Month: March 2012

6 Things I Wish I’d Known About Being a Writer

For me, wishes are silly, especially after the fact, but I thought I’d share these little wishes for anyone interested, and also to serve myself a reminder that I have progressed in my writing. Not all lies stagnant!

I WISH I HAD KNOWN HOW TO…

DELETE
I wish I’d realized sooner how possible it is to delete sentences, paragraphs, pages, chapters, the entire freaking book, and just rewrite stuff. I would have saved myself a lot of time – all those months, even years in some instances, stewing about whether or not a specific scene or word or way I wrote the book was worth keeping. It’s just so valuable, I’d think to myself. I can’t just delete something that took so much to write! Well, it turns out I can. Quite easily and without fear. But it took awhile to get there. I say just delete that problematic crap, and if you end up rewriting it the same way (which 99% of the time it doesn’t for me), it’s meant to stay.

MOVE ON
Oh, heavens, to move on. It’s so easy to stay on one project forever. I don’t like NaNo (National Novel Writing Month) much, but it did save me the one time I did it. It saved me from working on the same book forever and ever and ever. It helped me start a new project and move on. It’s important to learn when to start something new, and when something needs to be finished. I think it’s true that a project is never finished, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be finished with it.

OUTLINE
I don’t understand how anyone can just write blindly. New writers seem to prefer it, but the more seasoned writers I meet, the more I see how many of them actually plan their books, think about them for months, write outlines (even very loose ones) and/or a synopsis, and know where their story is going and how it’s going to be structured before they start it. It’s a grand thing. If I want to be “surprised” by a story, I’ll read a book not written by me. If I want my own story to surprise me, I’ll be surprised in that outline I write, and honestly, my stories always deviate from the outline and end up surprising me, but I can’t get there in any sort of efficient manner without arrows I’ve planned out first. I know a lot of writers who would argue with me on this point, but as long as they know what works best for them, all is well.

IGNORE
When I first started writing, most of my feedback came from family and close friends. Nothing much has changed in the feedback area. It’s all still opinions and subjective viewpoints. I’ve learned (with a lot of heartache, mind you), when to ignore feedback and when to apply it. I used to think I had to consider and at least try all of it. Luckily, that is not the case anymore, and that has sped up my process. I’ve also learned (through even more heartache) how to ignore a lot of online distractions. This has not been easy, and has not been without repercussions, but my writing is improving because of it, and I have to remember that is the bottom line.

TRUST
Oh, trust. I think a writer’s biggest enemy is mistrust in themselves, in others, in the publishing industry. It’s so easy to doubt ourselves and our work. It’s so easy to compare ourselves and believe we fall short. It’s so easy to let ourselves believe other aspects of writing are more important than writing itself. It all falls under that TRUST umbrella. Trusting in yourself and your ability to learn, grow, stay on task, and succeed is perhaps the biggest lesson I have learned so far (and I’m still learning it). Nobody can do what you’re doing as well as you do it. Nobody. Trusting yourself, closing your eyes to the naysayers (that includes statistics and all that), and just being you and doing what you love is the most important thing. Ever. Period. Just keep writing and trust yourself to do it.

BE HAPPY
Perhaps the hardest thing I’ve come up against has been choosing happiness. It has been far too easy to let myself wish for more every single day. More sales. More money. More writing time. More fans. More fame. More, more, more, more, faster, faster, faster. That golden ticket, eh? When I have this, I’ll be happy. When I get that, I’ll be happy. But no. Along with that trust word up above, I’ve learned that trusting in myself as a person, as a writer, as an artist, as a storyteller, has steered me toward choosing to be happy and trust in the decisions I’ve made and the things I’ve created. Yes, reaching certain goals like publication have made me happy, but it’s only temporary. The lasting happiness we all seek never comes from reaching a certain goal. It’s more intangible than that. It’s pretty much boiled down to a choice to be happy with where you’re standing right this moment. Enjoy the view. Breathe the words. Create. Be 100% grateful that you have the freedom to create – no matter where it ends up. And smile. Smiling makes all the difference in the world.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Writing Process, 0 comments

“One-Eye Two-Eyes Three-Eyes”: The Fairy Tale Hardly Anyone Knows About

When I mention the fairy tale, “One-Eye, Two-Eyes, Three-Eyes”, I often get a funny look from people. One-WhAT? Eyes. Three sisters. One has one eye, one has three eyes, and one, well, she’s the odd one out – she has two like everyone else.

