Reading and Writing: Finding the Balance

Hey all! Today I have the amazing C.M. Keller on MFB. Not only is she one of this month’s amazing award sponsors, but she’s a kick-ass writer. I hope you all enjoy her tips on how to balance your reading and writing lives. Take it away, Connie.

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time 
(or the tools) to write.” 
Stephen King 

All writers have heard that quote or one like it. And we all know it’s true. But balancing the two is like herding cats. You can try, but you end up getting scratched. 
I know I tried. I’d begin writing and I get so involved with the story that I’d forget to read and I’d write and write until my creativity dried up and blew away. Then, I’d read until my eyes bled. I tried thrillers, devouring them (which helped me learn to craft tight plots) until I couldn’t stand another gun shot. So I focused on the classics (where I saw the power of understatement, metaphor, etc.) until I was ready to strangle yet another indecisive heroine. 
The only good thing was that when I finished the reading cycle, my creativity was recharged until I drained it dry. The cycle was not a good thing. Maybe a little OCD as well, but we won’t go there. 
I had to find a better, a more sane way of balancing my writer/reader issues. A way that would sustain me as a reader and a writer. I tried lots of things. They all failed. 
I’d like to say that I analyzed the situation and came up with a solution. But I found it by accident—I sort of fell into it. And it wasn’t until I realized the writing-reading was working, that I even wondered what I was doing differently. 
It started years ago, when a health problem made me commit to running, which I hate with a passion. So I bribed myself to run a treadmill. While I ran I could read “fun” books, thrillers, mysteries, and YA, but I could only read them when I ran. 
Then this fall, I decided that I’d devote all before-bedtime-reading to a classic or literary/upmarket novel. To make it even more fun, I asked/begged a writer friend to read the “classics” too—so we can exchange emails about what we’ve read. “Hey, did you finish chapter four last night? Did you notice how the author changed the mood, foreshadowing the end of the chapter?” 
The one final change I made was that any other free time belonged to writing. Even if a novel was calling out, “Read me, read me!” 
How did it work out? I’m reading more than I have in years. And writing…I finished a first draft in three months. (I’ve never written a novel in less than six months before.) 
So if you find yourself alternating between bleeding eyes and shriveled creativity, you could try what I’ve done. Either that, or give the Muse a call. I’ve tried, but I’m pretty sure she’s blocked my number. 
Thanks so much for this lovely post, Connie. I’ve been struggling with maintaining a sane balance, and now you made it sound so easy. 🙂
So, lovely people, how do you strike a balance between reading and writing? Do you suck at it like me? 
Before you go! Remember to vote for awesome bloggers and to enter my Word Master Challenge
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Flaws and Sympathy

Last week, I wrote a post about complex characters and how to write them.

Basically I think it comes down to showing more than one side of a personality, the good, the bad and the ugly.

It’s amazing how often new writers are scared of doing this. I was too. When I started writing my fantasy epic, I was honestly terrified of my decision to write complex characters. After all, fantasy is traditionally the land of noble souls, so I was worried that writing something that veers of far from that, I’d alienate my readers.

And you know, it didn’t.

In fact, I ended up loving all of my characters, although two of them are capable of being complete bastards. More importantly, the people who’ve read my novel so far do too.

There are more than one reason for this, but today I want to focus on one.

Sympathy.

A reader is drawn into a story because of sympathy for the character leading them through it. There are a variety of ways to win sympathy for your character. If you’re interested, I suggest you see Moody’s series on it.

All of Mood’s suggestions are valid. To summarize the series to date:
1) Put them in danger.
2) Make them suffer.
3) Strength of character
4) Have the character be an outcast.

I agree, but there’s another aspect to emotional attachment between a reader and a character. Emotion. Specifically: the character’s emotions.

You see, putting characters through the grinder isn’t enough. In fact, it can be a very risky thing to do if it’s not coming organically out of the story.

Aside: “organic” as I’m using it now applies to both plotters and pantsers. There are things that happen in a story because it makes sense within the story (organic). Or things happen because the authors need them for the story to make sense. (not-organic)

The risk comes from the fact that readers immediately pick up on non-organic events. (More on these later.) So instead of sympathy, just adding the four factors above will have readers rolling their eyes at best.

