writing / editing

The Great Pumpkin Analogy

Posted by on Oct 14, 2013 in writing / editing

This post originally aired in October 2011. I thought it was worth resharing.

While perusing the pumpkin “patch” (shelves) at my grocery store last weekend, this one struck me as the roundest, cleanest, most pumpkiny pumpkin of the bunch. In fact, I was so pleased with nature’s work that I considered leaving it alone and letting its bright orange hue be all the decoration I needed.

Original Pumpkin, ala first draft
So pretty. Why would anyone want to mess this up?

That thought lasted about a day. While there was nothing wrong with my pumpkin — some people might say it’s a damned good pumpkin and why on earth would you mess with perfection? — I decided to hack it up, scoop out the messy parts, and polish it into something unique.

Kind of like a novel.

Every writer knows the first draft is just that — a first draft. You need dive in headfirst to separate the solid guts from the gooey bits that are just gunking things up.

Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.
Adverbs, passive voice, and extra dialogue tags be gone!

Once you really get into it, you discover writing the novel — or picking the pumpkin — was the easy part. Creating something good enough to present to the world takes loads more time, patience, and knives… er, red pens. If you’re like me, you may be tempted to shove that baby out the front door while the guts are still cooling, but a third, or even fourth, pass is probably necessary.

Did you catch every goopy string? Cut away all the pencil marks? Grab the extra pieces off the floor before the dog ate them? (or text a photo to a friend to make sure it’s really as good as you think?) Because only then is your creation ready to be unleashed to the world.

The masterpiece.

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Getting Over the Wall

Posted by on Aug 30, 2013 in friends & family, home life, writing / editing

Getting started is the easy part. You have an idea, you jump in with both feet, and then…. and then… you hit a wall.

Kicking the rope wall-thingy's butt in the mud run

Kicking the rope wall-thingy’s butt in the mud run

This is me at our local mud run last weekend. My husband and I ran it last year and I immediately wanted to build an obstacle course in the backyard. We signed up for this year’s event as soon as it was available and had been looking forward to it all year. A quarter-mile in we approached our first obstacle: the 20-foot* rope wall. My husband murmured advice as we approached: Don’t go too fast, take your time, you’ll get there faster than you think. I made it up without any problems, then had a moment of panic as I flung my leg over the 2×4 supporting the dozen people on there with me. I wasn’t so worried about finishing the obstacle — I was concerned that someone else would knock me over (fortunately this picture was taken a split-second before that panic). I climbed down the other side and as I waited with my father-in-law for my husband, I noticed a woman completely frozen at the top.

“I can’t do it. I can’t. I can’t climb over.” Over and over and over. She clung to the bright orange wood like a lifeline, unable to throw her leg over. (We’ll save my husband’s frustration at being stuck behind her for another time.) Those of us on the ground shouted encouragement, but she decided to return the way she came. Meanwhile countless other competitors scaled the ropes and ran to the next obstacle, oblivious to her struggles.

That got me thinking about how everyone has something that freezes them up and makes it nearly impossible to move forward. I’ve been trying to lose weight for over a year and cannot get the scale to budge. I keep trying different things but nothing seems to work. Deep down I know what I need to do — cut out my lovely, precious wine and exercise more often — but instead I curse at the scale and avoid clingy clothes.

What is Your Obstacle?
Writers often hit a wall in the middle of a novel. The initial spark of a new idea can only carry a story so far; eventually serious work needs to take over and it’s not always fun. As I said above, when trying to lose weight people often hit a point where their previous efforts stop working and they need to change up their routine if they want to continue seeing progress. Even looking for a new job can become tiresome and before long you’ve convinced yourself that maybe the company that’s sucking the life out of you isn’t so bad after all (that would be my previous employer, not the current one). So how do you get over that wall?

Determine Your Goal
You know you want to write a novel, or lose 20 pounds, or find a job that doesn’t require two different medications to get through the day (also true), but how do you make it happen? Sometimes just telling yourself you’re going to do it isn’t enough.