I grew up reading this tale, and I adore it. In a lot of ways, it’s like the Cinderella tale, but better. Lots better. I love “Cinderella”, but it’s not my favorite for a lot of reasons, one of them being the overly sweet ending, which is why I decided to do more with that ending in my novella, Cinders, and simply continue the tale on a more realistic note. Totally me. After that, however, I wanted to try my hand at a good old retelling of a happily-ever-after tale, and “One-Eye, Two-Eyes, Three-Eyes” seemed very fitting. Thirds is that retelling. The end of the original fairy tale is what peaked my interest from the get-go. A lot of readers might think the ending is the girl getting her man and showing her mean sisters and mother what hags they really are, but that’s not a true happily-ever-after for me, and that’s not the note on which the original tale ends. It’s much more subtle and true. That’s why I love it.

Thirds is a retelling, but not a straight retelling. I put the story in my own world with its own set of magical rules and creatures quite different from the original tale. The fairy godmother character in the original fairy tale doesn’t exist in mine. Instead, it’s an elf. But there is still a goat. And geese. My main character’s name is Issina, and not only does she suffer the unfortunate circumstance of having two eyes, she also suffers the knowledge that she has no magic like her sisters own. No magic. No future. No hope. Ah, the beauty of a fairy tale.

Thirds will be published in my omnibus, Bonded, this November. My publisher has decided to put Thirds in the middle of the three stories, and I think that’s perfect because the other two have bittersweet endings (okay, they aren’t the happiest of endings at all, although I have seen that they are satisfying for many readers, including myself), and Thirds has a really happily-ever-after feel to it, so it fits well sandwiched in the middle.

If you’re interested, you can read some excerpts of Thirds here.

Here’s to little-known fairy tales! May they always be revived and survive.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Bonded, Books, 0 comments

Monarch Butterfly Population Down 28 Percent in 2012

michelle-d-argyle-monarch-coverI have a purely unselfish reason for wanting my novel, Monarch, to hit bestseller status and go monumentally huge. If that happened, it would not only raise more awareness for the monarch butterflies, but I’d donate the royalties to help preserve the monarch butterflies. Why would I do this? It’s because the monarch population is dwindling, not only due to illegal deforestation in Mexico where the monarchs in the Eastern United States spend their winter, but due to dwindling milkweed supply. Leave it to farmers (who keep increasing their herbicide-tolerant corn and soybean crops) to inadvertently choke out the milkweed plant – the only plant  on which monarch caterpillars feed. As an organic food lover, I have issues with those kinds of crops, anyway. Gah.

I recently read this article on the Huffington Post about the monarch population dwindling this year. My heart hurts when I read such things, and I only hope it’s just a dip and not part of a huge, steady decline. But, sadly, I’m afraid things are only going to get worse for the monarchs, not better. Did you know that here in the United States, we didn’t even know until 1975 that the monarchs migrated down to Mexico? That sure hasn’t given us a huge amount of time to marvel how far they fly every year just to survive. All the way from Canada to Mexico. It’s incredible.

My novel might be fiction, and it might be teeming with action and spies and drama, but at its heart is the monarch butterfly and what a beautiful insect it is. I’ve always had a soft spot for butterflies, especially monarchs. I, for one, do not ever want to see them die off. We would lose something magnificent.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Books, Monarch, 0 comments

Sleeping Beauty and the Spinning Wheel Spindle

Ah, the joys of research! After receiving some valuable feedback on Scales, I delved into some needed research and found some interesting things. First of all, I want to make clear that Scales is not a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, nor is it a continuation, or much of a prequel, honestly. But it does have threads of the Sleeping Beauty tale running through it. I call it a prequel because, for me, it’s the story I’ve come up with to tell Maleficent’s side of things – at least up to where the well-known tale begins. Maleficent (her name is Serina in my story) is a fascinating character in Disney’s version of the fairy tale. She’s a sorceress, and she’s incredibly jaded, but why? And why, exactly, does she turn into a dragon? Those were the questions I started with.

So to bring yet one more Sleeping Beauty thread into my story, I’ve decided to take a friend’s suggestion and add a spinning wheel scene into the plot and themes. The scene is short, and I weave it through some other spots, but when I started the scene, I ran into a wall because I have absolutely no idea how a spinning wheel works or what all the parts do and are named. Do you? I’m impressed if you do. I knew a spinning wheel is used to spin fibers into yarn and thread, but how it does that exactly, I didn’t know. And, I kept asking myself, what exactly is a spindle on a spinning wheel, and is it really sharp enough for a young girl to prick her finger?

