MFA: Success!

I may have mentioned once or twice that I was applying for MFA programs. This was my second round of applications, the first directly after finishing my BA, to traditional full-time MFAs. I did this concurrently with my MAT (teaching) applications. Needless to say, apart from one waitlist at UI-Bloomington, the teaching applications were much more successful, so I did that first.

I finished my first Master’s last May, got some teaching and subbing experience under my belt, and began the process all over again, this time with Low-Residency Programs. The difference? Instead of living there full-time, you go to a place once or twice a year, and do the rest online. This is the model I did for my MAT, and I adored it. You can work while you do a degree, and you still get the benefit of physical meetings with other writers.

So, I put together my applications, sent them out into the world, and waited in agony. I heard from one program quickly, another very recently, and then I had another kind of agony – deciding where to go.

Thus far, my results have been all positive (still haven’t heard from some), and when I took some deep breaths, it was easy to decide between those two on grounds of faculty fit, I then found myself with another puzzle. Because the other program that accepted me has such an early date, I needed to get back to them – potentially before I heard from anyone else.

This may seem unreasonable, or unfair, or impossible, but actually it’s very simple.

Imagine you got in everywhere. Then say for each program, “Would I pick X or Y?” If there are other programs you can say, “I’d pick Y over X,” then you’d better not pick X without some answer from Y. If you can honestly say you’d pick X over everything, then you can go ahead and say yes to X without waiting.

This was the case for me. I picked apart every program – I do this relatively quickly – with some help from my research-savvy mother and advice from a friend in another MFA program and my undergrad writing prof, and I said, where I’m in is my best fit.

So, I have accepted my offer from SNHU, and I will give regular updates on my progress, and also I’ll mention where else I get in. I’ve turned down Oklahoma City University, and yet to hear from anywhere else. But I’ll be having my first residency in June, and I’ll keep you all posted!

Cheers,

C

Writer’s Nemesis: That

I am a…verbose person. To my knowledge and memory, I always have been. It’s not just the way I write – it’s the way I speak, too. But sometimes, as well probably all know, verbose can become wordy. One of the first things I learned in college was that I could lose clarity in long, winding sentences, specifically with pronoun ambiguity.

There it is: the dreaded “that,” sticking out in the sentence like a sore thumb.

If you’re a verbose writer, like myself, grab a sample of your writing and try underlining all the “that”s you come across. I guarantee, you’ll find more than a few in a sizable sample, and sometimes I find more than a few in a relatively small sample.

Why is this a problem? What’s so bad about the word “that”?

It isn’t always an issue, but for verbose people, in modern writing, it can act as a kind of filler word, the way we say “erm” or “uh” when we speak. In some places, “that” is a necessity, but the longer you look at this word in your writing, and the writing of others, the more you’ll realize it’s taking up valuable space more often than not.

How do we root out the nemesis?

I started simple. Because I use Word, I went to “Find” and typed in “that”, searching for every use of it in the work. I still do this for longer pieces, late in the editing process. I look at each use, and I determine whether I can reword, or even eliminate “that” without a change in meaning or clarity. The majority of times, it’s a completely unnecessary word.

Two things started happening the longer I employed this tactic.

The first was noticing as I reread my own work EVERY time I used a “that” I didn’t need. And not only in my own writing, but in the writing of others, including in classrooms I’ve substitute taught in, where famous quotes pepper the walls. You’ve no idea how awkward it is to stare at a quote by someone utterly brilliant half a day and think, “I really want to eliminate the ‘that’ in the middle of it.” It’s astonishing, at first, how many superfluous “that”s sink into our writing, and the writing we see around us.

The second thing was catching myself before I used a “that” in my writing. I’ve already done it half a dozen times in this short post. Depending on a variety of factors, you won’t catch every one as you write, but the longer you practice rooting them out, the more you’ll notice, so when you go back to root them out, you’ll find less and less infecting your work. Can’t control others, but it will be a nice change in your own writing, at least.