Write it Down
Put it on a bright yellow sticky note and stick it where you’ll see it every day. Inside the medicine cabinet is a good spot because if you’re like me, you’re probably still half asleep and not yet thinking about your goal. I would advise against the fridge or a bulletin board that sees a lot of action because your reminder will get buried and forgotten. Keep that thing visible!

Now DO It
This is the hardest part. You can have the best idea in the world but executing it and sticking with it is really, really difficult. Often times it requires changing habits that fit quite nicely, thank-you-very-much, and changing them is uncomfortable. But if you’re like me and already don’t feel comfortable, maybe that change won’t be so bad.

I suggest setting really LOW goals to start. Want to exercise every day but your butt is permanently glued to the sofa? Walk for ten minutes. Yes, that seems like nothing, but it’s something. Even if you are a gym-junkie, there will be days you can’t squeeze in a workout and walking around the block is better than nothing. Same with writing. Right now my goal is 500 words per day (I’m still working towards 1000) but some days it’s all I can do to eke out a paragraph.

IT’S BETTER THAN NOTHING. It’s too easy to miss a couple days and tell yourself that you may as well give up because you’ve already fallen so far behind your goal, but one of the most important things I’ve learned (and one of the few inspirational quotes that I actually tolerate) is this:

No one else will do it for you.

It’s all up to you. And you’ve got this. You may have days when the wall seems taller than ever, but it won’t stay that way forever. Throw your leg over that obstacle and do it again tomorrow.

I’d love to hear about your wall and what you’re doing to climb over it.

***

*Jeremy insists the wall was lower than 20 feet but I know my heights. I also know that we WILL have an obstacle course someday…

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Children’s, YA, & MG Blog Hop!

Posted by on Aug 18, 2013 in Flicker, Fracture, writing / editing

It’s blog hop time! For the uninitiated, a blog hop is when a group of writers (or otherwise connected bloggers) answer the same series of questions then tag both the people who tagged them as well additional people. You know, to keep you hopping from blog to blog. My good friend June “Bug” Kramin asked me to participate and if you’ve ever met her, you know you can’t tell her no. I mean I could — she does live on the other side of a really big lake from me and would probably have a hard time hunting me down — but this is great opportunity to meet new authors and get a little extra exposure for FLICKER. Win win!

For this blog hop I answer four interview questions then tag three authors.

Here are the interview questions and my answers:

1. What are you working on right now?

Right now I’m writing FRACTURE, the sequel to my YA novel FLICKER that I published in November 2012. I was hoping to have it published by the end of this year, but getting married this past spring threw off my schedule a bit. So far writing is going well and I’m excited to get readers’ reactions. I don’t want to say too much about it for those who haven’t read FLICKER yet.

2. How does it differ from other works in its genre?

I’ve labeled the series paranormal because of the time travel element, but it’s more like paranormal-light. Everything about the story is contemporary — it’s present day and the characters have typical high school concerns, except for the small detail of Biz’s flickering. Lisa McMann’s WAKE trilogy is the most similar, but I haven’t read any others in this vein.

3. Why do you write what you do?

I first started writing short stories in middle school — silly 10-page things that had a shocking amount of kissing considering I’d yet to actually kiss a boy — but as an adult I figured it was time to move onto more adult stories. My first and second novel had adult themes, but it wasn’t until I started writing FLICKER that I really truly felt like I’d found my voice. The writing came much easier and although I’m twenty years older than my main character, I feel she has more of my personality than any other character I’ve written. Ironically, my first two novels had main characters who were teenagers. Perhaps my subconscious was trying to tell me something.

4. How does your writing process work?

Do you want the ideal process or what actually happens? Ideally I write roughly 1000 words every day. When I have the story well outlined I can crank that out in about an hour (works quite well for lunch breaks), but my output is about half that when I have to think too much. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t actually think when you write — the characters share their story through your fingertips. I took a longer break from writing than I wanted (see above mentioned wedding, plus a few other life-changing events) so right now I’m producing about a page per session (300~ words).