I found this:

In Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, Aurora doesn’t actually prick her finger on a spindle. The animators didn’t quite understand how a wheel worked so what she touches is a distaff (a rod used to keep fiber organized while spinning), which is almost never sharp at all. (http://www.mahalo.com/spinning-wheel/)

That surprised me! So I’ll be sure not to make the same mistake in my story (describing the wrong thing as a spindle, heaven forbid). The spinning wheel first appeared in China a thousand years ago, but apparently, lots of serious crafters are still using spinning wheels! They’re still in production today, being sold for $200 – $2,000+. There are also two types of spinning wheels – spindle wheels and flyer wheels. The type in Sleeping Beauty was most likely a spindle wheel, and that’s what I’ll be describing in Scales. Anyway, this post might be all silliness, but I certainly find the strangest thrills in little research journeys! Don’t you?

Scales will be published in an omnibus titled Bonded. I have some news about the release date, but can’t share it quite yet. I will soon!

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Bonded, Books, 0 comments

What Feedback Means for a Writer

I just received two very nice, very helpful emails from some beta readers for Scales. They contained some great compliments and some suggestions for improvement according to their viewpoint. They were well-thought out and very kind. I like that kind of feedback. What I usually do to evaluate feedback is lay it all out, read it about 800 times, and then start piecing together what I feel will work for the book and what won’t.

Deciding What Works

This is the tricky part, because I feel that writers really do value what others think of their work. But they also know that as the author, their own opinion is the most important. They wrote it. They’re married to it. They know it better than anyone. So what do they do when they get feedback and they really respect the person who sent it to them, and they can see their point, but they’re all wishy-washy on whether or not to use the suggestion?

The first thing I do is evaluate whether or not a specific point ever crossed my mind before it was mentioned. If it did, then more than likely, I will want to use that suggestion.

If a suggestion feels like it could maybe work in the text, but I’m not sure, I’ll look at it from all possible angles. Will it drastically change the characters, the plot, the themes? If so, do I want to do that much revision? Will it be small changes? Does it affect my original vision of the story?

If I initially feel defensive about a certain suggestion, about nine times out of ten, it’s something I should use. I think this is because I feel defensive when, deep-down, I know the person is 100% correct. Sometimes my ego gets a kicking. I get over it. The story is all that matters!

What Has Changed

I think feedback has gotten easier for me to work with the more I write. It’s not such a huge guessing game anymore, and I think that comes about with practice. I think it also might have to do with finding beta readers I’m compatible with. That’s a huge deal. But I also think it’s because I’ve become aware of my writing on a different level. It’s fluid. Changeable. I’m not afraid to let it evolve, but I’ve also learned that I don’t have to please everyone, even my betas, and sometimes the story is what it is and shouldn’t be changed. Every time I talk to my husband about feedback I just received, he looks at me and says, “Remember the Steven King rule. If only one person mentions something, ignore it. If you get up into 5 or 6, you’re entering into consideration. More than that, do not ignore.”

Since I sometimes don’t use that many betas, I stick to percentages instead of numbers of people, but it’s the same idea. I’m not sure where my hubby read that, but he quotes it all the time. I’ll have to look it up!

What It Means

What feedback really means to me is something quite precious, actually. That there are people out there willing to read my imperfect, often dreadfully typo-ridden drafts and offer me suggestions is incredible. I’m deeply grateful for that, always. As more time goes by and I do this over and over, I think what I’ve learned is that while as much as I’d like to write in a vacuum, I know it’s impossible. My work always, always, always gets better when I allow feedback and actually use it to revise. And it’s not because I’m trying to please people – it’s because my focus is usually too narrow and I miss things.

I hope that if you’re a writer, you have found a good way to evaluate feedback. Honestly, it used to reduce me to tears. I used to stress about it, and I used to dread it. These days, it’s a breath of fresh air for a project. Night and day difference! It’s definitely possible.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Working With Other Writers, 0 comments

A Book That Came Out of Left Field … Maybe

I pick up my butterfly book, Monarch. You know, the one with butterfly and dead feet on the cover? That one. And I flip it open and I wonder what possessed me to write such a thing. Then I remember I grew up in the ’90’s when authors like John Grisham and Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton were hitting their stride. They were huge. Everybody read them. I read them. I was fifteen in the middle of that decade, for crying out loud, and reading legal thrillers and stories about cloning DNA. I loved this stuff. I. Ate. It. Up. I also read Joan Lowry Nixon and Lois Duncan. I loved anything that got my heart rate up.

