Writing for… Fun?

Okay, today’s post is a shout-out to all my other semi-professional writing friends (i.e. people who write in an attempt to make money).

Do you ever write just for fun?

I got an idea for a story which I can’t publish (at least not for money; Wattpad is an option) and I’ve been putting in a good deal of time writing it. I should be proofing my upcoming book, The Flames of Prague. Next on the to-do list after that is proofing Acceptance so I can release it with a new cover. And after that I need to be working on the next installment of the Acceptance series.

And yet, here I am, wasting valuable writing time with something that I’ll never publish for money. But I can’t help it; I’m enjoying the hell out of it.

Of course, writing is never really wasted; everything we write makes us better writers. And I will certainly poach ideas from one thing I’ve written or thought about writing and put it into something else.

Does anyone else write things just for the sheer enjoyment (as opposed to monetary value) of it? Do you write things just for yourself or for a limited group of people (e.g. fan fiction or group fiction)?

I think of it as being like a musician that plays music for himself. Or an artist that paints stuff for her own house. Or a linguist who makes up a language for the hell of it.

To Italicize or Not to Italicize

So, my book woes continue. Now CreateSpace has rejected my interior file because the pages aren’t numbered correctly (a problem I had while I was formatting it, but I thought I had fixed it).

I just want a bleeding proof copy for my beta readers to read. I’m not done with my editing, so the blank pages and page numbers, etc. are all going to have to be dealt with again. At this point, I don’t really care; I just want something they can read so they can give me feedback.

So, question for the writers and editor-types out there:

In English, it is standard to italicize foreign words unless they have entered common parlance. So, you might see déjà vu without italics (although you might see it with; depends on the writer/editor), but when your characters throw out foreign words, like “Oui,” they get italicized

When I was writing Acceptance, and Marie was driven to curse in French, that was easy: it was all italicized. I was more iffy on Micah calling his father “Abba,” since that’s Hebrew for “father.” He used it as a proper noun, and you could make the argument that it was used like a title (titles are not italicized), but he also referred to Isaac as “my father” in English, so there was a definite difference between him  using the English word and the Hebrew word. I ended up italicizing it.

The problem is magnified in The Flames of Prague. The book is set in 14th century Bohemia. While I’m writing in English, the understanding is that all of my characters are speaking Czech. Alzbeta calls her father “Tata,” which is Czech for “dad.” Should it be italicized or no? She calls her mother “Maman,” which is French, and so is foreign to both English and Czech, and therefore should be italicized, but I think it might look weird if I italicize that word, but not “Tata,” since it’s not English either.
What are your thoughts?


Moving Right Along with “The Flames of Prague”

You ought to know when my blog goes quiet, something’s going on: either I’m getting a lot of work done on one of my books, or the phone line is down again.

This time, it’s been some of both–mostly, though, getting work done on The Flames of Prague. (If you haven’t watched the trailer yet, click that link.) Friday, I finished the last of my major edits. (Yea!) From here on out, it’s just proofing and minor editing. (Boo!)

(What’s a major versus minor edit, you ask. A major edit–for me–involves rewriting parts of the story to make it shorter, longer, or better in general. Entire scenes may disappear, be combined, or be added. New characters may even be added.

A minor edit involves rewriting at the sentence level: things that don’t make sense, sound awkward, or are redundant. Proofing, which is the last step, involves spelling and grammar check, looking for double-periods and -spaces, missing punctuation, and typos like “lead” when I meant “led” (I’m really bad about that one!). Formatting means setting up the page size, margins, font(s), chapter headings, table of contents, etc. for print and ebook.)

I got all of my formatting for print done last night. Right now, I’m running a preliminary spelling and grammar checker. (Of everything the grammar checker dings, only 5-10% are legitimate errors; the rest of its suggestions are either completely wrong or don’t work in my situation (for instance incomplete sentences in dialog). Still, I feel the need to spend time running it because the small errors are the hardest to find, yet are the quickest to make you look unprofessional.)

I hope to be able to get it uploaded to CreateSpace this weekend (I hope I remember how to use it! It’s been awhile!) and get a proof copy made for my beta readers.

