Lyla Campbell

I've learned something about my writing process today. (I'm about to geek out on you with an engineering analogy...please bear with me)

There are times when getting started is the most difficult part of the writing process for me. This is very similar to a phenomena that I learned about in Physics 101. It's called static friction. It corresponds to the amount of force you must apply to a stationary object to put it in motion. Once it's in motion, there is a "resistance" to the movement called kinetic friction. Static friction is the larger of the two forces resisting the forward movement. This proves that getting started is always the most difficult step.

For writers, it could be called having to overcome static fiction. We've all experienced this. On some days, we must apply greater amounts of motivation (or consume a lot more caffeine) before writing can commence.

The point is, once you've started it's a lot easier to maintain your momentum. Many times, I hear writer's say, "I just don't know where to start." Honestly, it doesn't matter. Just start writing anything, who knows what kind of story will emerge.

So what do you do to overcome your static fiction?
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Lyla Campbell
After putting up the post about merging plots to speed up your word count, a blend of two fairy tales crept into my head and kept growing over the next few days. I like it so much I wanted to share it with you.

What would happen if you put Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty in the mixer, added coffee to taste, then whipped it into a frenzy? (Pardon the rambling nature, it's still in the very general idea stage)

Here's the setting: Present day New York City (changing up the time can add plot possibilities)

Cinder-Beauty is the step daughter of the best plastic surgeon on 5th ave. Her stepmother and stepsisters are into the Botox, Gossip, and Social Climbing lifestyle while Cinder-Beauty is more into the Upstate NY outdoors scene, with the occasional Manolo thrown into the mix (she does after all have roots on the upper east side.)

Her stepmom and sisters don't understand her lack of interest in landing a rich husband or her interest in anything intellectual. They treat her as a pariah. Her stepmother and her stepmother's lawyer find a loop hole in the dad's will stating that Cinder-Beauty's trust fund can't be accessed by her unless she completes her bachelors degree. The stepmother, trying to keep Cinder-Beauty "poor", refuses to continue funding her college in hopes this will keep her out of the hallowed halls of learning.

Cinder-beauty, not to be deterred from earning her degree (trust fund as an incentive or no) gets a job and barely eeks out enough for tuition.

CB's best friend (who is also the daughter of another high profile MD) invites her to her older brother's birthday party. CB and the brother hit it off at the party. Unfortunately, her stepmother is there to see it all go down since his father is at the top of CB's stepmother's potential husband list.

The stepmom is not pleased with this so she drugs CBs drink. This sends her into a drug induced coma.

How exactly prince charming (her best friend's brother) rescues her and pulls her out of the deep sleep is something that hasn't quite resolved itself in my head yet.

...This is how merging plots can create a completely new story line.
Lyla Campbell

Consider this scenario:

The plot of your current WIP has run out of steam and you've exhausted all the tricks in your bag to get the creative juices flowing, take a break/look at it with fresh eyes, brainstorm with a writing buddy. But, *sigh* nothing has worked. You feel helpless as you watch your WIP sink slowly into the quicksand of your mind.

We've all been there. I know I definitely have. But, I was lucky enough to go through a plot crisis during one of the NaNoWriMo Write-Ins. One of my very wise fellow WriMos came to my rescue with this brilliant snippet of a writing tip: "Merge this WIP story line with another WIP you have on the back burner."

What followed those words was a true "AH-HA!" moment. Endless possibilities for where I could now take the story line began bubbling up from the depths of my mind.

So when you have two or more plots that to you look dried up, put both of them in a mixing bowl, add coffee and fold together for a juicier plot.
Lyla Campbell

Upon wading into the editing pool this past Friday night I went through a wide range of emotion. The deeper I dove into my story, the more intense it got. It suddenly dawned on me that the similarities to another emotional process were quite striking. So far, editing this particular WIP is like going through the five stages of grief. I have spent an inordinate amount of time assembling this rough draft. The setting and plot that was once just a glimmer in my eye is now an alternate universe that I know like the back of my hand and the characters become a second family to me.

When it came time to edit I tear it down and build it back up again. A process that will be repeated ad nauseum. This is the painful, yet unavoidable part. Unfortunately, It's a necessary evil if you want to take your manuscript from (very) rough draft to polished piece.

Stage 1: Shock and Denial. I noticed this first parallel just a few days ago when I got up the guts to finally start the editing process on my NaNoWriMo novel. I couldn't believe that I had written some of the junk that was in this word file. A lot of it made me cringe, and every so often I came across something that made me throw up in my mouth a little. I found it very hard to come to terms with the fact that I had written this.

Stage 2: Anger: I was angry that I had spent so much time and energy on something so craptastic. After (barely) making it all the way through the document, I felt a little embarrassed that the manuscript was my work. My cheeks were warm and had more color than they normally did and I really had to fight the urge to bury all evidence of this endeavor in the back and all.

Stage 3: Bargaining. Here you start making deals with a higher power. I promise I will give up chocolate for a whole month if you'll just impart to me a less craptastic and more original plot device than the one I used in this scene. This never works...but I still try all the same.