Although I’ve yet to verify this in my own life, I expect repeated culling of the nemesis word in written speech may replicate itself with eventual culling of the nemesis word in verbal speech. This could lead to less filler in spoken communication, and clearer oration. Who would argue with such aims?

Cheers,

C

Camp NaNo: April 2017

Last November, I took advantage of NaNoWriMo to write the draft of Hold Me Now, which has been poked at by two of nine betas. I’m still sifting through my changes a la my most recent beta, and I think I’m going to take advantage of the upcoming Camp NaNo not to write another novel (which I could easily do), but to force myself to pick through the manuscript again, send it to my third beta, draft a query letter, then go back through the manuscript.

I’ll still work on other projects, but my goal is 30 hours for this time through. An hour a day? Cake. Miss a day? Simple to make up. And I fully expect to double this by the time the month is over.

I don’t know yet if I’ll have a cabin – mostly because I’ve set it to private, and I’m not sure whether my friends are doing Camp NaNo this year. Either way, I’ve got the cabin set up and ready for Natalie and others to join in on the fun! Still have plenty of weeks to convince people to join in on Camp NaNo with me.

Are you doing Camp NaNo this year? April, July, or both? Anyone doing the revision mode? Tell me your plans, ask questions about the structure, or just share well-wishes for fellow NaNoers in the comments section below! Want to be in my cabin? Let me know!

Cheers,

C

Prewriting: How to Manage Your Fan Fiction Posting

As I may have mentioned several (hundred) times, I have many plates I’m juggling, with a fair amount on each of them. Today, we’re going to talk about one plate in particular: Fan Fiction.

With two days of my week devoted to writing fan fiction, and regular weekly updates on multiple stories, I’ve had several people ask how on earth I manage to update so regularly on certain stories (while others take shudderingly long times, I’ll confess). Apart from my unnaturally quick writing, my highly-organized notes and outlines, I have one other secret.

Prewriting.

This is not your teacher’s definition of pre-writing. In English classes, pre-writing is the outlining, brainstorming, organizational process that precedes the drafting process. Prewriting in this context is more akin to the drafting process. In order to understand what my definition of prewriting can mean, let’s first take a look at what it doesn’t mean.

The Write-and-Post: NOT Prewriting

This is the method I employed for YEARS, exclusively. Write a chapter, and when it’s finished, you post it right away. Don’t edit. Don’t read over again. Just stick it up and start the next one.

This worked pretty well for me at first for a number of reasons. For one, I only had a few stories for a long time, and did more reading than writing. I didn’t have to be as organized about my update structure. Also, because I write quickly and with minimal noticeable errors, I didn’t feel the need to schedule or edit. While I’ve acted as a beta, I’ve never used one.

This is a good system if you can count on yourself to write quickly, to avoid massive errors, and to have only a few stories. When you’ve got ten or more stories in progress, DON’T use this method. If it takes you more than a week to write a chapter – whatever your chapter length – DON’T use this method. And if you’re writing in your second language or you know you make LOTS of spelling/grammar/organizational errors, DON’T use this method. For the sake of your readers.

The Write-and-Edit: NOT Prewriting

This is a method many people employ. You write a chapter, you edit a chapter (or have a beta edit it), and you post the chapter as soon as changes have been made. Some eager beavers have two betas, so it goes through three sets of eyes before it’s posted.

This is a method I’ve never employed, but it works well for a lot of people, particularly those with limited stories, quick writing, but either poor English/conventions or a desire for perfectionism. If you work quickly, have fewer than ten stories in circulation, and you want a polished product posted the first time around, this  could be the method for you.

On the other hand, if you’ve got a lot of things cooking, DON’T use this method. Especially if you use a different beta for each story. That would get messy and time-consuming. If you write slowly, DON’T use this method, as you’re adding a step and may lose your beta partway through a project. And if you already have very good grammar/English/usage/spelling, you probably should go beta-free, stick to your own once-over before posting. It’ll be a lot quicker than waiting on someone else’s schedule.