The actual process is pretty simple: I open the file and my outline then go! I wrote my second novel with music but always the same playlist, but since then I prefer silence. I like to sing along to music and get sucked in to even the most inane TV shows, so a quiet room is best for me. I’ve added a husband to my life since writing FLICKER, so I’m still working out the right balance between writing and life.

***

And that’s it! Thank you to Bug for including me in the hop. I hope you’ve enjoyed the interview — now please visit the other sites to discover new-to-you authors. Then NEXT week visit my blogging buddies Stacey Graham and Erica Chapman to see what they have to say to these same questions. If you do visit other blogs I’d love it if you left a comment.

Oh, and if you haven’t read FLICKER, get on it!

Flicker

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I Am Not Bryan Adams…

Posted by on Jul 22, 2013 in writing / editing

…and yet I almost wrote his lyrics in a conversation between my MC and her father. OOPS.

I bust my butt to avoid cliches, doing my best to think outside the box and write realistic dialogue, but every now and then a commonly-used phrase slips past my defenses and finds its way into my manuscript. I’m the type of writer who edits as I write, so those trite phrases rarely last long.

Do you have any writing quirks that you wish would do a vanishing act once and for all?

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Making New Habits

Posted by on Jul 14, 2013 in Owen (the dog), writing / editing

Everyone knows how difficult it can be to break bad habits. Smoking, over-eating, cracking your knuckles (not that I would EVER have a problem with cracking my knuckles…) can take more effort than some people are willing to give. And slipping up makes it even harder to keep at it. One night of binging can undo all the momentum you had to eat healthy and you figure “what’s the point?”

Well, as I’m sure most of you know, it’s just as difficult to create NEW habits, especially if the habit takes up time that is currently occupied by something else. I’m completely addicted to Bejeweled Blitz, and I need to cut back on my playing time if I ever plan to write my book. I’ll open the app, telling myself I’ll just play a few games, and before I know it an entire HOUR has passed. Not a good use of my time. I’m also trying to exercise more, which is conflicting with the whole trying-to-write thing.

Even my dog Owen is working against me. Look at him staring at me while I’m writing this post.

Mama, why aren't you playing with me?

Mama, why aren’t you playing with me?

Yes, I know. Boo-hoo for me. What I’m trying to say is I need a way to keep myself on track. I used to log my exercise in a calendar but stopped when I took a boot camp class over the winter, but it was a great way for me to see my progress. My friend Jason shared an article called Time Management Tricks for the Time-Impaired Writer which suggests using an Excel spreadsheet to log daily word counts. This certainly doesn’t work for everyone, but I think it might be what I need to do if I ever want to reach my goal.

Heck, maybe I’ll do one spreadsheet that includes writing AND exercise.

What techniques do you use to keep yourself on track for your goals?

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The Sequel

Posted by on Jul 7, 2013 in Flicker, Fracture, writing / editing

It’s official, I’m writing the sequel to FLICKER. I’ve had the idea for over a year and while I could give you the list of excuses why I hadn’t started (bought a house, got married, was trying to juggle two jobs) all those are in the past and I’ve finally begun! There’s more Biz, more Cameron, more flickering — plus a few surprises I’m keeping quiet for now.

Here’s the opening line:

Before last month I never gave much thought to my school’s no-hats-allowed policy, but all that changed when Ramirez shaved my head.

Thoughts?

I’ve also done a TON on the house and have a lot of pictures to share, so my plan it to get back to this blogging thing, even if I’m only talking to myself. (Although I’d really love it if you’d leave a comment. Now that I’m off my meds I need little things like your validation to make sure I haven’t completely gone insane.)

I’m planning a website overhaul, so while the links will stay the same, it’ll be a whole new Hoo playground. Oh, and to answer a question several people have asked me: just because I got married and changed my last name to Swiftney, I will always be Hoo. I’m keeping Hooyenga as my writing name so as far as you all are concerned nothing has changed!

Have a great week!

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