Stage 4: Depression. At this point, I've been editing my WIP for who knows how long now. I keep chipping away at it here, filling in plot holes there, but it feels like a futile fight. Weeping and gnashing of teeth ensues because no matter how much time and effort I've already put it, there still seems to be an equal or greater amount left to go. (Side note: This makes me wonder how long it took to edit "The Never Ending Story"?)

Stage 5: Hope and Acceptance. Here, my eyes have adjusted to the darkness and I can finally see the little speck of light at the end of the tunnel. It's taken a long, long, long time to get here, but I can breath again. Unfortunately...
...Once I'm done with that scene, it's time to start on the next, and it's back to stage one. *Sigh* Such is life on the editing roller coaster.

Maybe my view of editing is a little melodramatic and melancholy. However, I did just start the editing process and the tunnel is so long, I can't see the light at the end from where I stand. Nevertheless, I'll keep going till it's done because I want it badly enough.

Does editing do similar things to your soul?
Lyla Campbell
I'm turning Monday's into "Light and Fluffy Post Day." Because Mondays are bad enough already, I couldn't live with myself if I made you think any harder than you had to. So, with out further ado, here's your Light and Fluffy Post!

I made an amazing historical discovery whilst visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC a little over a month ago. In the Hall of Medieval European Art I found iron clad proof that Starbucks was in existence back then:

Siren. Unknown Artist, c. 1300s

As a self proclaimed coffee aficionado, I felt this was the holy grail of coffee discovery and must be shared with the world...or at least my blog followers who are most fabulous!

Be sure to tune in tomorrow! I'll be putting up the first post in a new series on "Editing Lessons Learned" as work my way through my '09 NaNoWriMo manuscript.

Lyla Campbell

This weekend I'm going to the woods to live deliberately...actually, it's the annual church choir retreat. Seriously though, it is in the woods. While there is hot tea, chocolate milk, and most importantly, COFFEE available around the clock, this very posh retreat facility does not provide internet.

I see this lack of wifi and general contact with the outside world as a good thing since it is the weekend I've chosen to begin the first pass on my novel. There will be a significantly smaller number of distractions and obligations (a.k.a. excuses) to keep me from my writing during our free time. My roommate is planning on getting some writing done on her WIP too. So, we will keep each other accountable.

Anywho, just wanted to wish every one a happy weekend before heading off into the wilderness. I'll be reporting back with a post from deep in the editing trenches when I return!

I'm off to sing purdy now...
Lyla Campbell

It's generally a good idea to give your eyes and brain a rest once finished with the first draft of a manuscript. After blocking out the existence of my NaNoWriMo novel for 6 weeks now, this coming weekend is the one I've designated to finally pick it back up again.

Editing, is easy to get lost in. If you don't have a good project management plan, you can loose sight of the forest because of the trees. In order to psych myself up for this behemoth task, I gave myself a little refresher course in the basics of where in the world I should beginning. I started by listing what I know. These are snippets from things I learned in grade school, a writing class I took a while ago, and first hand in the trenches:

  • During the first editing pass, read for content. During the second editing pass, read line by line for style.

  • Read the story to yourself out loud (something I like to do during the first editing pass). What looks good on the page may not sound good to your ear. Verbalizing your prose will help you identify any awkward text.

  • When editing by hand (this is something I like to do during the second editing pass) print a copy of your work double spaced. That way you'll have room for corrections and notes in between each line

  • Something we called ratiocinating in 7th grade. Count up all the occurrences of the following "am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been" and contractions that include these (i.e. I'm, you're, etc.). Then go through your manuscript and reduce these occurrences by half. This will help you avoid passive sentences. Back in school, we were told it will make for a stronger "voice".

  • If a scene/action/sentence doesn't in some way lent some value to the story, get rid of it. Superfluous = Bad.

  • Try to get rid of excessive occurrences of the word "said" when used to introduce dialogue.

On Friday, with my manuscript and these basic points of editing, I'm going to take a deep cleansing breath and begin the first editing pass.

Editing can be a "black box" of sorts. You don't exactly know what you will need until you get into it. So, how do you like to edit? What tips and tricks do you apply to develop a masterpiece out of the block of marble that is your manuscript?

Lyla Campbell

Here's a nice fluffy post to start off your week:

This afternoon I sat down to fire up this here laptop and immediately had to get right back up. I hadn't gathered all of the necessary writing supplies. Sure, I had my computer, I had nothing to drink. It struck me, it wasn't just this afternoon, I can never write if I don't have something to sip on. And that got me to wonder what other Author's beverage preferences were while pumping out the prose...

I started by googling "What do Writers Drink" From the limited information that was pertinent to my search I found this list of old, dead, and famous writer's and their favorite libations. Some of my personal favorites were:
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald - Gin & Whiskey

  • Dorothy Parker - Martini

  • Edgar Allen Poe - Wine

The list was heavy on beverages of the alcohol persuasion. While I do have an affinity for imbibing in wine during some of my weekend writing sessions, it's not the best choice for weeknight writing sessions. Plus, I'm pretty sure it would be frowned upon if I busted out a bottle of Pinot Noir at my desk while writing on my lunch break.

