January 2016, in hindsight

I wont deny it. I think 2016 is starting out great.

I ticked a couple of tasks right off my 2016 bullet list early in January. If of interest you might go and read the posts from earlier the year.

Two more things happened in January that make me really happy. First. One of my characters manages to surprise me big time. And second, even more important, I made progress with my writing habits. Hugely so.

It turns out 4:30 am is just the right time to get up an write. Well ok – its 4:51 by now but one needs to get the eyes open and some coffee into the belly, no?) However. I am sitting. very early in the morning and I write. Without kids interrupting, without husband searching some misplaced item and calling for help. If someone had told 2 month ago I would get up this early I would have laughed. Very loudly. Seriously – late riser and all what I used to be…

But, I had to do something about a meagre output I had at the end of 2015. I had to find some hour I could reserve for nothing but writing and plotting and honing my characters. Turns out, the only time I can possible manage writing in a reasonable reoccurring and stable way are the early hours of the day. Family is still asleep so I can spent time with my “imaginary friends” as my husband has started to call this whole endeavour. (haha, he is not wrong I guess)

I have started the experiment “become an early riser” in the 2nd week of January. And I am not just a little proud to report: it worked. It still works! Other than going to bed at 22pm instead of midnight it was the easiest thing. I cut myself some slack at the weekends – 5am is still good enough on these days. I kept it up for the rest of the month. By now it is not even an ordeal anymore. Guess there is a grain of truth in all this “form a habit in 21 days”- programs.

So.. yay me! I will go ahead and tick off another point on this bullet list.

And yes .. there was this wonderful moment a few days ago I wanted to share. The moment one of my characters kind of … surprised me. I was writing along happily at a scene where she had to draw a lot from a case. A very importand draw. We are talking life changing draw. And what does she do? She takes two. That little b*tch took two lots instead of just one. Cheater! Ha! I loved it. Still do. Worked it into the plot smoothly. I am still smiling when I think about it.

I attribute this headway, one might even call it a success, to one of the advise books I have been reading lately. J.S. Bell introduced me to the method of Voice Journaling to flesh out important characters. Works like a charm.

So … in hindsight. January 2016 has been a blast. If the year goes on like this it will bound to bring more surprises. Let’s see where February takes me. Spoiling us with with 29 days this year! Now more coffee… and back to the blank page.

Critique Group Search

With yesterdays achievement a rather easy task I figured I might as well tackle the next item on my list. This time it was 1) not so easy to solve and b) involved some internet (re)search. Latter quickly blew my mind and the number of open tabs in my browser as well. This is what happened:

I had been searching for a critique buddy in 2015 – without success. Turns out I just searched the wring thing. Originally I was hoping to find a native English speaker here in town who would sit and talk with me, drink coffee, point out critique worthy things in my WIP and I would return the favour. Like a real-life-writer-friend. BUT, living in Germany lowers the number of native English speakers. How to find someone among those few who lives near enough for personal meet-ups and who is interested in investing the amount of time necessary? Not an easy task, if not downright impossible.

Dismissing this plan of action I pondered the possibility of an online critique group (CG). Imagine my surprise … there are thousands! Good start.

Now, how to choose one? I found a blogpost, more like 10 blogs, dedicating a post to CGs. I clicked all the links. Open in new tab, open in new tab, open in new …… Browser got slowly lagging and I quickly lost overview of all the tabs. I scanned through the different websites, bookmarked a few and dismissed others.

In the end I signed up with Critique Circle. Their website looked friendly enough. The system of credits they use seems ok. So I just went ahead. It won’t cost me money but time to help others by critiquing their stories. In turn I will get feedback from different natives on my language skills. And on my writing as well.

This is a big step forward and makes me happy.

Second item on bucket list done. Yay!

Bucketlist 2016

If I had to judge my skill for organising on a scale from 1 to 10 – if being totally honest – I would have to give myself a -1.

There are people who just naturally manage all there is to manage without any help. I am not one of those. There was a time I was able to remember the teeny-weeny-st detail regarding my daily life. That was before I got kids. Sometimes I joke around that half of my brains went to my firstborn and half of what was left to the second daughter. So I have only 1/4 of my former capability left. And that effectively put an end to my organising skills.

Thank goodness I got an awesome husband as well and he helps out – in terms of introducing me to supporting technology. Email-reminder, Todoist project management and my all-time fav: bullet lists.

Bullet lists are my thing. I write them all the time. If I get up on weekends with some projects to finish, stuff to organise for the kids or chores around the house – I write myself a list.

Then I  come back from time to time to see what I can check. I strike through what I already did, add what I did when it is not at the list (and score it out immediately – silly me). That works surprisingly well. 🙂

So today I will start a bucket list for 2016 that is writing related. I hope that will help me to get things going in the right direction faster than last year.

