Frustrated

Apparently paying to have my domain redirected/merged didn’t update my links to the new blog OR move my followers to the new domain. Ugh.

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ashleycliston.com

Sometimes when I get paid, I do stupid things.

Sometimes when I do stupid things, I can talk myself in to believing that they’re gloriously wonderful investments. So what did I invest in today? Myself.

More specifically, my future. In a very, very small way – but still. I decided to spring for a domain and webhosting. I am now the proud owner of ashleycliston.com.

I’m behind on word-count, I struggled to get in a measly two thousand words yesterday while I was struggling through writer’s block without coffee (I managed to kill my coffee-pot – don’t worry, he’s been adequately put to rest and now resides in coffee-pot nirvana and his replacement was picked up this morning. Rest in peace, old friend. May you never again be left running for 12+ hours, washed furiously in scalding water only to be turned on again immediately). Why am I tearing up over my coffee-pot?

Anyway. I want to be held accountable. I want… some tangible reminder that I need to keep going – even on the days I’m fighting through writer’s block, even on the day’s I’m breaking under the weight of self-doubt. Why? Because the simple fact of the matter is, I’m not myself when I’m not writing. Whether or not I’m ever published. Whether or not anyone ever reads the words I’m putting down.

Now, justifications aside… I also really just wanted prettier theme options.

ashleycliston.com

The First Step to Improvement is Admitting Your Flaws

I was somewhere around eleven or twelve when I started writing. I also had a very strict mother who was about as conservative when it came to parenting as she was liberal when it came to politics. Around eleven or twelve you start to rebel – and the stricter your surroundings, the harder you rebel. At least, that’s how it was in my case.

photo credit: Sarah Haines ☾ via photopin cc

photo credit: Sarah Haines ☾ via photopin cc

So take a little girl. Make her shy, make her the proverbial ugly duckling. Put her in a very protective environment where every single solitary aspect of her life is decided for her – from her wardrobe to her haircut. Shelter her – don’t let her walk to the park with her friends, thoroughly vet every parent she’s going to spend time with (to the point where every activity she’s present for has to happen at your house), screen her phone calls, and clean (read: inspect) her room once a week and read every note you can find to see what she might be up to. Read her diary. But (the ‘but’ is the important part here) give her books. Lots of books. So many books that her bedroom can’t hold them and she has to have a separate playroom just for bookshelves. Buy huge crates of random assorted books at yard sales and give them to her and never think to maybe inspect them for content.

This is how I was created.

Everything I ever learned was from a book. Babysitters Club. Fear Street. The occasional super-smutty romance novel that someone had thrown in their $10 book crate (which, when I think about it, actually taught me awful, extremely un-useful things about real-life relationships).

So when I started to finally write (because I’d finally found a friend whose parents passed ‘the inspection’ and I could hide my notebooks at her house), my characters were the opposite of everything I was ever allowed to be. They were the most fearless and the most beautiful and the most powerful. They wore the coolest clothes, and they never actually had parents – because in my opinion at the time, parents sucked. Everyone (including especially me) wanted to be them. They were the most extreme versions of Mary Sues I’ve ever encountered.

Everything was over-described (most especially my female characters). There was no actual plot. Ever. There were some brief and fleeting ‘disasters,’ but for the most part, my perfect characters lived fun, exciting (but perfect) lives. And vicariously, I lived through them. Which was the point, I guess. My best friend at the time, she was the real writer of out of the two of us (plots, disasters, flawed characters, and all). I was just writing to escape.

I no longer possesses any of my old stories (I couldn’t keep them safe from prying eyes) – but I remember my mistakes every time I write, every time I plot, and every time I craft a character. I think of those same mistakes every time I greedily inhale theories on plot structure, every time I make a spreadsheet – every time I lovingly craft a seismic shit-storm to throw on my already half-broken characters.

Maybe no one will ever see how much progress I’ve made – and that’s okay. Because I do. And that’s what matters.

Why did YOU start writing – and what were your biggest mistakes when you started out?

Drowning Out The World

The world we live in is a distracting place.

photo credit: Lisa Brewster via photopin cc

photo credit: Lisa Brewster via photopin cc

At any given moment, there are sirens screaming, neighbors fighting (loudly, obnoxiously – about the exact same things they fight about every single day), dogs howling. Phones are ringing off the hook, texts are coming in at a mile a minute – and are usually followed by an unexpected knock at the door.

And by the time that’s over, you’re so annoyed you just want to turn the world off.

But – bathrooms have to be cleaned. Dishes and windows have to be washed. Floors have to be mopped. Animals need to be fed, bathed, cuddled – and then pet hair needs to be vacuumed off every surface in the house.

And by the time the noises are drowned out and a mile-long ‘need-to’ list is completed – the exhaustion sets in and the bed is screaming for your attention (and reminding you that you forgot to wash the sheets).

And sometimes the real world drowns out your story.

You get in fights with your friends. You get in fights with your family. You’re lonely, sad, angry, happy, busy. And you don’t make time to write – or you can’t get in the mood to write.

How do you get back in the groove? That place of excitement where the story just starts to flow from your fingertips like it used to? How do you block everything out when you’re in the middle of one of those miserable days?

HAVE YOU BACKED UP YOUR $#!T TODAY?

There are a lot of things about writing that are difficult. Coming up with enough ideas to fill 90K+ words. Strategically placing convincing plot points. Coming up with real, flawed, believable characters.

Nothing compares to slaving away on that draft and losing it. Or worse, getting halfway through your revisions, and losing everything (this has happened to me – I was so angry I didn’t write for months).

Don't mind him, he just lost his current WIP. photo credit: Aurimas Adomavicius via photopin cc

Don’t mind him, he just lost his current WIP.
photo credit: Aurimas Adomavicius via photopin cc

Now that I’m writing again, I back up my work every single day. And you should, too.

