Jul
31
2010
16

Re-Reading and Re-Reading…

My process is always changing, but recently I returned to an old part of my process that I had lost. For a few years, my attention span got so bad that I could not do as much re-reading of my WIP that I did once.

After awhile, I forgot it had ever been my process.

But I’ve picked it up again. I tend to start reading (and editing/tweaking) at the very beginning every morning. And then I add words until my brain starts jumping around and can only write fragments. I take a break, then I start re-reading at the beginning of the chapter I’m on or the previous chapter.

Whew, it’s a lot of re-reading.

I hope it’s making a better story. It is making my daily word count higher. I’m starting to think that lots of reading, whether it’s my WIP or other writers’ books, sorta exercises my own writing muscle.

On another note, I am two days away from the anniversary of my life as a full-time writer on the road (or stopped in the desert, LOL). I suppose that calls for a special post.

Is there anything in particular I should include in my anniversary post? Any questions I should answer? And does your process change? Have you ever forgotten, then returned, to elements of your old process?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Full-Time Writing | Tags:
Jul
27
2010
16

Funky Photos!

I have a new plugin! Fotobook with Lightbox (only works with Lightbox version 2.2.6.1 at the moment). Which means that if you click “Photos” up there… yeah… up there, between “About Natasha Fondren” and “My Website,” then you’ll be able to see all my Facebook Albums here.

Or you can click here.

If you hover over the right side of the photo, in the middle, an arrow will appear which will take you to the next photo.

You can see my adventures at Montezuma Castle with Mark Terry, a Horned Lizard, some cool Arizona Critters, a bunch of toads, including a huge-ass one, and my Adventurous Night, where I took a pic of a black widow spider, a few lizards, a gecko without its tail, a tail without its gecko, and two centipedes!

Enjoy!

image

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: My Adventures | Tags:
Jul
24
2010
22

Stretching the Attention Span

I’ve struggled to get my attention span under control this year. It’s improved a lot, mostly because I’ve changed my eating habits and I’ve been feeding my brain lots of oils. (Fish oil and Omegas.) Oils are magic brain food, seriously. Some studies say they’re more effective than Ritalin and the like.

I still yearn for my 5K writing days of old, and I’m not there yet.

Via a blog at Writer Unboxed, “The Internet, Your Brain, Your Writerly Self,” I discovered an article from a recent NPR show, “This Is Your Brain Online.” In it, Nicholas Carr explains how the internet is worsening our attention spans:

"Neuroscientists and psychologists have discovered that, even as adults, our brains are very plastic," Carr explains. "They’re very malleable, they adapt at the cellular level to whatever we happen to be doing. And so the more time we spend surfing, and skimming, and scanning … the more adept we become at that mode of thinking."

Humankind’s natural state is one of distractedness. In the wild, we needed to be constantly shifting our attention in a state of scanning alertness for the many dangers and threats to our daily survival.

Prolonged, solitary thought is not the natural human state, but rather “an aberration in the great sweep of intellectual history that really just emerged with [the] technology of the printed page.”

This was a revelation to me. Granted, I am a little more scatterbrained than normal people, but still. If I view a short attention span as a normal state instead of a deficiency, I can view developing a longer attention span as a practice. If our brains are so adaptable, why can’t I train it to single-task instead of multi-task?

So I’m trying.

I’ve been working on reading for hours. That sounds odd, but in the past few years, it seems I can’t go for a half hour of reading without jumping online. I remember when I used to curl up with a book for hours. Every night.

I’ve found that if I start my writing day by reading for an hour instead of hopping around online, my brain more easily focuses on writing.

I’m trying to do everything in long, single-minded stretches, one thing at a time. Even Facebook. I feel like it’s helping. Yesterday I had my first 4K day in months.

I’ve started meditating, but I’m still at thirty seconds. My brain sorta goes berserk. But hey, even if I add only ten seconds a day, I’ll be up to an hour in a year.

I’m writing first, no matter what. If I don’t produce content, I’ll starve. I’ve been dropping the ball on the little tasks in a writing life, which I regret, but I’m working hard not to let the little emergencies take precedence over writing new words.

Don’t get me wrong: I love Facebook. I love seeing how my friends are doing, I love touching base with them, and I love feeling like there’s a “water cooler” at work. Studies show that distracting yourself for a little bit improves creativity, too.

I just want to keep my distractions as distractions. There are days where writing feels like the distraction from the internet, rather than the other way around.

