Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Just look at that countdown!

Actually, as I am setting this post to automatically come online at the official start of the 2011 One Year Adventure Novel Summer Workshop, I'm not sure what my "CountDownr" will look like as it reaches its point, finally.

BUT...the point is, when this post posts, they will be here. The...

Run by my ever-so-beloved...


Probably needless to say, I hope to be a bit absent this week, dropping gold...


with pillows...
meeting best friends...for the first time...

...enjoying wisdom from da Mr.S...

...and watching Doctor Who. (I know, I know--get over it, already.)

I hope to have a blast--and then have a blast when I come back to the blogging world afterwards. It's been a year, this blog, me, and you...I'm excited as to what the next one holds!

God bless!
Nairam

Generic images found via google images--no copyright infringement intended.
Doctor Who image from Wikipedia.
OYAN images found on OYAN website--used for adveritisement, which I bet they don't mind, but no copyright infringement intended!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Advice for Receiving Critiques

So, we've now discussed the value of critiques, critiquing gold and pillows, and now it's time for another post on critique receivees. It is as follows:

As you might be able to tell by now, I'm not only an active writer: I am an active critiquer. And just as critiquers can be mist-wrapped dark strangers who hurl bricks at your foot and then run away, writers can be the must UNgrateful creatures. As we've (hopefully) established by now, critiques hurt. So, sometimes, we lash out.

So, let's pretend you've just had a "really mean" critique. Before you respond, here are some things to consider.

1. Usually the "meaner" the critique, the more time it took to compose it. (This is excluding the people who simply say "ur bok sucks".) If there are 12 comments on EVERY page...this person took a LOT of time to put into your book. If you haven't ever critiqued something very carefully, I suggest you stop right now, get out there, and do it. I'll put this post on pause until you do so. Mostly, this means: do NOT devalue the time of the critique, even if you don't care for it!

2. One BIG thing that writers like to do is instantly jump in and start throwing the critiquers' words back at their face. We start making excuses: "if I didn't have that adverb there, I would die", "I know this character's name is hard to pronounce, but I CAN'T change it because she's been named Bodeauoigfd since I was 4 years old", "you don't understand this because I'm going to explain it later." Etc. Often, these defenses are legitimate. But restrain yourself. There is nothing more discouraging for a critiquer than having all of their advice bounced back at them. Excuses like this say: "thanks, but no thanks, I have it ALL under control and don't need your help, you over-critical lord of darkness." I'm not saying don't ever attempt to explain something you were trying to do in the book, but rather, if you must explain, explain like this: "I named her Bodeauoigfd because I thought it would be interesting for a heroine to have a really ugly name. Do you think I'm compromising it with the unpronounceablity?" This kind of response accepts the critiquer's point and then explains your own. If you really must address something of this sort, I HIGHLY suggest this format.

3. As the last example shows, ENGAGE your critiquer. Show that their advice HAS helped and that you will do your best to apply it. BY NO MEANS am I saying "take all the advice a critiquer ever gives you" because that will end with a motley and lopsided work in the end. Take what you need, and if you have questions about making something better or clarification, ask them about it. This shows that they have spent their time well--because the author is really USING the advice. Making critiquers feel needed and appreciated is what keeps them coming back.

4. This is the most important thing. Always say thank you. ALWAYS. ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS. (Get it yet?)


Even if you can't think how to engage the critiquer, or how to respond, or even if you're steaming mad at them for calling the name Bodeauoigfd "idiotic," or it was even just the tiniest bit of advice or even praise--ALWAYS SAY THANK YOU!

If you're a serious writer, you need people to critique your work. No way around it. Zilch. Realize their importance and then don't kill them when they tell you that your work is perfect. Heck, you're a writer--you already know it's not perfect! (Or you're not a writer.)

So, appreciate every single one--and make them FEEL appreciated. Not only is this just common courtesy and Christ-like behavior--you're likely to keep 'em coming back for more.

