Nikki's Notebook

My journey as a fiction writer and a place for my projects, writing and otherwise.

Archive for June 2012

Can reading writing advice hurt your writing?

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In this first revision of my novel, I’m changing a lot of things drastically. That means I’m throwing a lot of good writing out the window, but I’m still keeping and altering some scenes. It’s tough, as a writer, to go back and pick out those parts of the scenes I want to keep, and then to notice that the rest of it, the part I’m leaving out, isn’t really that bad. In fact, it’s pretty good. How did I not notice that when I was first writing it?

The thing is, I don’t feel like the writing I’m doing now, to replace it, is as good. Is it because I just can’t see it until later? Or is it because I recently read some books about writing and editing fiction, and I’m letting my inner editor have too much reign at this point in the process? I may be worrying too much about using words other than “said” as dialogue tags and stripping my writing of adverbs. This advice is useful, but not if it makes me self-conscious to the point of making my writing sterile and lifeless.

On the other end of things, I get too frustrated with the advice that tells me to “just do it. Just get words on paper,” and focuses a lot on word counts. I WANT to know more about the editing process and what it looks like to sit down and chisel away at what I’ve already written. Apparently, I just need to know where to apply that advice.

My conclusion is that writers need to take advice self-consciously. Obviously, anything that causes you anxiety and keeps you from writing is not good. My solution is to take a step back, and give some conscious thought to how I’m following the advice, or whether it would benefit me to follow it. Another solution is to filter the advice and make sure to only apply it to the part of the process I’m in. This can be tricky sometimes, since I’m still exploring my own process and figuring out what works for me. And that’s the thing about advice, too. Writers are all different, and we each need to figure out what works for us.

On to another note. I have pictures of Week 2 of my garden. Seeds are sprouting, things are growing! I harvested my first pepper, but the plant came with the almost full-grown pepper on it, so I don’t think that counts.

Here’s a pic of the whole garden. I think it’ll be fun to have a week by week collection of these and watch it get greener and greener overall.
GardenWeek2 #1

My zucchini seeds sprouted! I plan to tie them up on the green mesh as they get bigger. I may be a little too late planting them, but we’ll see. Que será, será.
GardenWeek2 #2

Baby zucchini closeup. I planted two seeds in each hole in case one didn’t sprout. Sadly, I did pull the second sproutling out of each pair. I hate doing it even though I know thinning is a part of gardening.
GardenWeek2 #3

Lettuce sprouts growing in among the peppers! I thinned these, too, after taking pictures.
GardenWeek2 #4

Closeup of cute lettuce sprouts.
GardenWeek2 #5

Green bell peppers! The peppers were already on the plant when we bought it. Yay for head starts. I’m excited for this one, because last year I bought one before our garden was built and wasn’t able to plant it for about a month. I think we’ll get a lot more peppers this year!
GardenWeek2 #6

Big beef tomato flowers.
GardenWeek2 #7

I planted snap peas and pole beans near the trellis and next to the tomato plants so they can climb the tomato cages. Last year, our tomatoes got so huge, I’m not super worried about other plants blocking their sun. If the beans and peas grow too fast, I’ll just cut them back. Here’s a pole bean seedling. Cute!
GardenWeek2 #8

And, a shot of the tomatoes now, to compare with when they get really big!
GardenWeek2 #9


Fantasy Writing and Worldbuilding

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Origami paper!Now that I’m revising my novel, I have found myself exploring my worldbuilding a little more. Or, really, my lack of worldbuilding. I don’t usually start NaNoWriMo with much prior planning, and I get a lot of my word count by spewing out brainstorming about the characters, the world, its system of magic, and any other background info. This time around, I’m ONLY counting words that are part of the actual narrative text, because that is what I want to make the most progress on. I’m making worldbuilding decisions as I go, but I’ve thought of a lot of things I want to do after I make my 50,000 word goal this month to enrich the world the novel occurs in. Here are some of them:

Draw Maps

My novel has two main settings. The first is the city/kingdom of Areth, set in the mountains with all the buildings built into and onto the rocks and with all kinds of winding bridges, trails, and tunnels. There is also a river running down the middle valley that the city is situated in. The other main setting is on the plains surrounding the mountain, in the camp of a semi-nomadic tribe of people who are related to a marginalized group of people who live in the city. I still haven’t figured out if the city is just a city that’s part of a larger kingdom that the plains are also part of, or if it should be a kingdom by itself and the plains are part of another kingdom, or what. On top of all that, I need to figure out where this country stands in relation to all the other countries in this world, so I should probably make some of those up.