What was your mind like before Facebook and Twitter and the like? Do you work on stretching and strengthening your attention span? How?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Full-Time Writing | Tags: ,
Jul
15
2010
7

Comic Con?

Are you going? Have you ever gone? What’s it like? Should I go? Would I have fun, even though I don’t know anyone and would probably have to get a hotel twenty miles away?

Looks like it’d be hard not to learn something. Any tips?

Please tell all!

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: My Adventures | Tags:
Jul
13
2010
21

The Anguish of a Good Idea

I’ve been torn of late. I’m building three worlds concurrently, as I’m sure you’re sick of hearing about by now, and I’m not sure where to use what.

They’re sort of in a race. One world pulls forward as the most interesting, then the other, then the other. One is for Pseudie, one for Pseudie to self-publish, and one for Natasha to pitch NY. (I believe in diversification of assets. ;-) )

The decision of which world to use where is killing me.

There’s always the fear that this will be your last great idea, or your best idea. Sometimes this surfaces as “Why waste this great idea now? Why not wait until I’m a better writer?” Others surface in series, where the temptation is to hold back in one book, for fear you won’t be able to top it in the next book.

Every time I shift my focus, the one I’m working on gets better and more interesting. The more practice I have, the better things go.

Ideas and books don’t improve in a steady line. Some will sell well and some won’t. (There is nothing like watching one of your worst books outsell your best book by far…) Each idea and book won’t be better than the last, although we hope it’s more skilled and better crafted.

At some point, you just have to believe in the law of statistics. Keep building, keep writing, keep creating, and eventually, if you write enough, you’ll hit the right idea in the right place at the right time.

If not, there’s always the next idea.

There is an anguish worse than that of a good idea: How I wish I could write faster! Much faster! I think I could be happy with 10K a day…

Do you ever feel torn about what to do with your ideas? Which one to write next? Which one to save?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Full-Time Writing | Tags:
Jul
12
2010
17

Impatience with Creativity

I’m building a series, but I’m getting very impatient with the creative process. I have no problem thinking and imagining while I’m doing something else, but I have a tough time just sitting and being creative.

I know that I must build the world and decide on its structure and the like, but I feel so unproductive. Like right now, I was doodling a map of the world, trying to organize everything, and I just got so impatient with the whole process.

I like getting words done.

If it feels too much like playing, I start to get really antsy. Where did I get this idea that one should feel guilty for enjoying and having fun with one’s work? That’s silly.

And then, sheesh. World-building is like opening a can of worms. With everything you decide, there’s suddenly a bunch of other things to decide.

On top of that, this work is rendering the 8,000 words I’ve already written unusable. My writing process is changing a lot this year. I’m uncomfortable with that. I mean, every book calls for its own, unique process, but I’m so far off my normal grid.

Do you ever feel guilty about the more creative aspects of writing? Ever get impatient with the process and just want it done? Ever go through a big shift in writing process?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Writing Craft | Tags:
Jul
11
2010
11

A Brave New World

I’m in a world-building phase. I don’t know what’s up, but I’ve invented three new worlds in the last couple weeks. I’m loving it. I’m getting a lot of snatches written, but most of it is foundation rather than word-by-word prose.

Nathan Bransford wrote a great post on world-building, “What Makes a Great Setting.” (I suppose it was about setting rather than world-building, but they’re so closely related.) He mentioned three important elements to a good setting: change underway, personality and values, and unfamiliarity.

Sarah Jae-Jones adds to the discussion in her post, “Publishing Phenomenons.” She points out part of the magic that makes Harry Potter:

“I mean, everyone immediately recognized whether or not they were Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, or Slytherin–by the way, I’m RAVENCLAW ALL THE WAY. There’s something about this series that makes you want to crawl into the wizarding world and find your place in it.”

Then things get messy. The main character needs to be firmly and organically rooted in the foundation of the world. If we just stick a character into a world, it doesn’t feel right.

The Reluctant Hero

Nothing is quite so egotistical as a character who thinks he can save the world, but when you’ve got a world with change underway, the main character is likely going to be the cause for the end-of-series world peace.

So often you have the reluctant hero. He can be so humble and true-hearted, like Frodo, that you can’t help but love him (Lord of the Rings). Or she can be thrust into a thick of things to save a sister, and her strength and values and choices can inspire nations (The Hunger Games). Or he can be after a simple thing, like rescuing his lover, and gradually an army builds behind him that changes the power structure of the world (10,000 B.C.).