Nairam

Both images found via Google Images, no copyright infringement intended.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Happy Birthday...Blog

Seemed a bit anti-climatic, to me. Happy Birthday Me? Happy Birthday Blog? Whatever...

Anyway, 1 year ago in the midst of the Iowa Young Writers' Workshop, I started up this blog! My first post isn't actually that far different from where I've gone since...I'm still Nai, talking endlessly about Robin Hood and writing. (I even still haven't figured out an easy way to embed videos.)


So...thanks to my readers and followers, who either have put up through my stumbling first steps or have just fallen upon me at this time when I'm (the slightest bit) more confident and sure of myself and what I want to talk about.

Some fun (?) stats...

This is my 82nd post. Not quite the 100 I was aiming for, but not bad for writing during a Junior year, I should think.

This blog has 5,130 pageviews. Not taking into account that it took me awhile to figure out I could turn my own OFF...and considering that I spent a lot of time tinkering with design in the beginning, that number should lose a couple hundred to be completely accurate.

2010 August was the month of highest pageviews, followed by March 2011 and then June 2011.

Most pageviews have come from the United States, but a decent amount are from Haiti and Canada.

I most frequently tag things with the word WRITING. Go figure.

Most of you have been ensnared via the OYAN Forum (bwaha), while the second-most (second-most?) have come from Facebook.

You guys really like To OYANers, having viewed it 138 times. Lots of you must also wonder why in the world I don't like fantasy, because you've viewed that 89 times.

I am STILL trying to bring out Forest of Lies Draft IV. Wait, you didn't want to know that, did ya?

Again, a thanks to the blogging world and my readers! You're what makes this stuff fun. I'm looking forward to this next year!

~Nairam

Robin Hood cake image from this place.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Weekend Fun: Nine Easy Ways to Kill Your Muse

1. Only write when s/he comes. Muses are shy, spontaneous creatures. If you don’t ever force them to do anything, they will shrivel up like raisins.

2. Get on Facebook. There’s an app on every Facebook profile, whether you want it or not, which will grab your muse by the hair, and suck him or her dry.

3. As a matter of fact, this disgusting parasite is on every page of the internet.

4. Allow Eddie (your internal Editor) to tell you that your book sucks and you should never, ever show it to anyway will make your muse run away sobbing and then die a long, miserable death of a broken heart.

5. Always stick to the plan. Spontaneity, remember? Without a chance at spontaneity and a breathing plot and characters, your muse will die of boredom.

6. Never have any sort of plan. Muses actually thrive on structure, even if it is only little. If absolutely ANYTHING goes they will get overwhelmed and collapse in a puddle of tears at about the third chapter.

7. Compare your writing to another’s. Your muse will go on strike holding a sign that says: “My Author Thinks I’m Not Good Enough.”

8. Delay writing when you feel him or her tugging. Muses actually encouraging a writing session is rare--if you don’t write when she says, she will hide for months in someplace stupid, get a dreadful disease, and die in delirium.

9. Write and read blogs before working on novels. Never fails.

Now please, don’t kill your muse.

Nairam

Image from Wikipedia.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

On Gold and Pillows (Part 2)

SO...we now know that critiques are gold even when they hurt and a few tips on how to create your own gold for writers.

Now, for the nice people of the world--it’s time to glue some pillows on that critiquing gold! You know you have to hurt the author’s toe--you don’t need to break it, though, for goodness sake!

The Pillow

1. Do your best to praise what the author does well. While one brand of critiquers follow this advice too well (see no.1 in Gold), the others (like me) spend so much time tying to help the author do better, they forget to point out when the author did, in fact, nail something. Critiquing takes long enough: do you REALLY need to point out stuff that won’t help the author? Yes, actually--because it helps the psyche of the author. Yes, it takes a lot of work to point out the bad and the good (heck, to even just READ the thing), but it also takes a lot of work to write a novel. If you don’t point out the good now and then the author may collapse in a puddle of tears. Ignore this tip at your own risk.

