Writing Lesson in Horse Riding

I recently figured that hey, I write about knights and cowboys. Maybe I should learn how to ride a horse myself.

It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. There’s something absolutely beautiful about seeing a horse and rider in harmony. Something almost mystical.

Learning how to ride, is another animal altogether. There was Calypso, who hates me. Really. I went up to him, trusting him and… well… He tried to head-butt me. And the riding went worse.

So given that Calypso was out to get me, my instructor introduced me to Juno. Now Juno and I hit it off. With Juno, I thought I’d be able to go all the way.

Except the second time I rode him (yes, I know it’s stupid to name a stallion for the Roman goddess of women and motherhood), he started to do things that made me less than comfortable. I mean, I’m new to this riding thing. So when I want the horse to stop, it’s nice to know the horse will stop. Still, I figured it’d be okay, since I’d grow better as I practiced more.

The lesson after that, though, I was asked to ride Quicksilver. Now Quicky is rather an ornery beast. He’s the one who puts all the horses on the farm in their places. And when he does, he kicks butt and takes names. He’s also the one who wants to be in front no matter what, so he’s faster than either of the other two. And he bites any horse who tries to take the lead from him.

The thing is… Quicky and I simply hit it off. Sure, he was fast, but never in a way that undermined the trust I had to put in him. In fact, riding him gave me the confidence to think I could actually learn other things. Most importantly, though, he loves me too. If there’s a group of people and he’s loose, he comes to me and lowers his head for me to pet him. Is he the horse I can trust? Possibly. He might change his mind later, but for now, we’re getting along perfectly, even if logic says I shouldn’t have liked him.

Incidentally, today, I had to ride Juno and my mom had to ride Quicky. Juno was actually scarier today than Calypso. And my mother felt the same way about Quicky.

Now, I bet you’re wondering how I’m bringing this to writing. Well.

When I started writing, there was a western. We got along okay, but when my mom took my computer and gave it to someone else, I stopped working on it for years. The spark just wasn’t there. (Juno.)

Later on, there was a fantasy. A quest, in fact. With a chosen one. But it was dark. Took me places I didn’t want to go. In fact, it was part of some stuff I was going through at the time that really really messed me up in ways that made my university issues look like kindergarten. In the end, I burnt it. Yep. Wiped it, and all the back-ups, and burnt all the plans and drawings I’d made for it. (Calypso)

I have a few other drafts that I could explain, but right now, there aren’t horses that match them.

Finally, in walked a character while I was re-reading Chronicles of Narnia. After all those failed attempts, I’d decided to give up on writing idea until I was certain that my idea was a good one. The character didn’t take no for an answer, and the story he revealed to me was so good that I knew I’d finish it. To put money where my mouth was, I even started this blog as My First Book. I planned it to be a blog of me finishing a book and getting it published.

Was it because the story was easy? No. In fact, my older bloggy friends might recall that I called it The Beast. The story was huge. It defied my every attempt at pre-planning. The characters were reticent. In fact I hated one of the main characters. But I couldn’t give up. I didn’t want to. (That story went on to become The Vanished Knight.)

Maybe it’s too soon to make this call, but that sounds a lot like Quicksilver. A bit of a bastard, but hey, it picked me and I love it for giving me that honor.

So in summary, the lesson I’ve learnt so far in writing and horse riding:

Just because you’re struggling to get into it doesn’t mean that you should give up. It could be that you just have the wrong horse for right now. 
 
Anyone want to talk about the drafts before the one they finished? 

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Faster, Higher, Stronger

Inline image 1I was the first person to volunteer for the Olympic Blog Relay on Nicole Singer’s blog, but even as I did it, I wondered what I’d write about today.
And just as I opened the editor to improvise today’s post, a phrase jumped into my head:

Citius, Altius, Fortius” or as it is famosly known: Faster, Higher, Stronger.

I must say that of all the mottos I’ve ever known, I’ve never seen one that better represents what it stands for. It’s the Olympic Games Captured in three words.



Because that’s what the Olympics is about. Always pushing harder. Always trying to excell.

But this motto could apply to writing as well. Just like athletes can’t just rest on previous successes until they retire, writers are never done learning their craft. They have to continue pushing themselves to learn more, to achieve more.

Faster, Higher, Stronger can serve as a special reminder for writers to keep striving to be the best they can be. How?

Faster

We can push ourselves to work as efficiently as we can without sacrificing the quality of our writing. So when the procrastination bug bites, we can do our utmost not to give in to temptation. We can resist the urge to waste time and sit down and write.

Higher

Writers must never stop dreaming. Because our dreams are the way we aim for our futures. Never give up on your dreams for publishing. And NEVER give up on a story idea just because you don’t think you have the skills to write it.