Motivation

Somewhere in the world-building, the main character needs motivation to fight for (or against) change. To save a world, you need extreme motivation, but this motivation often starts small, like avenging the death of a friend, a family member, or a village. Saving a loved one. And the steps they take from that small, personal motivation sets them on the path that will later save the world.

The character needs personal stakes in the change of the world, but people are rarely motivated to save themselves as much as they are to save someone else. Somehow, this BIG BAD EPIC THING that’s got change underway in the world must get small and personal, and must do some awful thing to the main character, in order to set the main character on the path of saving the world.

And what makes the main character special? Why do they have the power to change the world, anyways? What personal cost will their power have? What limits?

I’m just thinking out loud. My third world is still building. I love knitting together all these stray bits to make a tight weave of characters, motivation, plot and world.

What do you think about when creating a world for your characters? Where do you start? How do you make it all feel organic?

11 commments so far. Add yours!
Written by Natasha Fondren in: Writing Craft | Tags: ,
Jul
07
2010
30

Kindle Formatting for Novels VI

Styling and coding the first bit of a chapter or section is part of what signals to a reader that a new section has begun. We’ve been trained as readers to this for years by print books. Now I’ll show you how to do it in an ebook.

Just like a cover, the formatting of your novel should reflect your novel. The style you choose should match your writing style, genre, and story. For example, a few writers start every chapter with one attention-getting sentence, rather short, that is its own paragraph. The formatting should reflect this set-apart sentence. Another example: A hard-core military thriller might use small caps instead of italics, while a Victorian romance would probably be the opposite.

If the length of your chapters’ first sentences tends to vary widely, you probably want to apply your first-line formatting to a set number of words, rather than the whole first sentence.

Whatever method you choose, it should be uniformly applied to all chapters and new sections throughout the book.

Also note that people often use several of these techniques, rather than just choosing one. For example, you can italicize the first five words after a drop cap image. Again, check out “Kindle Formatting for Novels III: Design Ideas for inspiration.

No Indent

The first paragraph should have no indentation at both the beginning of a chapter and the beginning of a new section within a chapter organizes the text to the eye. This is the second bit of formatting that is one of my must-haves. I’m no typography expert, but this hasn’t been a mainstay of book formatting for decades for no reason.

In the style code, I also put a margin at the top, to push the beginning of the chapter down from the chapter heading. This margin will also push down the beginning of the paragraph of the new section.

The Kindle indents by default, so you have to manually set it not to indent. In the style section, as I posted in the previous installment, “Kindle Formatting for Novels V: Coding the Chapter Headings,” put the following line:

p.noindent { text-indent:0; margin-top:60;}

When you start a new chapter or new section within a chapter, change the <p> to <p class=“noindent”>

Styling the First Sentence

If you look at print books, and most ebooks these days, you’ll notice that the first sentence of each chapter and section is styled a certain way. Below are some of the options that transfer well to the Kindle.

Small Caps

Small caps is my favorite, but it’s also time-consuming. Usually it’s done to either the first four or five words in the chapter, and the number of words small-capped is the same throughout the book. Note that if you have a capital letter within the small-capped section, you will have to make sure it is outside the small tags. If you apply this style, your code will look like this:

<p class="noindent">H<small><small>ERE</small></small> N<small><small>ATASHA USES SMALL CAPS</small></small> for the first five letters.</p>

 smallcaps

Italics

Italics are the easiest and quickest style to apply, since you only need to wrap the words with the <i></i> tags. I’ve seen this applied to the first sentence, but if the length of your first sentences varies greatly, choosing a specific number of words gives your chapter a more uniform and polished finish. Often I see this styling in combination with a drop cap or up cap.

Here’s the code:

<p class="noindent"><i>Here Natasha uses italics for the first sentence.</i></p>

And here is the outcome on the Kindle:

italics

You can also apply bold with <b></b> tags, but this is usually done when combined with other styling.

Up Cap Images

“Drop” caps are done by inserting images into the text. Unfortunately, no formatting code is supported that will actually make these letters drop, so you’re forced to make them go up. (Frustrating, I know.)

You will need to upload your image to the same folder where you have saved the .html file of your novel.

<p class="noindent"><img src="hcap.gif" alt="H" align="left" />ere Natasha applies a drop cap to the first letter.</p>

upcap

Up Caps with Text only

Up caps can be done without images as a quick (and dirty) way to start a chapter or section. Especially when used alone, I think it appears a bit lazy and inelegant, but that’s just my opinion. Sometimes they add bold and/or italics to this letter.