2. This is kind of a 1.2, but don’t only praise--now and then, when you can honestly do it, praise exuberantly. If you REALLY liked a certain character, say REALLY. Don’t just say: “hey, I like this dude,” say, “this guy REALLY intrigues me, I’d love to see more of him” (of course, only do this of it’s true). If you’re giving the author some meat to work on (again, see Gold no.1), there is no such thing is over-praising what is done well.

3. Follow up. Don’t dump a critique and flee for the nearest exit. Stick around to see if they have any specific questions about your critique--things they didn’t understand, questions about how to make things better, attempts at cleaning up those semicolons. Lots of times, you won’t really know the answer to the questions--but being there to give input as they work through problems is really encouraging.

4. Become a fan. If you like a book, follow its progress! When there aren’t new chapters to read and critique, encourage them and remind them that you’re eager for more. Also, if you really, REALLY like the book...advertise it to others. There’s a big confidence boost there that’s very much appreciated even as we’re asking you to stop. (We’re liars, sue me.)

5. At the same time, don’t get to the point where you only praise everything. This goes back to Gold numero uno once more. Balance help with praise, and the praise means far more than if all you do IS praise. Make the writer BELIEVE your praise by being brutally honest when they need it and the cheerleader when they need it.

So, to sum up good critiquing, gold and pillow?

Tell them what doesn’t work. Be honest. Tell them what does. Be an encourager.

Thus ends Nai’s Ways to Become a Serious Writer’s Best Friend.

God bless.
~Nairam

Pillow image from Google Images search. No copyright infringement intended.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Weekend Fun: Some Good Blogs

Don't worry, in spite of my crazy life I will be continuing Of Gold and Pillows as soon as I can next week, and I even have another post for the writers about receiving critiques after that.

For awhile now, I've been wanting to advertise some of my favourite blogs--I never like scrolling through blogrolls but do often click on links in posts, so I thought this'd be the best way to do it.

ALSO...I'm on the lookout for new blogs to follow. I like blogs that post decently frequently (say, at least 3-4 times a month, more fun if it's 2-3 times a week...I know, I haven't been following that the last few months!), look to encourage and teach, and, generally, ones by Christian writers. Yes, I allow myself to be picky (and yes, the ones I'm about to link to fit some, if not all, of these categories!). If you think your blog fits this category or you read one that you think does (or is just plain good), please post a link in the comments!

Rach
elle Gardner, Christian Literary Agent
An English literature teacher recommended this blog to me over two years ago, and I haven't gotten tired of it since. She teaches, encourages, and isn't afraid to have fun. Highly recommended, especially for writers interested in becoming professionally published some day. It has really helped me get the basis of knowledge about the publishing world. Even if you only look through the archives, it's a great resource.

For the Love of Life

This is a fellow OYANer's blog. She writes with clarity and honesty about her life, life in general, writing, and the Christian walk. It's always refreshing and a good read.

Jotting Down Notes

I just started reading this blog because of a thoughtful comment she left on mine, but I really enjoy it. It's always good for a laugh (mostly from amusing illustrations) and she also happens to be a Christian writer, which is really neat. She writes about a variety of things, but manages to make them all interesting and funny (it's probably her purple-headed depiction of herself that gets most of my laughs).

Pro-Life American
In a different vein, this is a new blog set up by my politically-inclined younger sister. So far it's informative but not lengthy or drowning in boring facts. Yes, it's my sister's, but I'd probably be reading it even if it wasn't. I can't do everything at the same time, and I like being able to keep up with the debate and issues through a worldview that (obviously) matches mine.

Writing for His Glory
She hasn't been posting as much lately, but I really enjoy reading it when she does. She talks mostly about writing and God (as the title implies), but also manages to slip in book and movie reviews I like to read (which is quite a feat--I usually skip those posts on other blogs!).