Stronger

Writing to a large extent is about strength. Our word choices have to be strong. Our love for our stories have to be strong. The quality of what we’ve written have to be strong. But there is no such thing as “strong enough”. There is, however, “stronger”, and that can only be done by challenging yourself when you write and edit.

So, writers, keep reaching. Keep dreaming. Keep pushing yourself to improve your writing. Look for critique so that you can hone your craft.

Keep growing.

Keep striving.

How could you apply Faster, Higher, Stronger to your writing?



What I’ve Learnt from Northanger Abbey

This took me a while longer than Saturday for me to finish Northanger Abbey than expected. See, usually I take about half a day to finish 130 pages.

This took me four days. Why?

Well (and I’m sorry, Miss Austen) I didn’t like it.

I managed to get through it by appreciating it like a fine piece of art. Even if I don’t like it, I can see the thought that went into it. I know that it the book thirteen years to be published. In fact, it didn’t see the light of day until after Jane Austen died. So I saw the story through because of my sympathy for her.

Still, it wasn’t the worst book that I ever read. It just wasn’t the best, either. In fact, I had trouble pinning it down at all, which of course complicated this post a little, since I’m supposed to be writing what I’ve learnt from reading it.

Still, there are a few things that I did learn.

1) A good narrative voice can go a long way to compensate for annoying main characters. I’m sorry that I have to say this, but I found Catherine Morland to be much too silly to my tastes. The only reason why I was able to sit through the rest of the story was the narrative voice in the story, which had a wry wit that I enjoyed.
2) Although it’s always fun to mock and comment on aspects of your times, building a book around it is a risky thing to do. Northanger Abbey was written to make fun of (in particular) Gothic Novels from the time in which Jane Austen lived. While I enjoyed this aspect to it, the story wasn’t all that relevant to me, since we’ve got new things to mock. Sadly, once the burlesque aspect to the story is disregarded, there isn’t much left to enjoy. In fact, most of the rest of it is mostly telling in order to move the story on to the next important lesson.
3) Showing goes a long way. Period. If there was a bit more this, I wouldn’t have had to depend on the superficial impression created for me about Catherine that led to me disliking her because I couldn’t connect with her on a deeper level.  

So yes, this isn’t the most positive post about a classic that I’ve ever written, but it is what I felt and what I learnt and I don’t regret having read Northanger Abbey. Now at least there was one more book to cross off my TBR list.

Have you read Northanger Abbey? What did you think about it?

This post was written as part of Jane Austen January. Next book: Persuasion.

Others have said: Life can suck, but can’t defeat us.

Edna Ferber

Life can’t ever really defeat a writer who is in love with writing, for life itself is a writer’s lover until death – fascinating, cruel, lavish, warm, cold, treacherous, constant.

Edna Ferber, A Kind of Magic, 1963

I am willing to say this now. Compared to 90% of my life thus far, 2011 sucked. Big time.

This isn’t going to be a moaning and groaning sort of post, but suffice it to say that I’ve been thwarted, frustrated, scared, terrified, down, stuck, set adrift, disappointed, lifted to soaring heights only to be dropped at the worst possible moment.

I’ve been told I’m too overqualified, underqualified, inexperienced, deluded, irresponsible when I was only being different, wrong.

I’ve been forced to play the waiting game more times than I even want to count.

In 2011, I was also probably the happiest I’ve been in years. Because I dug deep and really got to know myself. I know now that I have a reserve of strength that I’d thought had been lost three years ago.

Also, I got to write almost every day that I wanted to. And that helped. Because with every day that I wrote, I could take a step back from my life and see where I was and that, suck as it might, life wasn’t big enough to squash me.

I could keep going and because of that, I’m much stronger and (theoretically) more patient. And relaxed, because the added perspective showed me some things about myself that helped me to deal with a lot of nonsense that I’ve been carrying about for years.

So yes. Life was my lover last year, even if he was a pain in the ass. He taught me a lot. And I can’t wait to see where he leads me this year.

How is your life treating you? What did you learn last year?

How spectacularly the wheels came off…

So… last night sucked.

Well, last night and this morning, since I spent four hours trying to recover my lost manuscripts.

Yes. Lost.

They can’t be active undeleted. That can’t be system restored. They can’t be called up out of the hundreds of back-ups made, because according to the writing program I used, they never existed.

So I can’t open my Doorways rough rewrite, but I have a copy of it to Word, if I decline all edits I made.

Half of the original opening for Don’t Look Back is missing, but at least I hand-wrote it over to my notebook for NaNoWriMo.

Guardian seems to open and refuse at random, but I’ve managed to copy/paste it to Word.

No. My problem lies with Eden’s Son I.E. WiP2. The entire rewrite is gone. Poof. Up into the ether. All of the back-ups only read up to before I started it. There are no Word versions because I didn’t send it to anyone to read. I didn’t copy/paste because a) it’s freaking tedious and b) it’s safe as long as I back up? Right?