Describe the Kingdom’s Current Political System and Climate

A large part of my story is based on political unrest and oppression of a group of people, so I should probably figure out what the heck is causing it. I’ve got characters who reside in the royal palace complex, but I have no freaking idea who the king and other royal people are, or what their motivations are. They will not be part of the story, but in countries ruled by a King or Queen, those people should probably be pretty important figures in the minds of all the other people living there.

Really figure out how the heck these people use magic

It’s not a fantasy story if they don’t use magic, but for some reason I have lots of trouble coming up with specific little details that show how they use it. I’m such a big picture person, that I’ll develop the vague notion of how things are in my brain, like “they study magic in school, and the king’s army has a special division of guards who are trained in combat magic,” but if I had to actually describe what a battle looked like? Yeah. I get stuck. Do they get physically hurt by, like, fire that the mage conjures, or do they get magically affected somehow and just die after writhing in pain? If they make a shield, is it visible as energy or invisible? Heck if I know. I have been trying to just write what I think of as I go, because brainstorming lists is getting me nowhere. In the process, I’ve switched my general idea of how they do magic like ten times, further complicating what I’ve written before.

Magical creatures–do they exist?

I’ve always loved stories with magical creatures, especially dragons. But my story has none. I have a feeling that, after spending tons of time working on this world, I will want to stay in it for awhile longer by writing other stories that take place in other areas of it. And I like magical creatures, so if I’m going to be living here for awhile, I should probably find out where the magical creatures are.

Take advantage of these great resources:

I’ll be honest, these great articles and websites were all on the first page of my google search, so it seems silly reposting them here, but I will anyway.

Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions by writer Patricia C. Wrede, for authors to ask themselves to help them develop a world.

30 Days of Worldbuilding, a collection of exercises by Stephanie Cottrell Bryant.

The Encyclopedia Mythica, especially the Bestiary. It’s an encyclopedia of world mythologies, and the bestiary describes different mythical creatures.

Like anything, I need to be sure to assess whether I’m doing something needed or just procrastinating on the real goal of writing a story. I definitely think that research and worldbuilding are essential to fantasy writing. Almost none of that work will make it into the novel, but it will be there to support it and make it more real. I’ve already benefited on my character development by writing short stories as back story, so it can’t be much different for worldbuilding.

I’m including a picture of my origami paper, which has nothing to do with worldbuilding. Isn’t it pretty though? And that is an origami butterfly, in the middle there.

Written by nikkinbird

June 13, 2012 at 5:39 pm

Camp NaNoWriMo Progress, Summer, and Vegetable Garden!

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2012-06-10 10.24.29

Camp NaNoWriMo Progress

For about one day, I was caught up on my novel. I really was. I even had, like, 200 extra words. On Friday that all went out the window. See, Chris is working in Minneapolis full time, so he’s only home on the weekends. That means that, whenever he’s here, the regular schedule I’ve so diligently put myself on gets thrown out in favor of doing fun things together or catching up on house and yard things together. And I’m totally all right with this. Our summer is short here in Duluth, so we have to enjoy each moment of it that we get. I have a week off now, so I will catch up. Plus, sometimes the thing that Chris and I decide to do together is go to a coffee shop and work on our respective projects. So then I do get more writing done those times when he’s here.

Tashi enjoys when we let him hang out in the yard with us, too. His favorite activities are getting pet while basking in the sun and exploring. He is not an outside cat, but we let him come outside supervised for short periods of time. When we don’t let him out, we sometimes have the pleasure of listening to him yowl at us in the windowsill for 15 minute stretches of time.