These are my favourite blogs--I'd like to hear about yours, too!

God bless,
~Nairam

Images taken from their respective blogs for the purpose of their advertisement. No copyright infringement intended.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

On Gold and Pillows (Part 1)

In a previous post, I wrote on the value of a good critique, even when it hurts. I’m writing this to give advice on how to create these worth-their-weight-in-gold critiques and how to lessen the unfortunately necessary toe-smashing that comes with handling such hefty gold.

So, here are some tips on how to help but not permanently maim your writerly friend.

The Gold

1. Though it may seem evident, don’t only praise. Writers love praise more than they admit, but at the same time, it doesn’t help the book get any better. We won’t be scarred for life if you point out something that doesn’t seem quite right. We also won’t kill you. There is an exception for this is when a writer is young or otherwise unready for real critiques. Sometimes it’s hard to tell, but when you can tell they don’t want your honest opinion, it’s up to you if you give it or not. I would suggest not even trying: writers who don’t want criticism haven’t yet awoken to the fact that they need it to grow.

2. Focus more on your reactions to character and situations--the big picture--than things like semicolons and commas. It’s fine to correct these too, but what always screams GOLD to me is someone willing to tack the bigger picture, focusing on how the STORY is working. It’s easy to find grammar Nazis. Story critiquers? Rare as gold itself.

3. If the writer asks specific questions--ANSWER THEM! Over and over again, I see the questions that the writer puts forth ignored by people critiquing the novel. I have been guilty of this myself--usually because I download something and forget to look over the questions when I return to the topic. There are few things more frustrating than asking for specific help on your characterization and getting rants on your semicolon use (unless, of course, you asked for grammar help).

“Maybe I don’t know how to answer the question,” you may say. Try anyway. If the writer asks: “Is the metaphorical symbolism of Annie’s dress apparent in the alliteration of the color descriptions?” It’s okay to say, “not sure what you mean, but I did notice that there were a lot of long words I didn’t understand that all started with the letter ‘s’.”

Of course, if the broad sweep is: “can you help me make my characters better?” it’s also fine to say: “sorry, only you can do that.”

--

Does this look like hard work? It is. It’s hard and you’ll also start the critiquing process about as nervous as the writer who is actually writing. Even when you’re looking to help someone, there’s a fear of reaction--and it’s a legitimate fear, actually. There’s always a chance you’ll try to help an immature writer and they’ll throw it back in your face. Or that even the writer WILL be appreciative...but unable to express it (they’re still nursing their toe).

Even with all that, critiquing can actually be fun, at least for writers. This is probably because of two things: 1) It’s easier to tell someone else to fix something than to fix something of your own, and 2) It really is rewarding to help someone else at.

Next: How to glue pillows to your gold. (For nice people.)

~Nairam

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Worth of Critiques

Writers, when you get a critique document or are notified of a critique post, or have someone say "hey, I read your novel..." I can be almost certain of one reaction: your heart quickens, your stomach knots, and you think why-oh-why did I ever want to be a writer.

After this first gut-reaction, however, how do you really respond? Do you think: "GET ME OUTTA HERE!"
Or is it: "I can really learn something here. This person put time into reading my book, and now they're putting time and effort into giving me their opinion on it. This is my chance to make it better."

Critiques hurt. I mean real critiques. The ones that WILL help you make your book better. Not the pat-on-the-back that's easy to find, especially in non-writerly circles, but also in the circles of other caring writers...what's harder to find is the brutally honest OUCH critique that, after depressing you for a week, pushes you on to greater things.

Think about it this way. I'm walking along, expecting nothing. Then a person walks up to me with a brightly-wrapped gift box and hands it to me. I take it a little bewilderedly, start my "thank you" but only get through "thank--" before I realize the extreme weight of the box they've just handed me, and drop it on my toe. OUCH. I forget about thanking them, cry instead, and then rip the wrapping paper off a bit revengefully.