Turns out no. Turns out backing up manually to create an extra copy obliterated months worth of work in less than a second.

So lesson number 1: NEVER use freeware. It’s worth as much as you paid for it.
Number 2: NEVER assume that programmers think further than the tips of their noses. They don’t. So that thing that seems obvious to do because it’s what is supposed to happen? Don’t do it before going to help and making doubly sure that that isn’t the one that in his own words “DO NOT DO UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.”

But now I have to wonder: If I risk losing my work if I don’t back-up and if I do? What action should I take? Print every page every freaking time? Because apparently it means bullshit to people that you spent most of a year on the work you lost, because apparently: “It can’t vanish.” is a satisfactory reply.

But like I said. I spent four hours last night looking for the data. My mother spent two this morning. It isn’t there.

I am starting to accept this. Slowly, but it’s hard, because now I know that my end of January goal for WiP2 is screwed. In fact, I downloaded the trial for Scrivener last night with the plan to buy the program in a month, but you know what? I don’t want to write. I don’t want to even look at my rough draft. Because all that I can see is the end of the document that’s supposed to be followed by 26 chapters or thirty five thousand hard-fought words.

And then I want to kill something.

But on the flip-side, I’ve never thought I could lose over a hundred thousand words of everything and survive, but here I am.

So… what’s your record loss? Got any horror stories to share? How did you recover?
Any Scrivener users out there? Is the program any good?
Any other drafting programs that I can look at?

Stephen King Taught Me (Part 2)

So, Tuesday’s Headline lied a little. That wasn’t lesson one. This post was lesson one. I just didn’t want to mix this lesson with the lengthy introduction I felt obliged to add.

So what is this lesson?


“You must not come lightly to the blank page.” (On Writing, P80)

That is the single line that stood out the most in the whole book.

I don’t know about you, but when I get a new idea, I get excited. Really excited. Buzzing. I can’t wait to start writing. And when I write, it rushes through me like the best thrill you can think of.

But then, as insidious as venom, my one big enemy sets in. Addiction. I get addicted to my writing. That’s not a bad thing. It’s good to be passionate about what we write.

But when you’re addicted, there are two problems:

1) I start feeling like I have to write. No longer am I feeling that drive of passion.
2) And because of that, I no longer feel the rush.

I take writing for granted. It becomes something that I do out of routine.

In short, I come to my writing lightly. Very lightly.

No wonder the spark fades out on me every now and then.

And whenever that happens, I stop writing. Go cold turkey on the addiction (usually with the accompanying bad mood).

Once I go back to it, I fall in love with writing again. I feel that all rush.  And…

I go through the cycle again.

Fact is, I don’t really feel like it’s the most productive method for me to finish works in progress. So I decided that from tomorrow, I’m going to try something new. I’m going to start reminding myself why I write. I don’t want to write out of habit.

I want to write because it’s one of my greatest passions.

Do you approach your writing lightly on occasion? If not, how do you get yourself in the right feeling?

Lesson One from Stephen King

I’ve finally done it. I have managed to get my grubby little paws on On Writing by Stephen King. Been looking for it since forever, but just didn’t seem to find a copy.

But a few weeks ago, I meandered through the library shelves and there it was along with five (I think) other books on writing.

Sadly, revisions (and headaches) being as they were, I didn’t start  reading immediately. But last week my revisions ground to a halt and even though I did revise yesterday, something didn’t feel right. It felt as if for every spot that my internal editor pointed out, my inner critic was listing my writing weaknesses.

And fighting my inner crittic is best done away from my WiP, because the collateral damage can be significant.

So I dug through my bag, thinking that I’ll keep Mr. King for last. But then I thought… what the hell, I only have a little reading time. Might as well start in on the one I’ve been wanting to read.

Man am I glad. It blew me away. I’m not completely done, but I’m planning to finish it by this evening. I’m thinking that I want to spend one or two (or more) posts on sharing what I’ve learned. I hope that’s alright with you all.

The second thing (I’ll deal with the first on Thursday) that stood out above everything else was Mr. King’s emphasis on the need to read.

As I read that, I realized that I’ve actually been neglecting a vital facet to my writing. I have to read. Even if revisions and writing suck me in. Because if I don’t, I’m basically blunting my writing tools.

Bad books teach me the lessons. How NOT to do things. Good books give me something to aspire to. They show me the lengths that writing can go if given the scope to do so. If I don’t read either of the above sorts of books, I’m going to miss out on some vital information.

If I don’t read often, I’m basically making myself write blind. So doing, I’m robbing my muse of oxygen.

All in all, not a smart thing. Because my muse is usually the one that beats up my inner critic.

Lesson learnt, Mr. King.

I won’t be able to do six to eight hours a day, but I’ll be able to manage two to four. Already better than two to four hours a week.

Anyone else who read On Writing? Which lessons stood out to you?

How many hours do you spend reading?