The Write-and-Schedule: NOT Prewriting

This is the method a lot of people employ, and the method I use for most stories, these days. This is a good thing to do if you have multiple – even many – stories to juggle, and if you can write quickly. I prefer weekly, but a lot of people do weekly, biweekly, or even monthly updates on their stories. Have two stories? Write a chapter of each through the week. Edit if you have time. Maybe even use a beta. Update both on your scheduled day of the week (often weekends, but it depends on your schedule). Have twenty stories? Update at least a story a week, but maybe have them on monthly rotations, so that each week you update five stories. Get six or seven chapters done in a week? Schedule five for this week, and put two forward for next week.

This method is great for flexibility. You can make this work around any number of stories, and is better if you write quickly. Remember, this is around YOUR writing, not writing to a schedule. So if you have those twenty stories and you only get three done in one week, you only post three that week. Maybe you’ll be able to write eight chapters the next week, but maybe you’ll have to be flexible on actually hitting your targets. Life might keep you from updating the ideal, and I find some weeks I only update two stories, while other weeks I can update four or five. That means some months, Craving Comfort has weekly updates, and some months I don’t update it at all.

This works more smoothly if you either write quickly, have a lot of free time on your hands, don’t have a lot of stories, or don’t rely on a beta, but you can use this method for pretty much any circumstances, if you’re not too bothered by not having frequent updates.

The Schedule-and-Write: NOT Prewriting

Let’s say you have three stories, and you post weekly, on Saturdays. You know you have to finish a chapter for each story before Saturday. In a crunch from a busy week? You don’t go to bed until all three are up on Saturday – or you let readers down and skip that week. Lots of time on your hands from a open week or quick writing? Use the time to edit the pieces so they’re ready to roll first thing Saturday and you can start writing the next set of chapters.

Monthly updates with eight stories? Same deal, except you can say that you MUST post X and Y stories on the first Saturday of each month, Z and A stories on the second, etc. You get the picture. Don’t get both X and Y done that first week? You can either hold Y until the next month, or you can squeeze Y, Z, and A into that second week. Your choice. Readers prefer option two, but if that’s something that’s not practical for you, stick with what works for you.

You could also have twenty stories and say, “I will post five chapters this weekend. Any five chapters I have, whichever stories I’ve worked on.” That means some might get put off, say if you’re struggling to write a certain story at the moment, but if you keep a calendar, jot down what you’ve posted and when, so you can try to even it out when you’re ready to work on the shelved story later. This version of the method works best if you’re not worried about highly-regular updates for all stories.

This is a good method if you need deadlines. It’s also good if you can set realistic deadlines for yourself. If you write quickly, for example, maybe a daily posting schedule isn’t a big deal. If you’re juggling thirty stories, though, sticking even one of those on a daily schedule can throw monkey wrenches in all of them, so measure your writing speed, your editing needs, and your story load before you draw up your schedule.

The Write-Store-Splurge: Prewriting

Finally, we’re on to the prewriting methods! This is one I used in the early days of my Amy & Sirius stories, notably all through Cat & Mouse. The way this works is you write out a story entirely, you post the first chapter once you’ve written every chapter, and as you get reviews, you post another chapter. With this story, I posted for EVERY review I got. It encourages reviews and keeps the story flowing, but it makes the story go quickly.

There’s another important lesson I learned during this project. I had all of the second part, Deceptions & White Lies, and a large chunk of the third part prewritten, and then someone BROKE my USB flash drive. And I hadn’t backed it up.

Long story short, that particular project is semi-shelved, and I poke at updating it once in a while as I work on other projects, but I never feel like what I’ve got is good enough compared with what I had.

Here’s my number one piece of advice with prewriting: ALWAYS BACK IT UP. Frequently. In multiple places. I do monthly backup of all my files to Google Drive and OneDrive. Use whatever methods work for you, whatever schedule makes sense for your writing, but do it at least once a month and in at least one location. I do two, because I’ve been burned so badly. I also invested in a larger, sturdier USB Flash. Don’t get a cheap or cute one if you store your life on something. Its a minimum of 200 dollars to repair a snapped one. Paying twenty extra bucks now could save you hundreds and headaches later.

