Sketches, and Writer with a Day Job by Áine Greaney

Quick and dirty sketches of my two principle characters.

Quick and dirty sketches of my two principle characters.

Hello! It’s been over a week since the Unicorn Writers’ Conference now. Life’s been pretty good. I’ve even been exercising. I’m trying to leave my book draft alone for a little while, even though Eileen Albrizio‘s workshop  at the Conference made me want to FIND and DESTROY all the adverbs. I have been getting positive feedback from the good folks reading the current draft, though, which is awesome to hear. To keep my oar in and try to cultivate the habit of writing every day, I’ve been futzing around with book two. It’s still in the very early stages of development, but I’m playing with some ideas and I like what’s shaping up so far. Mostly, I’ve been sketching and working on thumbnails for the rest of book one. I need to really tackle those illustrations soon. For now, I’ve been sketching with a cheap ballpoint pen and hoping that the permanence and nonchalance of the medium will take some of the pressure out of making pictures. It’s a ballpoint pen. I have to ACCEPT that the things I make with it will NOT be perfect—and this frees me up to just DRAW.

Some sketches for a secondary character in Wanderlust. If you can ignore the one on the bottom right with the panda eyes, I like how he's turning out

Some sketches for a secondary character in Wanderlust. If you can ignore the one on the bottom right with the panda eyes, I like how he’s turning out

 

urlOne of my favorite (ha ha. They were all my favorite) workshops at the Unicorn Writers’ Conference was Writer With a Day Job with Áine Greaney. Writer With a Day Job is also the name of one of her books, which I bought and she signed for me. If you ever get a chance to meet Ms. Greaney or attend one of her workshops, I highly recommend it. She is a delight to listen to, and not just because of the Irish accent. She is a very clear and demanding speaker who holds your attention, makes you laugh, and says a lot of very true things that make you think, and keep thinking. She has a soft a soft voice and wields this power gently; the overall impression is of kindness, hilarity, and respect.

You might wonder why I chose this workshop, since I have no day job to speak of. Well, not having a day job isn’t really a sustainable life choice. I’m even starting to suspect that having regularly scheduled, gainful employment, would help my writing—and this was one of the points of Greaney’s workshop. In fact, when I flipped through my Áine Greaney book looking for likely quotes, I came upon this: “Your day job can give you the structure you need to get things done” (19). I also found, in my notes from the conference, this bit of wisdom: “[Having a day job] takes [the] ego and financial burden away [from the writing].” That really resonates with me right now, because, as much as I’m living a cushy little existence as a writer/creative with parent-provided room and board, I am trying very hard to enter into the adult world and take responsibility for myself and for my obligations. In short, making those student loan payments at the end of every month stresses the crap out of me. If having a job meant I didn’t have to worry about paying the bills, it might actually free up more energy for my writing and creative pursuits. I attended this workshop in anticipation of getting a day job in the near future, and I attended the workshop to learn how to do it when I’m in the position of having a job and needing to write. It was the best choice I could have made; Greaney’s workshop gave me a lot of hope for my future and for the future of my writing and creative endeavors.

The most important thing, Greaney said, is to ask ourselves this: Why do I write? What is my deeply personal reason for writing? What do I want from my life as a writer?

When I asked myself these questions, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders. I remembered that it isn’t about getting published or making money and getting recognition for my work. I want all that, yes. I want it bad. But what it’s about is telling these stories. What it’s about is the love I have for my characters and the deep compulsion I feel to make something physical and tangible and shareable out of the stories and people I’ve created in my head. That, at the heart of it, is why I’m doing this—not for money or fame or a job. This realisation means—well, it means it’s okay if I have a day job for YEARS before the writer/illustrator lark can be my full-time occupation. It means that, as long as I’m creating and sharing these characters, I won’t have failed. The only way I will be a failure as a writer and an artist is if I stop working and creating every day.

I can’t share the whole workshop with you here, so I highly recommend you check out the book if you’re interested. You’ll find a lot of good strategies about how to fit writing time into your busy schedule. I especially liked how Greaney talked about transitions between your work (or your life) and your writing. Sometimes you can’t go straight from one to the other, and it helps to set up transition rituals (like finishing that cup of coffee, or spending twenty minutes journaling, or putting on a specific sweater) that you always perform to get from one place to the other.