Instead, I propose to writers, the emotions themselves are what make the connection. A characters emotions make a reader’s move in resonance. (I.E. they strike a chord.) Complexity of emotion along with complexity of character will move the reader completely. That’s why characters can be terrible personalities, but still loved.

In every situation. What is the character feeling? Loss? Fear? Dread? Hope? Love? Anger? Resentment? The options go on and on. How the character reacts emotionally will give the reader something to hold on to.

For an example of what I mean, look at Katniss from the Hunger Games Trilogy. She’s mean, cynical, stubborn and out for her own interests above those of others. Not exactly likable noble character material. Yet, she kept millions of readers interested through three books. Why? Because below everything she says and does, she has a depth of emotion that I hazard to say has been unrivaled by her fictional contemporaries. With all her flaws, she deeply loves her sister, which is why she basically agrees to go to killing fields instead of her. That love is what keeps her going in the killing fields despite the terror and all the other mixed emotions that go with it. I personally couldn’t care less about a character named Katniss about to die. I care about a fictional person who did something completely against her personality traits because her love for her sister over-rode everything else. My suspicion is, I’m not alone.

So to evoke sympathy, let the reader see what’s going on with a character, even when it’s only glimpses. Don’t only make them suffer and go on a murderous rampage. Have them howling in pain first. And for heaven’s sake, motivate the pain by love.

Letting the reader see hurt and love and doubt, gives him or her a hold they won’t release until the end.

If you manage to do those right, fitting with your character, all those dirty tricks needed for creating sympathy come out on their own.

How do you go about evoking sympathy for your characters?

Before you go, please remember to vote for some awesome bloggers, and to check out my Word Master Challenge. Six more days left to enter. Have a great weekend! 

Just resting up a bit

Hey lovely peeps! Just want to let you know I’ll be back tomorrow. Just had a long couple of days at work, so I needed to rest. Will be back tomorrow.

In the mean time, please don’t forget to vote for the award nominees and to check out the Word Master Challenge. You have a week left to enter.

Have a great day!

X

News Day Week 3: Announcing Nominees and Sponsors

It’s News Day again! For those of you new to my blog, it’s a series where I bring awareness to goings on in our writing community. If you have something you’d like me to share, please contact me at mishagericke(AT)gmail(DOT)com. It can be anything. From blogfests to great beginners to posts you think everyone should read. It can also be your own bit of news, if you’d like.

Today, though, I have to focus on the biggest piece of news for MFB:

I present to you the nominees and sponsors for January’s Paying Forward Award. By the way. I think the name’s sort of lame. Anyone have a better one?

Aaaanyway.

Before I get to the nominees, I want to give a special thank you to this month’s sponsors and their prizes. Please go visit them all and give them some love. Why? Because they are all amazing.

Beta read or editing of first 100 pages
Critique of first three chapters
Redesign of a blog button, header or background
Her two YA time travel novels: Screwing Up Time and Screwing Up Babylon
Beta Read or Edit of first chapter 

Critique of first chapter
Critique of first 500 words. 

Finally, I will be giving away a $25 voucher to the vendor of your choice (assuming I can purchase it online).

Now, onto the Nominees by Category (in no particular order):

Most Encouraging Blogger: 

Best Reviewer: 

Best Writing and/or Inspirational Blog: 

Beginner and/or Small Blogger with Most Potential:

Thanks to every single person who nominated these extraordinary bloggers! Voting must please be done by email with “my vote” as the subject. E-mail address: mishagericke(AT)gmail(DOT)com. Please pick one or no blogger for each category. Voting will stay open until 31 Jan and I’ll announce the winners on 5 February. 
So people. Who are your favorites in each category? Got a better name for the awards?  

Presenting: Polar Night by Julie Flanders

Before I start today, I just want to do two quick announcements. Firstly, I decided to move the nominations and sponsor announcements to tomorrow, since nominations are still coming in. So if you haven’t done it yet, please go nominate some awesome bloggers now! 

Then, you have 10 days to enter the Word Master Challenge

Okay!

Today, I want to announce Julie Flanders’s new release.

