Thursday, October 31, 2013


It is the end of October and tomorrow is the first day of November, the first day of Nanowrimo.

My mind is awhirl with ideas.

Tomorrow starts the month when I put my ideas down on paper and attempt to make something concrete out of them.

It's a scary thing, often, making your ideas real. Sometimes it feels much better to keep your ideas in the realm of the maybe, to not put them down on paper, to not show them, to not turn them into something real.

The thing is, ideas can be wonderful and great and genius and perfect, but once you put them down on paper to make them real, they will be real in their flaws, lumps, awkwardness, and imperfection. Before you put them down, when that page is blank and full of nothing but potential and possibility, your hopes of what might be can get so big and important that it's too frightening to write them down and expose them.

Because reality is never perfect, and genius may start with a genius idea, but to make it real, it takes an awful lot of work and pruning and revising. It is so much better to put that flawed idea, that uncertain attempt, that maybe down on paper than it is to sit with the flawless, intangible idea floating around in your brain.

Put it out there. Try it out. See what happens when the floating idea lands on the page and inspires a second idea, and then a third. Or maybe it turns out to be a bad idea that doesn't go anywhere. In that case, scrap that idea and move on to the next. Just make sure whatever it is, you commit to those ideas, you make those ideas real.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Get Ready for Nanowrimo with a Mock Up of Your Book Cover


In preparation for beginning nanowrimo in November, I created a mock up of the front cover of the novel I am hoping to write.

It is actually quite surprising how creating the cover of your novel can help you focus on the book you are going to write, it almost makes it real, whereas before, it was just a nice idea and a bunch of words all mashed up in some order you're not quite sure of yet.

I suggest this as an exercise for anyone tackling a big book project, whether in nanowrimo or on your own. I did this once before for the novel I was revising, and it really gave me the push to see it all the way through.

Some suggestions for how to get this mock up going.

1. Take a look at some of your favorite book covers and look at how these books convey the mood and characters and story of the books. Start getting some ideas of what you'd like your book cover to look like. For some inspiration, I have pinterest collections of illustrations, and more text based illustrations. Notice that the illustrations can be anywhere from super elaborate to very simple, multiple colors or black and white, perfect and precise to scrawled graffiti. 

2. Pick a medium that you are comfortable with. Remember, you are not actually trying to be a book illustrator, you are just trying to make your book real to you. It's okay if you are not a great artist. If you like taking photos, try using one of your photos as the main image. Use magazines and collage images that convey a sense of the story. Perhaps your book cover is just color block, patterns or words. If you know photoshop or computer graphics or  like cool computer fonts, use that. I generally hand draw all that

3. Take out a piece of paper and divide it into 6 or 8 book cover shaped rectangles. Sketch a few ideas on this paper, one per rectangle. Think about different main images, colors, where the text goes. Try rearranging the main elements for the best effect. Leave space on the image to put your book title, author and any other text. Sketch out the title so you know how much room you'll need to make it all fit. Pay attention to the space around your images, the negative space, so nothing is too squooshed or unbalanced (unless that's part of your design.) After I did it, I noticed that my lettering is a little unbalanced, but you know what? It's not that bad, and this is just a mock up. It's good practice for nanowrimo to not worry about being perfect. Practice letting go of your internal editor. I'll be honest, I skipped this step when I did my own mock up and went straight to step 4.

4. Take out a larger piece of paper and sketch out the placement of your images lightly, just so you know where it all goes on your paper.  Oh, I suppose if you're working on the computer do whatever it is the computer wants you to do. The point is, try out your final arrangement. 

5. Now go at it and make your image, paint, draw, collage, photo edit. Don't be too obsessive about getting it perfect. You only have a few days left before you have to start writing, so don't spend all that time on this. This is an exercise for your writing.

6. Don't forget to display your new book cover mockup so that you can be inspired by it while you are writing. Upload it to your novel page on nanowrimo. It feels good to have it on your profile.

I am specifically not giving advice on how to do graphics or art techniques, because the point is not to get all wrapped up in the hows of the craft, but to help you with your planning and drafting and writing. And to play. This is supposed to be fun. If it's not fun, scrap it. Find a better exercise for you, your personality and your creativity.

Perhaps it would work better for you to write the back copy of your novel... those few paragraphs that you would read if you picked up your novel in a book store and wanted to find out what it was about. Do that instead. Or do that also. Just have fun, and focus on the story you want to tell. Woo hoo, November is almost here!

Friday, October 25, 2013

I May Wander But I Am Not Lost, Turning Failures into Something New

Sometimes, when I am printing up one of my paintings that someone ordered, something will go wrong. The ink will splotch or an unnoticed spot will appear or the colors will be off or I tried to use the wrong paper or something will smudge or the printer will break down or it just won't be right.

I won't send those prints out. I will stick them in a box and pray the next print comes out. Every once in a while, that one doesn't, or the next one doesn't. So every once in a while, I go through my boxes and files of failures and look for something that I can take and do something with, make something of.