As soon as that’s out of my hands for a little while, it’s on to editing Acceptance. (I shudder to think of the number of “lead/led” errors in it. I had no idea I was so bad about that until I did a search.)

Story Forge Plot Card Update: The Menage A Trois Plot

For those of you who bought the Story Forge cards (and for why you should, if you haven’t already, here’s my review of them and a sample spread), creator BJ West has released a new spread: the menage a trois. (Spread… probably not the best word to use in this particular situation, although I find “layout” and “grouping” almost as problematic.)

Menage a Trois Spread

Once you have all of that established–plus the backstory that leads up to it–you’re going to have a major chunk of your novel done. If you use one of the other plot spreads to create a story plot that’s going along while this love triangle is working itself out, you will have enough to make an entire novel–maybe more than one, depending on the pacing.


Researching Settings for Your Stories

Dana makes a valid point (she typically does). Meyers spends a lot of time describing Forks as wet, green, and moist. She also describes the beach on the reservation. It’s pretty easy to envision, even though I’ve never been to the West Coast.

But Italy gets no description–neither coming nor going.

Maybe Stephanie Meyers has never been to Italy. Well, I’ve never been to Jerusalem, either, but I take a shot at describing it.

An hour later, Kalyn’s face was pressed to the car window, and she looked in awe as the walls of Jerusalem came into view—alight in the darkness.

The car stopped in front of a large, six-story building in the Old City. It looked like many of the other buildings surrounding it, with a beige stone exterior and arched windows with small balconies. There was a pointed crenelation around the top which had a decided Arab influence. [I based this description on a picture of a hostel in the Old City.]

A few days later, Joshua takes her to the Dome of the Rock:

Pictures also didn’t do justice to its beautiful shade of cobalt blue, or the intricate patterns of yellow and white and lavender flowers set between the blue tiles. It was so complex and busy, it almost made Kalyn dizzy looking at it.

…[T]they removed their shoes at the door and went inside the cool, dark building.

Joshua went to the railing—which surrounded the exposed rock—and knelt beside it. Kalyn copied him. He glanced at her, then looked up, and Kalyn’s eyes followed his.

She inhaled sharply as she looked up at the golden interior of the Dome. She knelt, transfixed, for several minutes as her eyes and brain tried to process the elaborate designs in the ceiling and stained glass windows. She only stopped looking when she became lightheaded from staring up for too long.

When she looked back at Joshua, he had his forehead pressed against the rail, apparently praying. She wondered if she was supposed to do the same, but the next moment he looked up, smiled at her, then effortlessly rose to his feet. Kalyn followed, albeit with a bit less grace.

They walked around the rock and went down a narrow flight of steps directly under it, into a small cave. Its floor was carpeted and it was illuminated with candles and by a shaft through the rock which let in a small amount of natural light.

They knelt there, too, and Kalyn noticed Joshua staring at the rock overhead. They didn’t stay long, but before he rose, Joshua kissed the rock wall.

(You can see pictures of the various places my characters visit/live on my Pinterest board.)

Where did I get all of this information, you ask? Image searches on Google, documentaries from Netflix (that’s how I knew what the inside of the Dome of the Rock looked like), YouTube videos, and Google Street View. You can also use Google Art Project to get a look at the artworks inside certain museums (more are being added all the time). If your protagonist is going to a museum anyways, why not go into one of the ones on Art Project, and then describe what s/he is seeing?

There’s always a risk that you’re going to get some details wrong, but you’re more likely to annoy your readers if you put in nothing at all, rather than make a mistake that few will catch.

Why I Chose to Self-Publish

Author Fabio Bueno had a post on his blog about self-publishing, and he brought up a point that I’ve found myself thinking about over the last couple of days.

Self-publishing gives you total control over your book–from beginning to end. While this does mean a lot of work, it’s also strangely pleasing to control freaks–kind of like medieval flagellants who liked whipping themselves for the sins of the world. Painful, but at the same time, gratifying.

Going the traditional route is also a lot of work and also painful–albeit in different ways. I queried 46 agents over a 1 year period and got 46 rejections or no-responses. That’s nearly one rejection per week for a year. Talk about whipping yourself.

