my lips like Dorothy and her Yellow Brick Road. No, the road outside continued to look suspiciously like ordinary asphalt. That didn’t matter, I told myself, I was still young- I could use the time to hone my skills, learn what made the greats so astounding. After all, what was a writer without a few scrapes and experiences to color their work?

So I went out into the big bad world and soaked up all that I could with my modest income. Actually, I went out into the world and found myself an adult job- one I grew to love. I work in the court system, and I have to say- I can’t make up the kinds of stories I hear there. It is something new and exciting every day. But every night I would still come home and carve out some time to invest in my passion, clickity-clacking away at my keyboard like my very soul depended on it. Any maybe it did- if I didn’t write, that fire inside would consume me.

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Naturally, when I decided that it was time to start taking my work more seriously- the research ensued. And, as it turns out (ready for a real bombshell)- if you want to stand a chance at publication in the modern world you need a blog. Feel free to swoon dramatically, I nearly did. That was when I had to ask myself a question- how far am I willing to go to chase that dusty old dream? The answer was simple- as far as I had to. Even doing something as crazy as starting the daunting blog. Here I was, staring up my at my figurative Everest, wondering how I could possibly learn to feel like I wasn’t just winging it every day.

Enter Tipsy Typer.

I’ll spare you the mundane and surprisingly frustrating story that is the search for an adequate blog name someone else hasn’t already scooped up. Curses to those who came up with my ideas a year before they ever found their way into my head. Okay, kudos for jumping out on that limb long before I found my own wings- but still- a few curses. Little ones. Okay, I’ll still read your own damnably clever blog.

This cozy little home of mine is the first step, and after all is said and done, I have to say I am exhilarated to actually be doing it. I’m not going to pretend that I have this whole writing thing figured out- in fact, this blog will mostly be about my own journey trying to navigate this complicated little ecosystem we seem to have. I’ll make mistakes- but perhaps I can stop others from repeating them. This will also be a place for those odds and ends I find in my research, it will be a testament to the daily happenings that shape my work- after all, inspiration comes from the most unlikely of places.

So cheers, my friends, here is to facing our fears. May we help each other climb many more mountains along the way. If there is anything that life has taught me, it’s that the things you are most afraid of have the most to offer you in the end. It’s time to be brave.