There are so many ways a complete backup can be done – but I’m lazy. So I like to go for the simplest option possible. I use Scrivener to write – so any spreadsheets, images, maps, documents with random ideas… basically, I save everything INSIDE my Scrivener project file. I do this, because I have my Scrivener settings set up so that my project backs up to a zip file every single time I close my project. I have the target directory of this zip file set to my Dropbox folder.

So every single time I close Scrivener, every single file that I need is automatically backed up to my online storage.

And it only takes about seven seconds.

Maybe you don’t have Scrivener. That’s okay (actually it’s really not, because Scrivener is the greatest thing that’s ever been invented for humanity), you can still make it really, really simple to back up your work.

Keep everything in one folder (not your documents folder, I don’t think you can .zip/move that). You can have as many folders as you want inside of that one – but keep everything labeled and ready to back-up at a moment’s notice.

Use Online or External Storage. Dropbox, Skydrive, Cloud, Google Drive, USB, CD/DVD… use something. In fact, use more than one something. Keep a copy of your latest project file in on your drive, and on an external device, and in your email.

Make backing up your writing a part of your daily routine. Make a project zipfile every day that you write. No exceptions. Losing even a small piece of your project is heartbreaking.

Have too many webpages/resources saved to back up? Use Evernote to back-up/keep track of your online research.

How do you keep your files backed up? And more importantly,

HAVE YOU BACKED UP YOUR $#!T TODAY?

So, Yesterday I Found a Thing

This ‘thing’ I speak of is actually a website called 750Words. Apparently the original idea comes from a book (The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron) – and the thought behind it is to write 750 words every morning. She calls them morning pages. I call it zombie-writing. Basically, you wake up in the morning and just start writing stream-of-consciousness style (I guess) until you have three pages (or 750 words). Why morning pages instead of afternoon tea pages or bedtime pages? If I were to wager a guess, it would be in the morning you’re far less likely to censor yourself or discard ideas because (if you’re anything like me) you aren’t actually alive yet, so you’re just word-vomiting all over the page.

Zombie Walk Brisbane 2012-017= © Sheba_Also @ Flickr.com

Also, how stinking cute are these baby zombies?!
Zombie Walk Brisbane 2012-017= © Sheba_Also @ Flickr.com

Naturally, I wanted to try it.

So this morning, when I finally managed to drag myself out of bed after the seventh alarm I had set up, I fired up my laptop (pre-coffee), squinted at the way-too-bright screen and hammered out anything I could think of regarding the next scene I had listed on my beat sheet. I didn’t care if I punctuated (pre-coffee Ashley = shambling, brain-eating zombie) or if I used correct grammar (because zombie) or even if what I was writing was coherent in any universe known to … well… aliens. Or the Doctor. Or, um. I don’t know.

Anyway, I copied and pasted my 750 765 words into a word doc, and went on about my day. I popped open my word doc at lunch, and realized that I’d word-vomited some… well, word vomit. But, amid the chaos were aspects of the scene that I hadn’t previously considered. I actually ended up with a defined Reaction, Dilemma, and Decision (the three jumping off points for a reactionary scene / sequel). And several places where I could work in a few words of world building and back-story. And a really kick-ass place to finally reveal more about the POV character without info-dumping….

all from a scene I was dreading.  While the events of this scene were always necessary to the plot, I just didn’t think there was enough meat on the bone.

But after my zombie-writing session, I had a really good jumping off point for a scene outline.

What I had to start with:

  • A way to advance the plot.

What I ended up with post-zombie writing & post outlining:

  • A way to advance the plot,
  • A place to state my POV character’s overall goal/motivation for the story (because this is where she realizes it, instead of 6 scenes later like I had previously),
  • Increased tension,
  • Character development AND internal conflict,
  • Establishment of her personal stakes,
  • Opportunities for: character background, world building, a nod towards theme, and foreshadowing.

I’m just now getting the opportunity to sit down and write the scene – but I can definitely see how this could be an extremely fruitful addition to my morning ritual.

Eight Heads Are Better Than Two

photo credit: waferbaby via photopin cc

photo credit: waferbaby via photopin cc

A few days ago I posted My Own Worst Enemy about how I couldn’t get those words on paper without an outline. Well, the day I posted it, I actually managed to finish a pretty large portion of that outline. And yesterday, thanks to the wonderful ladies of my Camp Cabin and our word sprints, I managed to have my most productive day so far: 5,786 words. In three hours (six half-hour sprints).

I was just reading back over those words as part of my pre-writing ritual. I don’t change anything – but I do read to see where I left off and what had happened. If I’m allowed to say so myself, they were (for the most part) good words. It’s a zero draft, and things will be cut, restructured, and re-written, of course. But I’m insanely happy about how yesterday’s writing turned out.

The first few days of flailing and panic aside – this round of NaNo has been my favorite so far. Those of us in my cabin found each other early –and instead of forming a cabin, we formed a writing group. We brainstormed together for almost a month, shared excerpts, and helped each other with plot points and characterization. It’s been wonderful. I know when I get stuck, I can pop on our forum and be like, “Hey, what do you think of this, how would you get out of this situation?” And the girls will fire back with beautiful ideas because they’re simply that amazing. We’re all writers, we write in different periods, some of us in different genres – but we’re all working toward the same goal: a finished novel. And that’s beautiful. I’ve never been part of a writing group – but this group is more than I could have ever hoped for. They’re invaluable, and I adore each one of them.

Yes, I’m getting all mushy – but I needed to vent my appreciation or I was going to explode.

Do you have a writing group – or do you prefer to write alone?