The Write-and-Store-and-Valve: Prewriting

This can be done in two ways. One is prewriting a whole story, like I did for my Amy & Sirius, or prewriting a large chunk and continuing to prewrite as you go, as I’ve done on other works. Both work, and it depends on what you want from the experience. But instead of giving it for every review, set a benchmark. Say, every five if you’ve got a story in its infancy of reviews, or every ten or twenty if you’ve got a popular piece.

You can also do this where you post when you hit five, ten, twenty, fifty, one hundred, etc. This means you don’t have to do it quite as frequently as you get to higher marks, and can encourage new readers to do every-chapter reviews instead of just reviewing at the end. I’ve even had people sign out and leave guest reviews on chapters they’ve already reviewed just to earn more content.

Downside? Sometimes you think a story will be more popular than it is. Sometimes, stories with lots of readers don’t get many reviews. You could end up having really slow updates for the amount of prewriting you’ve done. This is okay if you’re patient and have other irons in the fire, but if you’re impatient (like me) or you only have a story or two going, you might spend a lot of time pulling your hair and twiddling your thumbs, waiting.

The Write-and-Store-and-Schedule: Prewriting

Here we have a method where you write as much as you desire – either in chunks or all at once – and you release on a schedule. This is a very common method, where people may only write two or three chapters ahead, or have an entire prewritten story sitting in their files that they release weekly, monthly, daily… whatever they decide. I’m a fan of the weekly approach, and it’s a common method.

The great benefit of this is that you don’t have to wait for reader input, and you don’t have to explain when the next chapter is coming. Unless you are incapable of posting a certain week (and you can then double up as an apology the next week), they know exactly when to check their computers for an update. It’s great for those who don’t have a consistent reviewing base, and for those who have a lot of stories. You can stack up bunches of chapters for every story, and you can still be certain of regular updates on a particular schedule. The more stories you juggle, the more of a cushion of prewritten chapters you want to give yourself, just in case you lack motivation or time to write a certain story any given week.

The Write-and-Store-and-Mix: Prewriting

This is a blend of the last two methods, and what I use on my Unknowns and Against the Odds series’. Unknowns was a story designed for this from the get-go. The first part I wrote a large chunk of chapters for, posted on a Saturday, and said that I’d post weekly. HOWEVER, for every ten chapters I got in a week, I would post a bonus. Some weeks, no bonus is earned. Other weeks, I’ve given out as many as six bonus chapters. I’ve now posted not even halfway through Part Two, and I’m a couple of chapters into Part 3’s prewriting, with about 100 prewritten chapters.

When I completed prewriting Part Two, waiting on the verdict of whether I would write Part 3, I committed to this method on a story I’d already posted six chapters of, which was Against the Odds. I selected this because I already had a thorough outline of both parts, and because it had generated some interest lately. I posted Chapter 7 with the promise of this new method, and I’ve now posted up to Chapter 9 and am prewriting Chapter 13. It has yet to earn any bonus chapters, but as the story grows and becomes more interesting, I’m sure it will earn a bonus at some point. And once readers earn that first bonus, they learn ways to take advantage of the system when they get to areas where they desperately want to see what happens next.

The end of Unknowns Part 1, for example, when all the major plots came to a head over the span of a few hours, across several chapters, I got a huge influx of reviews in attempts to earn bonuses. The last few weeks in Part 2, with the story in the fourth Harry Potter book, I had several bonuses a week as readers try to get to the plot points they know are coming and are desperate to see.

This is a great method if you want to give the fans rewards for interaction, but you don’t want to sacrifice the benefits of regularly scheduled chapters for moving along a story to the most interesting plot points. This is especially useful in the early part of a story, where things can sometimes take a while to build up reader interest. The downside to this is that you want to have a sizable backlog of chapters to draw on, because I’ve had to post as often as daily, or even multiple times in a day to grant rewards. This works well for me, because I can prewrite anywhere from three to five chapters on a good day, and when I’m on a roll sometimes I prewrite as much as thirty chapters in a week, but this kind of uncertainty might not be for you, especially if you choose to prewrite in chunks instead of writing a whole story first.