What I like about summer, when it’s not too hot, is that I can do everything outside. I’m sitting in the shade right now on the deck, looking out into the yard and admiring my freshly planted vegetable garden. While I enjoyed my coffee after breakfast this morning, I knitted on the pair of socks I’ve been working on for Chris forever! It’s taken so long because for a while I was having weird pain spasms all up and down my left arm and wrist, so I thought it was a good idea not to do the things that caused them, like knitting. It was sad, but I think it’s had a good rest now and is over.

Vegetable Garden

Yesterday we worked outside for ten hours! We got up early enough to be at the farmer’s market when it opened at 7am, a first for us. My attempt at starting plants indoors failed again this year, so we relied on the farmer’s market for some great plants to get our garden going. The $25 investment in seedlings will be well worth all the vegetables we get later!

This is our second year wtih our magnificent raised bed garden. Last summer I planted 13 tomato plants way too close to each other, and they EXPLODED all over the garden and flopped over the pepper plants and stole the sun from them. Add to that, we’d planted late because of the time it took to build the garden and get the dirt, so we had a LOT of green tomatoes in September. I have high hopes for this year–I was more moderate with my 6 nicely spaced tomato plants, but I may have crammed some other things in there tight. What I did, though, was intersperse different kinds of plants together. So I planted onions and lettuce in the spaces between the peppers, and I put snap pea and pole bean seeds practically everywhere because they put nitrogen back in the soil, which helps the other plants grow.

I’m going to take pictures of the garden as it grows. Here is Day 1.

The big plants in the foreground are the pepper plants. We have 2 jalapeño plants, 1 banana pepper, 1 hungarian hot wax pepper, 1 green bell pepper, and 2 others that I don’t know the name of that Chris’s mom gave us. On the back row are the tomato plants. 2 big slicing tomatoes and 4 cherry tomato plants. I love love love cherry tomatoes, especially straight off the vine.

The big trellis behind the tomato plants will be for snap peas and pole beans. The section of green fencing on the inside of the garden has zucchini seeds planted under it, and I plan to tie them up and grow them vertically. I haven’t got them in much space, so it’ll be an experiment. I won’t cry if it doesn’t work.

On the zucchini side of the garden, the little green spikes you can see are leeks. I planted a few rows of them and had so many left over that I planted them in every extra space I could. I did the same thing with the onions on the pepper side of the garden. Both deter pests with their oniony smell, so I’m hoping the random scattering will be good. I was really excited to see, when I pulled the onion seedlings apart, that many were already forming tiny little bulbs! Onions are one of my favorite vegetables, so I will be really excited if they’re successful in my garden.

2012-06-10 10.22.20
2012-06-10 10.22.58 2012-06-10 10.23.12 2012-06-10 10.20.46

Camp NaNoWriMo (still) and a New Publishing Community, Asymmetrical

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cats are plotting against meI have been slacking on the blog a little bit and the cats are angry. I’d like to blame it on Camp NaNoWriMo starting last Thursday, but to tell the truth, I’ve been slacking a bit on that, too. I’m only about 1,000 words behind, and I have a whole week off next week, so I’m not too worried. It’s not NaNoWriMo’s fault I’ve been slacking on the blog, it’s the beautiful weather’s fault! On Saturday, Chris and I managed to do almost exactly nothing productive, which is an accomplishment for us. We went flower shopping with his mom, then went to his parents’ house and walked on the trail behind it along the creek for a couple of hours. Gorgeous. Sunday, the yard work consumed us. I planted the flowers. They are pretty. Summer is wonderful, until it gets too hot and/or humid.

I am excited about a new website, Asymmetrical. It is a site about publishing online, and currently has a community page that is pretty active. When they say publishing, they mean many things, but it’s a lot about micropublishers (a solo publisher) and exploring the changes that are happening in publishing of all kinds because of the internet. I myself usually lurk, but am so proud of myself for posting an introduction there! Now I will have to start participating in discussions more. The project will be more than just a community eventually, and I think it’s going to be good. Check it out!

Written by nikkinbird

June 5, 2012 at 6:32 pm

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