I came away from the workshop with two overall messages. The first was: If being a writer is truly, deeply important to you (refer back to that deeply personal reason mentioned above), then do it, any way you can. Write every day. Make it happen. Use whatever available time you have, and make it work for you. And the second message? Be nice to yourself. Accept that you won’t be brilliant every day, and move forward on your writing anyway. At least visit it, even on the crap days when you have nothing left to give. It will all add up, and you will move closer to your writing goals.

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Writing Marathon Day 6, and Tonight’s Contest Winner

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Six days in!

The Writing Day

I’m not sure there was a writing day today. I had a really lovely day though; I exercised, played my harp, stir-fried some celery, had a great lesson, bought some oat bran, snuck in a tiny bit of writing that went really well, enjoyed choir practice. I’m hoping to dash out this blog post and get some more work in tonight. I’m past the part of chapter 11 that was really hard, and the editing process seems to have smoothed out again. It’s just that life got in the way today, and since I really like my life right now I don’t feel too bad about it. But hey, maybe I can still get some work in tonight!

Also, by the way, my number of followers has been climbing steadily this week, and I want to thank you all for that. I also seem to be following behind on responding to individual comments, but even if it takes me a day or two to get back to you please know that I read your comment and loved it.

Okay, we need a blog topic.

And the winner is…

Jess. Congratulations, Jess!

Jess is a friend, and one of my classmates from the Illustration program at Northern Michigan University. She’s a really great artist, so you should definitely check out her online portfolio: Icarus Falls Design.

Jess very kindly provided me with a question or a prompt to choose from, and even though the prompt looks like a lot of fun I am going to choose the question, because I suspect it will take less time to answer and I’d really like to make some more headway on Chapter 11 tonight.

Jess’s entry: What motivates you? When you’re thinking about writing or drawing, what is it that gets you to actually sit down and pick up the pen? What’s the first part of the project or story that comes to you?

The thing that usually gets me back to a story, and actually working on it, is the name of the main character. I don’t entirely understand this, but mentally I hang a lot of their personality, their very essence, on the sound of their name. So when I find myself walking around the house and whispering “Vanya” under my breath, well, I know it’s time to get back to creating him on the page (in image and word). Having the wrong name for a character can also be a major roadblock to working on something. Upon my return from Thailand, I had to complete a fiction writing assignment in order to receive credit for the trip. I already had one very good scene for the story that I had scrawled down in my sketchbook on the tour bus as we drove away from the ruined city of Ayutthaya, and I had the basic plot, but I was stumbling over the name of the main character and without it, I couldn’t make any progress at all. Then I took a shower to to clear my head, and the name came to me: Hadley. Just weird enough to be interesting, and with just the right sort of old-fashioned feel to it. It seemed both original and classic. Hadley. Now the story could begin.

Of course, motivation is a big, huge, complicated thing. Right now, I am motivated by tons of things. Here are approximate samplings of motivated interior monologue: “This has taken too long and I need to work harder so I can be done now.” “I want this to be done, yesterday.” “My only justification for living with my parents and not having a real job is that I’m working on this, so I’d better work on it.” “I can’t wait to see the finished book.” “I’m ready to stop messing around with the words and start illustrating them.” “I want to be rich and famous.” “I want to start marketing my book.” “I want to tell this story as well as I possibly can.” “I freakin’ love this story!” “I need to finish this and find out if anyone else will love it.” “I get to write about pretty boys and magical harps today, how cool is that?” “Ogodyes this scene… except I can make it even better, here, here, and here.” “Okay, need to work on this today because… Taniel. Vanya.” “Vanya.”

Somehow, it all comes back to the names. In the peculiar alchemy of my brain, they seem to encapsulate everything else.

Thanks so much for your question, Jess, I had fun answering it! You will receive your name-doodle prize in a week or so, and by the end of February at the latest.

And it looks like I do have some time and energy left to tackle a bit more of Chapter 11. I will let you all know how it goes tomorrow!