A Few Further Notes

  • You may want to switch over to prewriting slowly, one story at a time, especially if you’ve got a lot of stories on your plate. Trying to start the prewriting process (whichever one you choose) with a couple dozen stories at once might be enough to make you give up before you’ve begun. As with anything new, baby steps.
  • How am I prewriting two stories at once? Simple. For every segment of this post I’ve written, I’ve alternated between a task on Unknowns (usually a POV section, of various lengths) and a task on Against the Odds (about 100 words at a time). I’m about 2/3 through one chapter, 1/3 through the other. I had about 700 words on each when I began this morning.
  • I work in editing to my prewriting process, which I don’t do in my other posting. Before I put up either a scheduled or bonus chapter, I read it over once, word for word, and make any necessary changes before adding Author Notes. Sometimes it’s a missed comma or a spelling error, sometimes it’s adjusting a mistake I made early on that will cause inconsistencies in later chapters if not changed now. If you want to use a beta, you can send off chapters as you’ve written them so they’re ready to post as soon as you schedule/earn them.
  • I’m taking the last methods to extremes with another story – which I won’t name yet – where I’ve outlined it, and I’m hand-writing the whole story. Then I’ll type the whole story. Then I’ll do the mixed-system posting. You can add as many layers of writing, rewriting, and editing to your prewriting as you want, but the more layers, the more prewritten chapters you want in your pocket before you start posting.

Cheers!

C

Shelving: 2017 Edition

I decided to take advantage of re-shelving my books to organize them in a more intuitive manner than just alphabetical by author, and non-fiction alphabetical by title. After all, a multi-tiered system well-formed now will save me time in the future, right?

Probably.

As with any undertaking, I did an internet search to see if someone had ideas or articles on ways to make my job easier. I looked for how to organize a bookshelf, and I saw all kinds of pictures – of sparse bookshelves with maybe a dozen books and as many trinkets around them. The deeper I looked, the less functional the shelves were, and I was getting increasingly frustrated.

I mean, what d’you think we call them bookshelves for?

I searched for how to organize a bookshelf with a lot of books, and I got a few better ideas, although it was still about beauty over functionality, making sure you “balanced” the shape of the shelf, or having all the spines organized for the color of the rainbow. The issue with these kinds of shelving options, as many people attested, was finding the books you wanted/needed later. Especially if you have hundreds of books, like me.

First of all, no matter how you decide to organize your books, you need to know the important way to find where books are and where to put them back later: Keep an inventory in shelving order. Seems obvious now I’ve said it, but NOBODY mentioned that in the articles/blogs/etc. that I read. I opted to use Evernote for this, making a Notebook for my book catalogue and separate notes for fiction and nonfiction, as this is my major distinction.

Fiction

My first secondary distinction was separating out the series and author collections from the rest of my books. A series is any collection trilogy or larger (if I have three or have any intention of gathering three or more books in the series), and an author collection is three or more books by a single author. Largely, these collections are by the same author, or two authors in the case of the Left Behind books, but there are exceptions. My Dear America and Royal Diaries collections have multiple authors, and I’ve organized these by year of events depicted, and then alphabetically by title if two books happen in the same year. Otherwise, series are organized in series order, and other books are organized alphabetically by title. This took about six shelves – all my traditional shelving. The way I’d shelved previously, this area is most of what my fiction covered, plus half the desk.

Then I separate the books out by genre, where practical. Plays, poems, crime, historical fiction, romance, youth, etc. Anything that’s not a classic that I can slip into a category. These take up around two thirds of the desk, which is a little over a shelf’s worth of space.

After that, I took the classics and divided them by country. If a country had five or more different works, it had its own section, divided alphabetically first by continent, then by country. So, the UK, Russia, and America have their own sections. All Anthologies are included in classics (for the sake of convenience) and are arranged alphabetically, and then within the “other” classics, books are organized by this same alphabetical structure.

