jessicasteiner: (NaNoWriMo: Logic)
I've been working on writing pretty regularly lately, however, I decided against doing NaNoWriMo this year. Usually, I set aside whatever I'm working on to throw myself into a new (or in-progress) draft and get some good, solid work done on it in November. That's worked pretty well towards me getting a bunch of drafts finished, but since I haven't been as productive in other months, it hasn't done a whole lot towards me getting anything edited.

That doesn't mean I don't want to work on my draft, but I had a more compelling reason to keep it in the drawer for now - I've been asked for a full manuscript of OtherWhere by an agent. So instead of working on new words, I've been working on getting the last few changes done on that manuscript so I can submit it.

This past week, while my beta readers read the manuscript, I've been reading it out loud. It's a piece of advice I've heard a lot, but have never had the courage to actually implement. And you know what? It's working.

There are a lot of small changes I'm definitely making that I never had noticed before. Word repetition and run-on sentences are big ones. I'm also noticing some issues with character voice - people sounding very similar to one another - that I'm trying to work on a bit more.

All in all, it's been a great exercise. I expect to be finished it within the next few days, and to get my manuscript submitted to the agent by the end of November.

Reboot!

Nov. 6th, 2015 06:03 pm
jessicasteiner: (Blank Paper)
Greetings. It's been a rough two years, but I'm back.

For the past two years, my work schedule has gone from very busy, to very very insanely busy, and basically stayed there. I've dealt with a coworker who flamed out and dumped their entire caseload on me, and also a three month period of absolutely no income while the government body who writes my paycheque "upgraded" their system. During that entire time, I carried a caseload of over 100 clients and worked every one of them as hard as I could.

It didn't leave much time or brainpower left over for writing, and even less time for blogging about writing.

However, I now see the light at the end of the tunnel as far as my work load at the day job. In addition to that, I've had some important boosts to my writing brain, and I believe I'm firmly back in the saddle now, with enough brainpower left over on the side to attend to my social media as well.

In September, I attended the Out of Excuses Retreat. When I got back from that utterly life-changing experience, I went to the Surrey International Writer's Conference, and pitched OtherWhere to an agent, who asked for a full manuscript.

I've decided not to do NaNoWriMo this year, so that I can concentrate on getting my manuscript up to par and getting it out to the agent.

In the meantime, I am committing to updating this blog regularly again. I intend to update on a rotating schedule, every Friday, and it'll probably be more writing and life updates, and writing exercises, rather than reviews. Though I will probably do the odd review, as well.

So thanks for being patient! I hope you enjoy reading what I have to say.
jessicasteiner: (Blank Paper)
It's nearly here! After several months of work and a few data crashes, the Motivation course is going to go live on my website tomorrow.

I know that I've said that I think this course will help you, no matter who you are. Let me tell you why.

I have known as long as I can remember that I wanted to be a writer. I remember being in high school, and writing reams and reams of paper. The very first novel I ever wrote and completed was a Star Trek: DS9 fanfic - I figured I could get it published as a novel tie-in, if I could just polish it up enough. A friend of mine read it for me, and my next novel, which was a truly horrific vampire novel. And the next. I think that one had aliens in it. It was also terrible.

Then I hit university and my focus shifted to fanfiction. And somewhere along the line, I stopped writing completely. I knew I still wanted to write. I spent hours roleplaying online, writing shared stories with other people, but I felt totally unmotivated to actually write. It felt like work. I still had my passion, but any time it came time to write something down without working from the prompt of another person, I just never seemed to get around to it.

I tried NaNoWriMo a few times, and fizzled out after a few days every time. After five years of basically nothing, I was facing down the death of my dream, and wondering if maybe writing was just too hard for me. I wondered if I just couldn't do it.

Then I started learning and applying the kinds of techniques that I've put in the course. Most of all, I applied the technique that I mentioned in my last post - I remembered what I loved about writing, what I wanted out of life, and I focused on that rather than my fear.

I started writing, and I've never looked back. That was 10 years ago, and I am more sure than ever that writing is what I want to do, what I can do, and what I will do full time, someday.

That's why I know these techniques are good. Because they ended my 5 years of writer's block, and they have stood the test of time.