Blurb: 

When Detective Danny Fitzpatrick leaves his hometown of Chicago and moves to Fairbanks, Alaska he wants nothing more than to escape the violence and heartbreak that left his life in pieces. Numbed by alcohol and the frozen temperatures of an Alaskan winter, Danny is content with a dead-end job investigating Fairbanks’ cold cases. That all changes when a pretty blond woman goes missing on the winter solstice, and Danny stumbles upon some surprising connections between her disappearance and that of another Fairbanks woman three years earlier. Forced out of his lethargy, Danny sets out to both find the missing woman and solve his own cold case. 
The investigation points Danny towards Aleksei Nechayev, the handsome and charming proprietor of an old asylum turned haunted tourist attraction in the Arctic town of Coldfoot. As he tries to find a link between Nechayev and his case, Danny’s instinct tells him that Nechayev is much more than what he seems. 
Danny has no idea that Nechayev is hiding a secret that is much more horrifying than anything he could ever have imagined. As his obsession with finding the missing women grows, Danny finds his own life in danger. And when the truth is finally revealed, the world as he knows it will never be the same. 

Bio: 

Julie Flanders is a librarian and a freelance writer who has written for both online and print publications. She is an avid animal lover and shares her home in Cincinnati, Ohio with her dog and cat. Polar Night, a suspense thriller with a supernatural twist, is her first novel. It will be published by Ink Smith Publishing on February 7, 2013. Find Julie online at her blog, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

All the best, Julie!

Who out there are mystery-lovers like me? 

Please send me awards nominations

Hey all! Before I start with today’s post, just want to do two things. 1) Remind you that you have until 31 January to enter my Word Master Challenge. 2) Let you know that my query is being critiqued at The QQQE, if you’re interested in seeing a tiny fraction of what Doorways is about.

Okay!

So I mentioned here that I want to do awards ceremonies to pay things forward to other bloggers. Also, to make others aware of some amazing blogs out there.

Seven AMAZING people volunteered some prizes to pay forward. I’ll announce them next week, but in the mean time…

Thank you again! 

With my prize, we have eight in total, so I decided to announce four categories this month so that the winner and runner up can both win something.

These will be January’s categories (in no particular order):

Most Encouraging Blogger
Best Reviewer
Best Writing and/or Inspirational Post
Beginner with Most Potential


Please note: I will NOT be accepting nominations in the comments section as the links will probably shoot my spam filter to shreds. BUT, you can tell me what you think of this idea and which categories you want to see next month. Want to make sure I’m running something people like.

If you have nominations, please e-mail me at mishagericke(AT)gmail(DOT)com with the word “nominations” in the tagline. You don’t have to nominate for every category, but if you have someone’s name immediately popping into your thoughts, you should nominate him/her.

Please spread the word about this, because on Monday, I’ll announce the nominees, prizes and sponsors. I’ll need you all to vote for the winners.

That’s me for today. Have a great one and a wonderful weekend!

A bit of a dilemma

As some of you might remember from November 2012, I explained how I picked my NaNo novel based on the thought of creating a production-line of sorts.

The plan is simple: Write all the current ideas in my mind. Stay in draft mode for as long as possible. Then move into edit mode and stay there for as long as possible.

My reasoning is that this way, I’ll eventually get to a point where I have a finished novel to query while having a whole line-up of novels to edit at the same time.

Simple, yes. Except for one thing. The way my creative mind works involves lots of pauses while it sifts through its thoughts.

Like now. I know what I want to happen in my current rough draft, but for some reason, I just don’t feel like writing. It’s actually a bit worse than that, although I don’t know how to put it in words.

Suffice it to say, something’s telling me to give this WiP a break.

But if I do, will I get back to it in time for me to fit it into the production line?

My gut says yes. My brain is wondering.

On the other hand, I know that it’s wise to give this one a break. I’ve spent years on the book before it and I’m querying that one as we speak. Maybe I should just relax and go with the flow.

Except I know it will be much better to have the sequel drafted by the time book 1 is out, which might be much sooner than I thought.

As I write this, however, I can feel a knot forming somewhere in my thoughts. I don’t know what it is, exactly, but if I force myself to continue with the story, I’ll be adding to the problem.

Guess that means I’m moving onto something else. Maybe for a day. Maybe longer.

Wonder which story I’ll move to now.

Anyone else hit upon snags without knowing what they are? What do you do?