The longer I had to wait on someone to get back to me, the better self-publishing began to look. That is one thing I can’t stand: waiting on other people to do something. I’d rather do something by myself–no matter how hard–than wait on someone else. And when it came to my writing, that was the worst wait ever.  I felt like my destiny, happiness, and future success was in someone else’s hands. Intolerable.

For the most part, I’m already starting to let go of the idea that I need to be traditionally published in order to consider myself legitimate or successful. My notions of “successful” are becoming more modest:

1) Make enough money to replace my current income so I can switch to being a full-time writer. (This is less crazy than it sounds. After just a year, Catherine Howard’s monthly sales of her travel-memoir were enough to replace her modest 9-to-5 income.)

2) Build myself a writer’s cottage where I will spend most of my days writing in serene isolation. (While I have been posting pictures of fabulous, fantastical writing cottages lately, my initial purchase will undoubtedly look a lot more like a fancy shed that I have custom-built at the place a few miles up the road from us.)

3) Buy a new copy of Adobe Photoshop so I can design my own book covers. (My current copy is 10 years old; time for an upgrade!)

4) Hire a weekly housekeeper so we never have to do any housekeeping. (I think this is my husband’s favorite idea.)

5) Have enough money that I can hire someone to do my proofreading.

If I could hit all of those goals–preferably in the next two years–I’d be a supremely happy person and would definitely consider myself a success.

…Although I won’t say no to selling the movie rights.

Energy Transference via Writing

My lovelies, I must confess that I’m heartily sick of proofreading. I have about 75 pages of my book left to comb through, and I’m so tired of second-guessing all of my commas that I just want to throw my proof copy away and say, “Suck it. You get what you get.” But then my perfectionism takes over and I plod through one more page or one more chapter.

Even when I’m done with this, and I convert it to e-format, I’ll still read it through one more time checking the formatting, the fonts, and any lingering typos.

Part of the reason why I set a publication date is because I could, conceivably, do this forever. While it’s important to do things well–especially when you’re self-publishing–there comes a point when you get stuck in a loop where you never actually accomplish anything (a problem I’ve been having lately). So, there comes a point when it’s better to go forward with what you have–flaws and all–than to forever procrastinate.

Jon Sayer has an interesting theory about “the latent heat of writing.” Working with the scientific principle that energy is neither created nor destroyed, he thinks that the energy and effort that we writers pour into our pages gets transferred into the people who read our books. That may seem a bit farcical until you consider that, right now, you are burning the energy of the sun. The sun’s energy is transformed (via photosynthesis) into plant matter, which you either eat, or another animal eats it and converts it into protein and fat, and then you then eat it. (I think it was Carl Sagan who said we’re all star dust; not only are our bodies made from atoms which originally came from stars, but we’re powered by our own sun.) So, once you get your brain wrapped around that idea, transferring energy into and out of words on a page doesn’t seem too farfetched.

My dad is a professional comedian, and he’s talked about this phenomenon on the stage. He said doing stand-up is exactly like the Bob Seger song:

Out there in the spotlight
you’re a million miles away.
Every ounce of energy,
you try to give away,
as the sweat pours out your body
like the music that you play.

My dad puts all of his energy into his words, trying to get the people on the other side of the stage to laugh. And if you’ve ever left a good comedy show or movie or ball game, you are uplifted by it. You do feel energetic and better for having been in the audience. In a way, the players are putting their energy into you.

I think Jon Sayer is right that writers do the same thing. Everyone who likes to read has felt the thrill of being completely immersed in a book, to the point that when you’re brought back to reality, you feel disoriented–even traumatized. I think, in a way, that’s you absorbing the writer’s energy. (Psychologists refer to this–and the fact that you often take on some of the characteristics of your favorite character–as “experience-taking.”)

As much energy as I’ve put into my first book, I sure hope plenty of people get immersed in it. It’d be a waste of energy if that didn’t happen.

And if you missed my post last week, I’m raising funds via Kickstarter to get my book’s website launched. People who contribute $1-$4 get a copy of my short story, “The Last Golden Dragon.” People who contribute $5 get an advance copy of my book, Acceptance. People who contribute $6 or more get both. Details here.