Now it's your turn, and I'm looking forward to having you come along with me on this journey.
jessicasteiner: (Blank Paper)
I often have a hard time thinking of things to say here. Often things just seem like same-old-same-old, and I'm just poking along at the things I've been poking along at for months. But at the same time, I'm happy with the progress I'm making. I guess it's time to do an update and round-up.

I'm working on my fifth draft of OtherWhere, doing line edits, tightening the language, obliterating adverbs and unnecessary, redundant wordiness. I'm really happy with it, though I totally don't understand how people can finish this kind of thing in a month or two. After an hour of this stuff, I start skimming and have to stop.

Once I get this part finished, I'll be sending it out to (more) agents and also beta readers. Maybe that'll happen in March. I HOPE it'll happen in March.

I'm also poking around at various other projects without a tonne of focus, just doing whatever I feel like at any given moment. I expect to release my Motivation course by the end of February, though I'm eyeing the date right now and wondering if that's realistic. If not, then it'll be the first or second week of March.

I've been doing a lot more reading as well, which I consider to be really important. I started reading the collected works of Sherlock Holmes, because I've gotten really into Elementary, BBC Sherlock, and the RDJ movies as well, and I had gotten very interested in connecting with the source material, which I had never read. I remember picking it up once when I was probably 12 years old, saw Sherlock shooting up cocaine and went "Hang on, this isn't what I thought it was", but this time I've been really enjoying it.

Thing is, I had to interrupt because I needed to read some short stories. I've written a story I intend to submit to Crossed Genres magazine for their April deadline (Theme: Time travel!), but I haven't read a lot of short stories in recent years. I picked up Dangerous Women, which is an anthology of short stories that cover many genres, by many of the giants in speculative fiction - we're talking Jim Butcher, George R.R. Martin, and Brandon Sanderson. I figure I can learn some things from them. I'm enjoying the stories very much, and learning a lot about structure, and when that's done I'll be finishing off Sherlock Holmes.

Unless I get distracted by the three books I bought today, whoops.
jessicasteiner: (Default)
But I have over 26,000 words. Halfway there and it's only the 11th. Woo!

Tip: celebrate your successes.

Also, get more sleep.
jessicasteiner: (Fangirl Moment)
Yesterday I was travelling and had no internet access, so I was unable to update the blog.

Travelling is fun, and I'm sure a lot of people have travel plans for November, since I have no doubt that a large proportion of Wrimos are American. Personally, that's not the reason I'm not at home - it's my birthday and my wife and I are in Victoria, BC, staying at a bed and breakfast.

But travelling doesn't have to mean no words get done. All it takes is a little planning.

If you don't expect to have any time to write, then plan for that, bank up words by making a special effort to buckle down in the days before your trip, so you create a buffer and don't feel discouraged when you get back. Otherwise, make a specific effort to carve out time during your trip when you can write without neglecting your other responsibilities.

Sure, you might have family time that you can't get out of and that's normal. But there may be times when you're not expected to be doing anything else. I had a ferry ride to get to where I am, and I made a point of writing while on the ferry. Right now I'm sitting at the B&B. Miko is off doing a photoshoot, which is part of the reason we came here, and I'm using that time to get my words in. Tomorrow will be ferry time again. In the end, I expect to have at least as many words done during this trip as I would have done if I were at home, yet I'm still having a great time and getting to enjoy my vacation.

Don't get discouraged by a disruption to your routine. You can still find time, even if it's just half an hour, to get something done. I promise if you do that, the feeling of accomplishment you will feel, knowing you did the right thing and worked towards your goals instead of throwing it out the window, will make the sacrifice worthwhile.
jessicasteiner: (Default)
No, really. I honestly forgot. I also wrote a lot of words.

I have 17,083 words, which I'm proud of! Nyla has finally figured out she has superpowers, and is pretty sure she knows how they work, however crazy and illogical it might be. Time to ruin her life! But that'll wait until tomorrow.

Today's tip: When you screw up, strikeout is your friend.

I try not to go back and revise, but sometimes you have a really amazing idea for a better way for a scene to go. It does take a while to edit, and I strongly discourage people from spending much time doing this. You can spend an hour going over a scene and only add a few words, or even lose them. That's an hour you could have been adding to your wordcount.