  1. Get a critique buddy.
  2. Check for german chapter of SCBWI – if there is one,  sign up.
  3. Decide on the basic structural frame for WIP
  4. Find something else than MS word for a writing environment.
  5. Stop or at least minimise procrastination.
  6. Find a way to carve out daily writing hours.
  7. Write some more blog posts.
  8. Review this list at least once a month. Maybe the … 14th each month would be an idea and add all things that came up eventually.

Advise from friends

So, a few days ago I was in Munich visiting with Mel, Sara and Laura. Mel and Sara are not only writers like me – they are authors not less, both having a book due in Feb 2016.

We talked about my issues of finding someone who might review my writings regarding style and language skill. I am still wondering if it will be feasible to proceed writing in English. Maybe it would be better for my progress and my chances of ever getting published if I were to write in German.

Long story short, I got some advise how I might achieve finding a critique partner. Gonna set that on my bucket list for 2016.

Style issues – sentence, scene, paragraph and more

Last night I tackled the third part of How NOT to Write a Novel: 200 Mistakes to avoid at All Costs if You Ever Want to Get Published. The authors discuss all kinds of style-related topics. Some made me laugh, some made me nod, some concerned me.

What made me laugh was the part about overly chatoyant choice of words and highfaluting terminology. What made me nod was the part about using vocabulary your expected reader will be able to understand. And it concerned me when the authors pointed out that one has to take special care when using not-so-common words. As the writer I need to make sure I have fully grasp the concept of the word myself before I use it.

If your read my About Me page you may know that I am German. Yet I write in english. Not exclusively, but chiefly. Writing is hard enough in your native tongue. When you write in a foreign language it is even more difficult. Concerned I reached out to Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark via Twitter (@sannewman and @HMittelmark) and almost instantly got some words of encouragement. “Native speakers get them wrong too. You might have the advantage of being forced to think before you write.” Howard wrote back. Thank you again! That actually is true. I spend a lot of time choosing words – especially when at first it sounds a little off. Now I am more resolved then ever to include an editor into the process _before_ I will show anything to a potential agent.

And here are some more points I took to heart from Part III – Style:

  • Exclamation marks are like speed bumps and almost exclusively reserved for dialogue. Use with utmost care.
  • While describing something or someone: no “bullet” lists, no explaining the obvious.
  • avoid time-jumps/gaps in the timeline
  • Using “said” is divine (I think I read that one in Stephen Kings On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft, too) – “asked” and “shouted” when the character does so.
  • Dialect and different speech mannerisms can help the reader recognise certain characters.

Characters – is this the hardest part?

Here we go – I finished Part II of How NOT to Write a Novel: 200 Mistakes to avoid at All Costs if You Ever Want to Get Published – which concentrates on character development and character representation within your novel.

The authors, Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark, raise some very interesting points and include a Pop Quiz at the end of this part. I took the quiz – and apparently I suck. Way to much stereotyping and it seems my characters would behave to predictable, too. Dang! But hey, first step to solve a problem is knowing there is one. Now I know I will have to look into this and become better.

What did I learn? Here are some points I think are most important:

  • Don’t over-describe, don’t stereotype, no perfect people with perfect manners, thoughts and traits – they would be boring.
  • Ideas and mindset of the character has to fit into the time-setting of the story.
  • The villain needs a reason for his actions. The reader should be able to at least understand, but not necessarily relate to it – e.g. opportunity, money, revenge… . And the foe can’t be other-worldly smart nor a low-key opponent.

Additionally I learned new things about the roles of lovers/friends of my character and how to weave them into the social web of my story. I especially loved the box with the bulleted list naming traits and items that might make the reader dislike my character instantly.

What? Why is it German _and_ English? An Introduction.

I am German – so naturally one would think I would write in my native language. But I do not – or at least not always. In this blog I will mostly write in English but there will be posts or texts in German as well. If you wonder why, let me explain it like this:
I think in English. Not when I am going about my day-to-day business or while grocery shopping. But often when I am in this place in my head where the stories are – I do think in English. At the moment. For the story I picked a while ago to be the one story I really want to tell.

I believe that to be a consequence of the literary choices I made in the past ten years. Maybe 85 percent of the books I read were in English. Once I realized how much of the authors voice and phrasing gets – literally – lost in translation of a book, I started reading the novels and stories I was intrigued with in the original language. Most times that was English.

Maybe for another text or story I will choose German. I will depend on the topic and the setting. Right now, the storyline I am pursuing comes up in English. I tried to “translate” it to German– but that felt wrong and sounded totally off. I could never find the right German word to express what I wanted to write. So I went ahead and started over. In English. Which is still a touchy subject for me. For I am aware that I am far from perfect and believe me, I am concerned that what I write sounds just a little weird. I do have a master-plan to address this issue in the near future. I will keep you all updated.

Meanwhile – when I will post something I wrote just for the sake of exercise, like writing challenges or writing prompts, it will most likely be German. I guess it will depend on the topic and setting. Makes no sense to write in English if the story is set in rural Bavaria, don’t you think?