So now there’s this series of books out there about a dragon tattoo, or something. And a girl. Or something. Right? Stieg Larsson. You’d think I’d be all over that because I love serious adult thrillers, intrigue, and danger. Well, I used to. Apparently, after so many years, my taste for this sort of thing has taken a back seat to other tastes, and I haven’t even put Larsson’s books on my Goodreads shelf. I’m reading all over the place. Young adult, adult, literary, fantasy. No thrillers. I have a few on my list, but I keep pushing them back. Maybe I’m afraid I’ll compare them to Monarch and feel disappointed in myself? I’m not sure. Because Monarch is not a true thriller. I simply can’t compare it to other thrillers. It was a book that came out of all those years in the ’90’s, all that reading I did, all that passion I had bottled up for those elements, combined with the literary elements I learned in college.

I have no idea if I’ll ever write another thriller. I feel, in a way, that Monarch satisfied my craving to write somewhere in that genre, and now I’ve moved on. The next book I have planned is historical and magical, a lot like my Bonded stories. I wonder if that’s where I’ll keep writing, but then I look at The Breakaway, a young adult contemporary suspense, and I’m confused all over again, because I really do love contemporary. Gah, I guess I just need to keep writing and see where it all goes. Signing off. Confused and laughing at myself!

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Books, Monarch, 0 comments

The Unexpected Way I Found to Increase My Productivity

The truth is that twenty-two days ago, I was miserable, bouncing from happy to sad to happy to sad to bleh to meh to who-knows-what, and I was getting really sick of it. And don’t even mention depression because I’m already dealing with that, and this was not part of it. It’s something separate that began once my books started getting out there – once the idea of success started infiltrating my brain like this crazy monster. So twenty-two days ago, I watched a Shawn Achor TED talk on YouTube, and I decided to take the challenge given in the video. Shawn Anchor says the lens through which we view the world shapes our reality, and if we change our formula for happiness and success, we can change our reality and therefore better control our lives and work productivity, meaning for me, WRITING MORE and BETTER.

If I work harder, then I’ll be more successful, and if I’m more successful then I’ll be happier.

That is the “happiness formula” in the world these days, in general, and it goes against how your brain actually works. We’re all drilled to believe that success is based on outside factors, when in actuality, reversing that “happiness formula” is the more natural way to be happy. The only way to be happy, in my opinion. So what does reversing that formula mean? It means changing your behavior, the way you think…

If I’m happier, then I’ll work harder and be more successful.

The point is that happiness comes first. That behavior, that way of thinking, that whole idea of being happy in the present, comes first. So Shawn Anchor gives these five ways to change the way you think, like rewiring your brain to be happy in the present, therefore changing the way you behave.

For 21 days, every day, you should:

  • 3 Gratitudes – Identify gratitude for three new things.
  • Journaling – Write about one positive experience.
  • Exercise – Teach brain that behavior matters
  • Meditation – Learn to focus on a single task.
  • Conscious Acts of Kindness – Write one positive email of praise or thanks to someone in social network.

I thought I might try all of these, but ended up only doing one completely for 21 days, and another for about half that time. I mastered the three gratitudes.

So you might be asking, did it work?

Why, yes it did. I am writing more without making myself do it. I just want to, so I do, and I’m more efficient. I am happier. I feel better about my writing. I did not do all of the points listed above, but just the one for gratitude has done wonders for the way I wake up and start thinking. Literally. I wake up happier. It’s becoming a habit to think about things I’m grateful for, and let me tell you, three a day got hard. Sometimes I’d just sit there and think. Sometimes I wouldn’t write the post until the end of the day after I’d thought about it for hours. What am I truly grateful for? Who am I grateful for? Who do I want to say thank you to today? After awhile, my nature kept me from sending someone an email every single day to say thank you. It started to feel fake, so I stopped.

And trust me, I’m not living under some delusion that I should be bouncing around ridiculously happy 24-7. Because I won’t. I’m a pessimist, which is the problem, but it’s still a part of me. So I can be grateful and irritated at the same time. But the whole idea of this is that I am generally happier and that my productivity (which has increased) is stemming from a happy life instead of my productivity determining my happiness.

**If you decide to try this, don’t try it to increase your productivity. Otherwise, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. Do it to be more happy, and increased productivity will most likely be a natural side effect.**
Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Writing Process, 0 comments