But sometimes you just have to. In cases like that, don't ever delete words you wrote. Strike through them (It's ctrl-shift-minus sign in Scrivener) and write the new thing. Of course, you might find bits of what you wrote before that you want to keep and fiddle around with, which is fine, but at least you won't lose the bits you actually don't want to keep.

They still count for your NaNoWriMo words, so don't rob yourself by using the delete key.
jessicasteiner: (NaNoWriMo)
I wrote chapter three, another 1878 words, for a total of 6160 words.

I was struggling with this one a little bit. My outline said that Nyla meets a particular character, and locates a particular place - a gaming store - which will be very important for the series. However, I was having a lot of trouble writing the scene, because while I knew the goals I needed to hit, I didn't have any conflict for the scene.

Thankfully, I managed to push through. I came up with enough of a conflict to carry the scene, wrote some nice conversations, and introduced two characters I hadn't intended to introduce so soon - but it actually works better that way.

It wasn't something I thought of before I sat down to write. When I sat down, I didn't know how I was going to make it through the scene. But I think that's a good lesson. One of the things I often struggle with is the desire to know the shape of a scene before I sit down to write it, and if I don't know how I'm going to fix the problems I see, I hesitate to start.

So today's tip: Even if you feel like you're heading into fog, write your way to a solution. You can always tighten up the scene later, but if you just keep writing, feeling your way through, moving back and forth as you figure out the problems, you will find a solution.

Just start, and don't stop.
jessicasteiner: (NaNoWriMo: Logic)
Today I wrote chapter two of my new novel, and added another 2200 words to my pile.



I've learned something about myself already, and it's only the second day: I believe I'm an outliner when it comes to plot, but I'm a pantser when it comes to characters. This is a thing that's possible! I think the only reason I didn't realize it before is because I've always heard of planner vs. pantser as being an all or nothing thing. Sure, some people are more organized, more pantsy than others, but I've never heard anyone say they divide things up this way.

Here's why I believe it's true: I've been planning The Geek Club for about a year, at least. Some aspects I've been working on for longer. It has been through two major incarnations, and I have incorporated an entirely different novel (which I trunked halfway through the planning process).

The planning process had been halted for a while, but in July I had a flash of inspiration to take the book in a whole different direction. At that point I had a general idea for plot, and several characters. Since July I've completed a full plot outline and written a tonne of worldbuilding notes.

Three days before NaNoWriMo started, I was still cudgelling my brain, trying to come up with villains.

I had one villain who wasn't going to be important until probably the third novel. I had several sub-plots that suggested antagonists I needed to come up with, and I couldn't come up with anything.

Over the years, I've tried lots of different methods for developing characters. I would try questionnaires, write pages and pages of great info, and nearly all of it would get thrown out when I started the book. Whenever I was writing, I'd either completely forget about things I came up with in the questionnaire, or I would find it confining.

Today and yesterday, after a week of struggling to come up with something, anything that would constitute an antagonist for my story (other than faceless organizations), three living, breathing characters walked onto the page to interact with my main characters without any effort at all. I don't know everything about them, but they're great characters and I'm excited about them. And I feel like now that they exist I can flesh them out.

So my tip today is: Everyone does it differently. Figure out what works for you, and do that. Keep an open mind, and don't assume that what works for other people is the only way to do it.
jessicasteiner: (NaNoWriMo)
Today I started a brand new story, which I've dubbed The Geek Club. It's about a group of geeky females who get powers and become superheros. Also vampires, werewolves, and Lovecraftian horrors.

I completed chapter one, in which my main character, Nyla, and her twin brother Nolan, meet their respective roommates. For some reason, the roommates don't seem to like each other. But Nyla's sorority-obsessed roommate, Kailey, seems really excited to meet them.

Wordcount so far: 2003/50,000!

Tip of the day: I saw this on tumblr, and used it for the first time today.

Sometimes when you're writing along, you suddenly run across a detail that you need to think about. For example, today I realized that I never actually worked out what school Nyla goes to. It's a pretty important detail that's going to take a lot of research. I might need to pick a real school, or to make up a fake school so I can manipulate the details however I like.

For a second, I pulled up Google, but then I realized that if I wanted to do all this research, it was really going to cut into my writing time, which is pretty precious!