Non-fiction

By the time I had the classics sorted, I was already out of traditional shelving. I had to use the top of my dresser, and the top of a giant Rubbermaid container in my closet. When I started in on the non-fiction, I was fast running out of non-traditional shelf space already set aside for books.

I started with series-related non-fiction. This included Doctor Who books, books about Tolkien’s creations, and books about J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World. Not too many books, but they take up some space. Beside them, I put my history books (may and sundry) organized by time period, and I ran out of space in my closet from there.

I went to the giant Rubbermaid container under my desk, the full extent of my previously-used non-traditional shelf space, and I put the history books organized by place, and my religious texts. I almost fit all of my religious texts until…. I reached the wall and still had nowhere to put my Gnostic Bible.

At this point – obviously – I began to panic slightly. Cleaning my room has never been a pleasant task, and I begin to find myself in a world where it’s possible there’s not enough room for all my books in my personal living space. This is nonsensical to me, and yet it was growing into a reality. My sister offered to keep some of my books in her room, but I just blinked at her, puzzled and confused as to why she thought this was a solution.

And then, my old adage hit me: “I had to choose between clothes and books, and I chose books.”

I thought that was true when I took clothes off the shelf and stacked books in my closet, but never was it truer than when I did this round of cleaning. I took ALL the clothes out of my chest of drawers and have turned them into a creative shelving option.

You may ask where my clothes are going. I don’t know yet. Some will fit on top of or behind books – little things like socks and underwear, and maybe some pajamas. Dresses and skirts should still fit in the closet. Otherwise…. Well, your guess is as good as mine, but I don’t really have that many clothes I wear. This was just a prompt to get rid of a lot of things I’ve been hanging onto by virtue of out of sight, out of mind.

Approve or disapprove of my creative shelving? Any other space-saving book shelving techniques you’ve used to combat a too-small-room problem?

Cheers,

C

Goals for January: Writing by Checklist

As I’m balancing many projects, I’ve got to do some prioritizing in order to be sure that I’m making inroads on various projects.

I’m working on exploring new story-telling media, and I’ll keep you updated on how that’s going. Thus far, it’s going very, very slowly.

Also, I’m prioritizing two of my novel projects: an alternate history and a crime novel (this because I’ve had an insight into the sequel, so I’d better get on and finish the first one, hadn’t I?).

Other projects will plod along as usual, and whichever project is the closest to my heart in March will likely be my April Camp NaNo. After my sad failure of a showing for the November NaNoWriMo, I’m intent on actually accomplishing my Camp NaNos this year to the fullest.

I’m doing this in small pieces, focusing on a chapter at a time, with the attempt of accomplishing at least three chapters a week, knowing that during NaNo months I’ll be stepping it up to at least a chapter a day.

What are your January writing goals? Have you met any of them yet?

Cheers

C

Cleaning My Bookshelf

I have an important life philosophy, and it goes something like this:

If my room is a mess, I clean and organize my bookshelf. In the process, my room will become clean and organized.

How am I so certain this will work?

Because a stack of books already removed from my room for sorting and dusting takes up about a quarter of the living room (much larger than my bedroom), and it’s MAYBE a third of my books. Maybe.

Dusting books is very important, both for their health and quality and for my health and sanity. However, I’ve been putting it off for MONTHS, probably more than a year, now. This is because I know what an undertaking it is to get all my books on the shelf where they can be cleaned, and yet in the meantime, I keep collecting more and more books.

Even if your books aren’t taking over the entirety of your physical space, it’s important to keep your books organized, cleaned, and stored properly. Especially if you’re storing some of them horizontally, as you’ll need to rotate them to prevent warping. Allergies? Asthma? Make sure you’re dusting your books regularly with a clean, dry, microfiber cloth.

If you’re making the commitment to physical books, remember that it is a commitment, just like any other collection. And if you go through and realize you’ve got some books you don’t like, don’t want, or don’t read, perhaps it’s time to clear up space in your shelf for books you do want. Donate to a local library, or school library, or classroom library, or charity shop.

Cheers,

C