It's not a box. It's a gold brick.

Maybe that's a dorky metaphor, but I think it matches.

Sometimes the person to hand it to you is a friend. Usually then, the brick is smaller, wrapped more carefully, and they bend over you, giving you an ice-pack for your toe. Still other times, it's a cloak-draped stranger who shoves it at you wrapped in dirty newspaper, the size of three cement blocks stacked on top of each other. This time you don't only drop it on your toe. You actually break your toe.

I know you're starting to cringe at the number of times I have metaphorically dropped gold bricks on our toes, so I'll stop there.

Let me say again: real critiques hurt. They will always hurt. I know this, because today I got a critique that hurt, and I thought I had pretty thick skin, after sharing my work online for 3 years. But nope. He called my characters stereotypes, my research lousy, and probably doubled my wordcount in in-text comments.

Yowch. *nurses toe*

Are some people unnecessarily mean? Perhaps. But sometimes they're just honest about what they think. These are the dirty-newspaper-dark-cloak people. Forget the broken toe--chase after them with all you've got. Some things can be discarded (some things can always be discarded)--but I'm pretty sure there's gold peeping out from that newspaper.

When I get over nursing my toe, I'll unwrap it.

~Nairam

Images found through google images search. No copyright infringement intended.

Friday, June 10, 2011

What Does it Mean to Write for God?

In 2009, God showed me what love really means, how important the Truth really is, and how beautiful sacrifice can be--all through a book. He swept me away so thoroughly with Forest of Lies that I decided, then and there, that all I wanted to do was write for Him. I didn’t know what I was promising when I said this--it seems we humans rarely do.

When a writer writes, they’re used to writing either to please a human audience, or they’re writing for their own enjoyment. I generally wrote for my own enjoyment, though eventually I did want to be read. Writing for God is an entirely new thing.

The Soli Deo Gloria writer says: “I don’t care what everyone else thinks of it. I’m writing it for You.” Rarely does this SDG writer actually mean this. As humans, we naturally DO want to know what others think--and we want their approval. In my post Soli Deo Gloria, I described my journey after my promise, and the several months of anger and depression over my book. God did get me back on track: I eventually realized and accepted what His calling really meant.

Jesus didn’t promise publishing, screaming fans, movie deals, or even contest wins anymore than he promised his disciples that everyone would love them and pamper them. I’m not saying that there isn’t joy and fulfillment in writing for God--there is--or that because you write for God, you’re excluded from publishing. I have, however, come to the conclusion that if you really mean what you say, you have to not care if no fame or money comes out of your hard work. This is only possible by the grace of God, and you’re likely to slip backwards more than once. Take it from me. But it is necessary.

Secondly, “Christian Writer” can’t be your only identity. Just being a Christian--a little Christ--comes first in the label, and it must be nurtured above all else. I’ve been learning this lately. If I’m skipping Bible, prayer, or worship just to work on my novel, do you think it will really adhere to what God wants me to write about? If I skimp on my relationship WITH the God I’m SUPPOSED to be writing FOR...you can pretty much bet that I’ve gone back to writing for me. I may not know it, and I may claim otherwise, but that is most likely the root of the problem. You can’t teach others about God if you don’t know him yourself.

There is, however, a place where the two points in your life must meet--just as you can’t skimp on time with God, you can’t assume that He’s always going to fix plot holes and say in a loud, booming voice exactly what you have to write about. Prayer and hard work are just as important when writing a book as when living your life. Pray over that baby! Ask for his help, his guidance, and for it to glorify Him above all else.

As hard as I’ve proved this to be, let me assure you: it is worth it.

~Nairam

P.S. Yes, the trip to England was fantastic, and yes, I will be posting some things--mostly novel helps for my fellow 12-13th century writers, however, unless asked for otherwise!
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