So instead, all I did was call it 'elephant university' and move on.

Any time you come across a detail like that, where figuring it out will interrupt your flow with research or a lot of thinking, just put in the word 'elephant' and keep going. When you're done writing for the day, maybe you can go back and do the research, or wait until your draft is finished and fill it in on the revision.

Either way, the point is to just keep writing for the month of November.
jessicasteiner: (I Write Therefore I Am)
I'm not really able to give a proper sum-up, because too many awesome things. All I can say is that three agents asked me for manuscript samples. My goal is to get those out before I start NaNoWriMo, which doesn't give me a tonne of time.

I got a flat tire on Saturday night, which sort of messed up my evening... I hadn't made it out of Surrey yet, when someone started gesturing at me to tell me I had a flat. Of course, none of the tire places were open yet, so I faced the options of driving home on my doughnut...and back the next day, or to stay at the hotel, which is what I decided to do.

I went into my hotel room, only to find a note addressed to "Mr. R. Thompson" and a bag of Halloween candy. The note welcomed Mr. Thompson to Surrey and hoped he'd have a pleasant stay.

I put the chain on the door and enjoyed the mysterious Mr. Thompson's candy thoroughly.
jessicasteiner: (Fangirl Moment)
This weekend I'm attending the Surrey International Writer's Conference for the second time. I went once before, 6 or 7 years ago, and it was a life-altering experience. Unfortunately, at the time I was working on a book that I have since trunked, so even though it got very good responses from both agents and readers, I never did anything with it. Then I went to law school.

It's nice to be back.

Yesterday I attended two master classes, one on subtext, which was basically about how to use word choice and things like that to set tone and convey character. The other was about editing. Though there wasn't really much in the second one that was completely new to me, I learned a lot at both classes.

Then there was a really terrible accident on the freeway and it took me over 4 hours to make a one hour trip home....

Today I attended a workshop on cliches in YA fiction and another one on diversity in fiction. The latter was by Jim C. Hines, who appears to be a thoroughly awesome individual. He'll be reading the first three pages of my novel on Saturday, so I hope he likes it XD!

As a side note, not totally unrelated: For various reasons, I feel like a number of forces in the universe are pushing me towards submitting OtherWhere for publication instead of self-publishing it, so that's what I'm going to do after this weekend. Wish me luck!

I think I'm going to be extremely tired, but very enlightened, by Sunday night.
jessicasteiner: (Blank Paper)
It's the last day of May, and I'm exhausted after a very long week at work, so I thought I'd do a recap.

This month, I edited, formatted, and released two stories for 99c. I designed the covers for both of them, though I did have help from friends. One of them is a book of writing tips, and the other is a short story. The latter is actually selling quite well, especially considering I've done almost zero promotion.

I worked on my edit of OtherWhere. I'll be doing more posts about my editing process in the future, but right now I'm in the middle of a long slog that's not much fun. I'm about a quarter of the way through this particular slog. Once I finish it, I'll probably do another set of tips about what I did. So... hang onto your seat.

Most of my work this month was involved in finishing a 20,000 word novella that will be released...at some point. I've also written a bit of fanfiction this month.

Now wish me luck. June is coming, and it's going to involve me clinging to sanity by the fingernails.
jessicasteiner: (Procrastination)


After finishing the month of April, I had a string of busy days. I think I needed a little time away from the blog, but I do feel pretty good about what I accomplished this month.

I finished the A-Z Blog Challenge, while at the same time writing about 15,000 words of a "short" story. The blog posts I plan to compile into a book, so I counted those words towards my Camp NaNoWriMo goal. The story I wrote is another story in the Grim Hunter series, and will be the last, and longest, story in the anthology I plan to release of all the stories to date.

I expect to have another 5000 words or so of the Grim story, and then editing and formatting begins.

The upshot is, I'm pretty pleased with the amount I accomplished this month. For the month of May I want to keep up a regular blogging schedule, finish the Grim story, and continue editing OtherWhere. Wish me luck!
jessicasteiner: (Blank Paper)
Okay, I wasn't going to double up and instead was just going to finish on May 1st, but then I just decided to go for it and get this finished.