 <p class="noindent"><big><b>H</b></big>ere Natasha uses an up cap with bold formatting.</p>

image

Remember that you don’t need to pick one of these methods. You can mix them up to create your own style. Beware of going gaudy though; simple and elegant is always easier to read. :-)

Next Installment

Next we’ll talk about images! Fun, fun!

Any questions? Anything I can do to make this better? Anything I left out?

30 commments so far. Add yours!
Written by Natasha Fondren in: Kindle Formatting | Tags: ,
Jul
06
2010
27

Give Copy Editors a Break

It’s not just me. Remember my first post on cleaning up your Word document in “Kindle Formatting for Novels I?” About not using Word like a typewriter? It’s not just if you’re planning on self-publishing; even for print publishers, it can allow your copy editor to get straight to copy editing, rather than cleaning up a mess of formatting.

Well, Carol Seller, senior manuscript editor at the University of Chicago Press, editor of the Chicago Manual of Style Online’s Q&A, and author of The Subversive Copy Editor, agrees.

It’s just that word processing is not what I came on board for all those years ago. I’m not trained to do it, I don’t enjoy doing it, and I don’t really know whether what I do is of use to the typesetter. Just once I’d like to receive a perfectly clean and coded manuscript that would allow me to spend all my time copyediting instead of in rodent control.

After expressing some frustration at “Checking for Squirrels” on The Subversive Copy Editor Blog, she posted a useful list of things writers can do to help in “Advice for Writers: Preparing Your E-Manuscript,” including a few of the things I mentioned:

Never use the Tab key or the Space bar to start a new line.
Never use the Space bar to indent anything. I’ll go further: never hit the Space bar more than once in a row.

I admit I’m sorta in love with copy editing. I adore both editors and copy editors, at least the ones I’ve come in contact with thus far. (One was incompetent, but I liked him anyway.) I read the Chicago Manual of Style for fun. I’m looking forward to the next edition. :-) I need to review it again, though. You kinda have to spend some time maintaining the relationship.

The next Kindle installment coming soon!

Do you love reading style manuals? Do you enjoy copyediting? Do you clean up the “squirrels” before sending it off to a publisher?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Editing | Tags:
Jul
02
2010
24

A Relationship Takes Work

Writing is a relationship. I’m a little afraid to jinx it, but writing is going well, lately. I’m definitely all over it, trying to figure out why it’s going well so that I can replicate the situation, environment, and mindset for the next time writing becomes challenging.

I’m not sure if it was like this for all my schoolmates, but during my time in conservatory and thereafter, I was rather… down-to-earth and business-like in making a career and making money from music. In other words, keeping the passion and love alive was definitely not on my priority list.

Being “professional” was sorta drilled into your skull at all costs. (I am a rare bird in that I remember my time in conservatory fondly. The majority of my friends spent about a decade “getting over” the experience. When I was there, they hired a full-time psychiatrist to help students deal.)

I remember one friend being rather proud of herself for being down-to-earth enough to realize that “it’s a job, just like any other.”

It worked, honestly. I think C.I.M. boasts that 90% (around there) of their alumni make their living in music. But personally, I got burnt out. That was my fault, not C.I.M.’s. I sometimes cut corners out of what I loved about being a musician and teacher in order to make money.

Bad idea. It kills your enthusiasm, stresses you out, and burns you out, which, long-term, gives you less profit.

With writing, I’ve been careful to take the opposite approach: I protect the writing at all costs. I am trying to nurture my enthusiasm. I refuse to settle. Sure, what I’ve learned about making money in the arts is up there in my head, and I can’t completely turn it off (and perhaps my approach only works because of this), but my focus is on having fun and loving story and giving fiction everything I’ve got.

So I’m very careful to monitor what motivates me and what does not. Writing is going awesome at the moment. It’s erotica, though. I’ve got to figure out how to apply that to a NY-able genre.

Another big difference is that I have a lot more on my plate to write. And people already want it. That makes a big difference for my motivation.

Oddly, I have some deadlines coming up, but I’m writing as if I have none—and writing faster because of it. I’m just spending every second I can writing because I can’t wait to get back to my world and my characters.

I forgot what this was like.

I’ve been going to the movies a lot. That’s important for me. I love story, and in a movie I can disappear in it. When I read, it’s a little like working. I analyze too much while reading, so movies help me disappear in story.

I’m trying to remember these things, so I can keep the love alive.

How do you keep the love alive in your relationship with writing? What motivates you the most?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Full-Time Writing | Tags: , ,

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