I had a whole series of prints where the color was off. I finally just took them out and chopped them up into little bookmarks. This is one. You can see the tip of a flying girl's foot right above the 'wander.'

I thought this was a kind of fitting metaphor for life, and a good illustration of Tolkien's quote.

I wander from my path. I fail in my endeavors. I get lost in the details or in the living. Then I unpack all my mistakes, and see what I have learned, how I have grown, what I can make from my failures.

Interestingly, I'm doing the same thing with writing. I'm doing Nanowrimo in a few days where I will write 50k words in a new novel in the month of November. I've done nano for the last 7 years. I dropped out last year because life was just in too much upheaval, but even the two years before that, where I met my wordcount goal, I wrote stories that were failures as stories. The first of those stories didn't work, so I tried again the next year, and that one didn't work either.

They wandered. They wandered terribly into places that didn't make sense and didn't seem to get me where I needed to go, narratively speaking. I explored paths the story wasn't ready to take, and so the "novels" I wrote never went anywhere. That would be 100k words of a novel that wandered, without ever getting where it needed to go.

So here I am again, getting ready to write that novel that I failed at twice before. Unpacking those hundred thousand words, reading them, salvaging what I could.

And I chopped that sucker up, just like the bookmark. My new outline starts with the one scene that worked in the first novelistic failure.The same scene that I started again with the second novelistic failure. After reading both drafts, I realize that my second draft improved greatly on the first draft of the scene, so I got ONE thing out of rewriting it twice.

My new outline for this twice attempted book is taking an entirely different direction. The book, while it has the same characters and basic premise, will have an entirely different flavor. I believe it will be richer and smarter and darker. It will mean more.

Because the thing is, I have learned things over these last three years of failed noveling that have actually gotten me past the struggle I was having with writing the new story. Some of those lessons are about writing and character and plot, but some of those things are about myself, living, love, fear and pain.

I am very optimistic about my writing for this nano, and about the story I am going to tell. Is it because this time I put my energy into planning and outlining instead of winging it like I tried for the last three years? Quite possibly. Or is it because in my wanderings I have grown and am now ready to write the story that needs to be written? Maybe that, too.  I may wander, but I am not lost.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Write. Just Do It.

Write, or Pink Smith Corona

To reach your dream, you have to make a commitment, a real, solid, painful commitment, much like a marriage. It's a better or worse kind of scenario. It's the kind of commitment where you forsake all others, and give up other things to stay true to the dream. If for instance, you dream of being a writer, you may think only of the wild and alive story that you have brought into the world, the glories of publishing, the swagger of being that writer with the pen in hand and the journal, sitting at the cafe like some Parisian bohemian, drinking strong black coffee and pouring his soul out onto the page. But being a writer is often a lot uglier than that. It's struggling with the days when the words don't come. It's a deadly dull day job or grinding financial struggle. It's rejection letters. It's fear and insecurity. It's isolating. It's the hundreds of pages that you have to delete because you were just going down the wrong track. It's your laptop dying when you didn't save, when you had finally figured it out, and were *that* close to the masterpiece of your dreams. It's that moment when you say, "Forget it. I give up. It's too hard."

A lot of the time, when we think about our dreams, we only see the hilights, the pretty pictures, the golden light streaming through the windows and the joy of achieving what you have worked for all that time.

But the truth is, dreams are hard work and they have shadows, too. They are full of struggles, confusion, failure, drudgery, dust bunnies, neglected children, neglected health, being broke, lonely days, detours, breakdowns of many varieties, long stretches of silence, block and giving up.

But if this dream is really your dream, if you love the journey, not just the idea of accomplishment, if you love the work, then trust yourself, trust that when you come back, your dream will be waiting for you and you can climb your way back onto the path. But, it's hard. Don't think it will be easy. If you really want this, and you have lost your way, you will have to claw your way back, regain the ground that you lost inch by inch. But believe in your dream and believe in yourself, because it's that belief that makes the dream possible, even when it seems like it isn't.

PS  This is my 1000th post. I think that is why I've had such a bloggers block this year. I knew this momentous post was coming up and I wanted to make it a landmark, important. I made the stakes too high and it kept me from writing. One Thousand blog posts. ONE THOUSAND. Even thinking about it kind of blows my mind. So perhaps, instead of making this a special post, I will just quietly go back to writing my blog, one post at a time, the way I wrote every one of those thousand entries, without trying to make it momentous. Maybe I'll reward myself with a new sweater. Or a cake. Cake is good.

PPS I'm also doing nanowrimo this year. Is anyone else taking the challenge? I am rosymamacita over on nanowrimo if you want to buddy up.

PPPS I have prints of Write or Pink Smith Corona up for sale in my shop. You notice it says "Write" not, "Hey, why don't you think about writing and avoid the blank page until you are absolutely 100% sure you have it all perfectly down and will not make any mistakes and really really know what you're doing and are totally confident and the circumstances are just perfect and you're not tired or stressed out or don't have to go deep clean the kitchen." Just write. Do it.

PPPPS Yay me for sitting down and writing this blog entry instead of just thinking about it for more weeks on end. 
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