One of the things that I've always struggled with is names. Names of characters in particular. Now, I've already talked about language formation, and there is definitely some information in there that is helpful for making alien names. But what about the rest of the names?

Firstly, I try to think about what sort of name I want. I think about the feeling of the name - should it be short or long, smooth or harsh? Should the name evoke any particular ideas, or feelings? Is there any particular ethnicity or nationality that the character should come from? Do you want to reference anything with the name, such as a particular meaning or historical figure? The choices I make are helpful in settling on a name in the end.

For example, when I named the main character of Dreaming - Prescott Samuel Cox - I was naming a lawyer, from a family of lawyers. I wanted the name to sort of sound like that. I also wanted Sam to be embarrassed of his first name, because it was so traditional and old-fashioned, and so he goes by his middle name. In the Dream world, everyone calls him by his true name, Prescott. It's one way that I differentiate the book between when Sam is in the real world, or in the dream world.

Once I've figured out a few criteria, then I mine various sources for actual names to use. I get names from a couple sources. Sometimes I'll steal a first or last name from a person I know (A few characters' last or first names are the same as one of my clients - but never both!!)

Mostly all I do is google for baby names. There are a tonne of websites with first names that you can choose from. There are also a tonne of websites with lists of surnames by nationality. There are websites that allow you to search by letter, by nationality, by meaning. When you start scanning lists, you will probably find something you like.




I hope you've enjoyed this month and all of my tips. I'll be putting all of these posts together, editing them and fleshing them out, and putting out a book. If you've liked the information in these posts, I hope you like the final version.
jessicasteiner: (Fangirl Moment)
Today I'm going to talk about romance! Because it's a huge part of writing, so it deserves to have a post, I figure.

Now, I'm going to make one caveat, and that is that today's tip comes from the perspective of someone who really doesn't like romance novels. I love romance in other kinds of novels, but I have just never been interested in the genre itself. As such, my perspective here may not apply to that genre. But I'm pretty confident that they work for other genres that happen to contain romance.

I'm sure there are lots of other things I could say, but I can't think of anything at the moment, so here is what I want to talk about:

Never make a character whose only purpose is to be the romantic partner of another character

Every character you create should be a person. There's nothing more boring than realizing that a character was created only to be the partner of your main character, and that they really have no other role within the book than that. They should have desires outside of getting together with your other well-rounded character.

They should do more within the book than simply be the potential and then actual love interest of another character.

It's boring, and it sucks. I shouldn't have to tell you not to do it, but it happens all the time. So don't do it.
jessicasteiner: (Save the World)
We're in the home stretch! I seem to be a tiny bit further behind than I thought, so I might go a bit beyond the end of April.

Today I'm going to be talking about worldbuilding. I have two main tips for this post.

1. Don't over-do it. Leave spaces in your world for things to grow. If you map out every street, building, and flower in a town, and it's vitally important that the heroes be able to run down the street and find an abandoned building to hide in, but you've already established that the nearest abandoned building is four streets away, and it's impossible to get there before the bad guy catch them, you're going to feel hemmed in and stuck. The reader won't know the difference if you make something up on the fly, so long as it makes sense.

Allow your world the room to shift and reshape itself to be the way it needs to, for the purposes of your story, without letting continuity errors creep in.

If you make up too many details before you begin writing, you may have the urge to reveal them all. Make up 15 different religions, and you'll want a representative of everyone in the story. Come up with 30 countries and you'll want to travel through every one, to justify all the work you did. You want to have enough to make the world seem full, without spending the rest of your life doing background work you'll never use.

2. Don't under-do it. You don't necessarily want to just begin with a blank page, either. If you don't expand out your world beyond the borders of where the characters are, then it'll feel like there's nothing beyond those borders and the characters are living on an island. You can include throwaway references, or minor characters, which will show that there's more to the world than what's needed for the purposes of the story. Preparing more than what you're planning to directly use in the story will give your story richness that it otherwise wouldn't have.

Knowing where to begin and where to stop is a very individual decision. Every world and every author is different. All I can say is that when it feels like enough, stop, and if you are writing and feel like you need more, then spend some time expanding your world.
jessicasteiner: (Save the World)
Everyone knows that a story needs to have conflict. In fact, every single scene in your story should have conflict. Conflict is the main point of a story, and if there's no conflict in a story, then there's no story.