I Can’t Get Away From The Wolves

That’s what it feels like, anyway. I’m slogging through Wanderlust Chapter Nine. My heroes are exhausted; tired and aching and scared, already nearing the limit of their endurance, and that’s when the wolves attack. My boys have to find a way to save themselves so they can travel on and complete their quest. My task is much easier. I just have to fix all the sentences, tune up the dramatic pacing, and use the perfect words to describe how it all goes down. I’ve been thinking about it all day, I’ve been working on it on and off, and somehow I’ve barely made any progress at all. My characters feel tired and stupid in this scene (I’m at the part right before the “oh-god-I’m-being-chased-by-WOLVES” adrenaline kicks in) and I feel tired and stupid as I’m writing it. The only good part about this scenario is that, at least, we’re in it together.

When I sat down to my manuscript after a week or so off and looked at my characters’ names, I got a momentary case of the giddies. Like when you’re walking down the street and you unexpectedly see that guy you have a crush on, or when you’re watching that television show and that one character you just can’t get enough of walks on the screen. Vanya and Taniel, I read. Ooh, squealed something inside of me. Really? I get to write about these guys?!

So the wolves are attacking. I’m tired and grumpy, and I want to know when we’re getting out of this stupid chapter. Are we there yet? But I’m on the journey. I’m in the book. I’m working on it—and that’s so much better than the alternative.

-Grace Out

P.S. I’d love to hear about your own projects in the comments section. How often do you remember your excitement for your characters? Would you rather be involved with a project, and frustrated, than not working on it at all? How did you get away from the wolves?

DarkWolfMakley

The Dark Wolf © Grace Makley. Watercolors, some editing in Photoshop.

Profanity in Writing (among other things)

Yesterday, I said a lot of my poetry was too personal to share. I stand by that, as it involves other people, but here is a beautiful blog post by an author who shared the most personal thing, the scariest thing. She writes this thing incredibly well, and it is absolutely worth a read—and I suspect this blogger is someone worth following. The Scariest Thing on Chalk the Sun

Another interesting thing about yesterday’s post: it didn’t even occur to me until much, much later that I had posted a poem containing a swear word. The third word of the second line, if you didn’t notice. It is the only word that can go there, and I’m not apologizing. I just find it interesting that it didn’t even occur to me that the word might offend certain audiences. It’s not something I even considered, probably because I know the words to this poem so well that they are a part of myself, and how can a part of myself be offensive?

Profanity in writing, however, is something to consider, especially as an aspiring author of Young Adult Literature. At what age level in books is it appropriate to include characters who swear?

We are, as writers, going for realism. I believe Stephen King said something to the effect of, if your character wouldn’t say “Oh sugar,” then you should write them saying the other thing. Authors writing in a fantasy world have the luxury of making up a swear word or two for their characters to use vigorously. My book is not set solidly in the real world, but the characters come from the real world, so that’s not an option. I’m aiming at the 14 and up crowd, and here’s the solution I’ve reached:

I have one character who swears, and one character who doesn’t. This isn’t an arbitrary decision; it comes directly from the essence of the characters and helps define who they are. The swearing habit actually says a lot about the character. It shows that he is more attached to this world than his friend, and it shows his tendency to fling words at things when he’s angry. When he takes the Lord’s name in vain, it’s even a clue about religious upbringing, though possibly not in the way you’d expect. The swearing is actually a major way that the characters are differentiated from each other in dialogue, especially in those life-or-death type scenes, and I hope this will help the reader get a handle on the characters, and on who is speaking when. So, yes, I let my one character swear freely—but never excessively. He swears when that is what he would say, when that is the only thing he would say, and when the situation warrants it. I never put swears in for the intention of shock value, or to make it seem “edgy.” They are what they are. Would I edit them out if someone who wanted to publish my book asked me to? I honestly don’t know if I would; I think the dialogue would seem artificial without them.

I have completely refrained from using the F-word in my book. I feel the use of that word would cross a major line, one that my guy occasionally saying, “Oh shit,” in a really tricky situation or “dammit” in a moment of emotional duress doesn’t even approach. Would you agree?

I’d love to hear comments on this one, I think it could be a great discussion.

Oh, and I drew this last night (this morning? I couldn’t sleep). Maybe later I will finish it. Did you know Vanya could smile?

Smiling Vanya Sketch

-Grace out