But knowing that, if you're like me, then you have a hard time sometimes figuring what constitutes conflict.

Conflict isn't just about having a fight on every page. If your book is filled with scene after scene of people arguing with each other, it'll get boring. Conflict is about your character overcoming an obstacle in their path.

Conflict is when a rainstorm stands between a lover and their date, and they don't have an umbrella.

Conflict is when a character desperately needs money to achieve their goal, but doesn't know where to get any.

Conflict is when a character is tempted to do something they know is wrong, but it'll help them to accomplish something great.

Conflict can be internal or external. It can be with other characters, or with natural forces, or with their own conscience.

A good shoot-em-up battle is fun, too.




Listen to my interview on Adventures in Sci Fi Publishing! I talk mostly about Mortis Unbound, and Star Trek.
jessicasteiner: (Blank Paper)
I can't necessarily say that a novel has to have a particular structure, nor that it even needs a structure at all. This isn't something I've made a specific study of, but I can tell you that I tend to follow the Three Act Structure. And that's what I'm going to talk about a little bit more today.

The main thing that this structure does is to space out the most profound points of change or disasters. Now, a novel doesn't actually have to have three acts. Some novels will have two acts, and some have four. It might even be possible to have five acts. Maybe some readers will be able to point out examples. A particularly epic novel will have more such disasters, and so that determines how many acts you actually have, but generally you'll have three main acts.

The First Act

In the first act, the characters and the main problem of the story are introduced. The characters are thrust into the events of the story. A change takes place (usually as close as possible to the very beginning) from which there is no going back. They can no longer ignore the important conflict going on and must do something about it.

At the end of the first act, something takes place that is a major turning point. The work that the characters have made towards achieving their goal and making the world go back to normal is thwarted in a way that truly changes the perception of the problem itself.

The Second Act

Throughout the second act, which is the main bulk of the story, the characters strive to solve the problem they're faced with. They may still be trying to avoid facing the great sacrifices they will have to make in order to solve the problem. They generally still want to go back to the way things were, and not want to face the fact that the world has irrevocably changed. There should be multiple turning points, keeping the action moving.

Many books get heavy and bloated in the second act. It is often helpful to have another major disaster right around the middle of the book, to help hold up the middle and keep it from seeming too long.

The Third Act

In the third act, the characters are totally committed and they have made firm decisions to solve the problem. They have accepted that they only way out of the mess that's been created is forward. The story moves and builds to the climax, and the main problem is solved, though the characters' world will never be the same.

Making all this happen

Generally what I do before I start is identify the four main turning points - the one that launches the characters into the action, the two disasters at the end of acts 1 and 2, and the climax. Once I identify them, I place them as anchor points in my outline, and build the book around them.
jessicasteiner: (Bad Writing Day)
I know I'm a day behind and... despite the fact that I've been preparing for a 5-day Supreme Court trial starting on April 29th, I will get through this, I swear.

Anyway.

Theme!

If you're like me, you groan when you hear or read this word. I used to enjoy English classes only to the extent to which I was able to a) read a book that I actually enjoyed, or b) write a story. Analyzing books for theme was always one of those things that struck me as relatively pointless, or at least an exercise that was best left to people who liked that sort of thing.

However, identifying the theme of your own novel is really useful for a number of reasons. And I do mean identifying. You don't necessarily shoe-horn your theme in and then try to make your story fit it, but it should evolve organically and become clear at some point in the process. Sometimes, when you type 'The End', but maybe sooner.

So, a couple of reasons why identifying your theme is good:

1. It can help to unify a novel or series. If you know the theme of your series is something like "love can conquer all" then it's easier to ensure that the ultimate resolution of the story is in line with that philosophy. Doing that, will make the story tie together in a more satisfying manner.

2. It gives you something to talk about. When writing synopses, or back cover copy, or even just talking about your novel, it's really important to be able to explain what it's about in a short, intriguing way. Knowing the theme gives you a starting point for figuring out how to do that. Now, you probably won't actually describe the theme in such an explanation, but it can help to focus your mind so it's not just "well, it's about this guy, and one day he..." and ten minutes later your audience is glazing over.

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Jessica Steiner

February 2016

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