Usually, I need more energy to keep the story line flowing. So, when I got up to grab a beverage while waiting for my laptop to boot after work I chose the coffee route.

For you fellow coffee lovers out there here's a little brewing tip: French Press is the way to go. The ideal coffee brewing temperature is approximately 195 F. Anything more than that and the organic compounds in the grounds can get burned and create a bitter taste in the drink. Brewers heat the water too hot and the heating plate continues the charring process further. This is one reason office coffee is extremely craptastic. However the french press method allows you to have more control over water temperature and amount of time the water steeps in the grounds. I promise you, if you try it once, you'll wonder why you drank coffee any other way.

If you are a caffeine aficionado like me, be sure to check out my previous post on "Fueling the Word Count Generator" Because lets be honest, writers are just machines that turn caffeine into prose.

So, all you fellow wordsmiths out there, what do you prefer to drink while writing?
Lyla Campbell

Only 295 days until NaNoWriMo begins. If the three letters W, T and F just popped into your head let me lead you into the light. NaNoWriMo = National Novel Writing Month. In short you have 30 days, to pump out a complete story arc with no fewer than 50,000 words completly from scratch (for those out there of the geek persuasion like me, that averages out to 1,666.7 words per day). If you're one of those one-day-novelists, a.k.a. people who say "one day I will write a novel." This is the challenge for you! It's the kick in the pants you've been waiting for to turn out that novel that's been clattering around in your head for the last few years.

The value of this experience was explained most brilliantly in one of the weekly NaNo pep-talk emails I received during Nov of '08: Michelangelo didn't produce the David out of thin air. He began with a rough hewn block of marble. The (very) rough draft produced during NaNo is your block of marble. From that you can chip and polish and buff until it's perfected. Until you're idea is out of your head and on paper, you can't work with it. The intangible must be made tangible. And that's what NaNo does.

I can hear all of you collectively asking yourselves at this very moment. "Um, Lyla...why are you mentioning this in January?" Because, you can never start planning too early for NaNo. But at the same time you can come up with an idea on the 5th of November, sign up late and cross the finish line with 51,346 words. I speak from experience since I've taken both the planning road and the road of procrastination. Either way you go, copious amounts of caffeine will be consumed. (It is a wise idea to buy stock in Red Bull before Nov. 1 and then sell again before the end of the month...just sayin')

Step one in NaNo prep is coming up with an idea. If you don't have a new idea waiting in the wings of your head, here are some great ways to get one to float to the surface:

  • Look through magazines at the photo spreads and artistic ads. A picture is worth a thousand words...and possibly might breed a plot bunny.

  • Keep a dream diary. Take 10 min in the morning to record you mind's journey from the night before. Then, let these stranger than fiction images inspire your next novel.

  • This one is very unconventional, but very effective. Use an online tarot card website to generate a reading. The cards represent types of people (these can inspire characters) and events. The combination of cards will show a "snapshot" of a story line, you can roll on with a plot from there.

  • Look through writing prompt websites like this one:

  • People watch. Coffee shops, the mall, the park these are all great places to observe the rest of the population. Just don't go to far and get slapped with a restraining order. Observe from a polite distance.

I could continue on, and on, and on with witty repartee tyring to convince you to NaNo in November. But it comes down to this: DO NANOWRIMO! Even if you don't make it across the 50k finish line, you've got your block of marble in hand. And if you can do that, you've truly accomplished something.

To sign up for this epic endeavor and learn more, visit their website

In the epic words of Yul Brynner: "So let it be written. So let it be done." ...Go forth and NaNo!

So, will you be joining me in November?

Lyla Campbell

This little gem of an award was bestowed on me by the lovely Ann Elle Altman. (Cruse by her blog here... All Write With Coffee It's got writing, it's got coffee, what's not to love!?!?) I follow a ton of blogs. Choosing only 10 to spread the love to was rough. I had noticed some of the blogs I follow have also received this commendation. So to make the choice easier, I decided to only pass this along to blogs who hadn't yet been graced by its presence. Most of my faves are writing blogs, yes, shocking, I know.

Anywho...without further ado, here are the following 10 blogs I love to follow in the order they are listed on my reader:

  1. Writerhood, a blog about a writer's life

  2. Blackberries to Apples

  3. Help! I Need a Publisher!

  4. Laugh.Write.Play

  5. Mystery Writing is Murder

  6. Scribble City Central

  7. Domestic Dork

  8. Riding With the Top Down

  9. The Writer's Journey

  10. Haute Whimsy

And this is where I say "Tag! You're it!" If you've been given the nod, now it's your turn to pass it along to your favorite blogging peeps.

P.S. It's been a crazy week at the office. I have spent 24 of the last 48 hours there. I will have another writing related post tomorrow! Yeah for getting to leave work at regular time!!!

Lyla Campbell

For most people, myself included, finding a open window of time on the weekend is simple. But, only writing on the weekend, forcing my brain on a 5 day hiatus from my manuscript causes the creative juices to congeal. When I come back to it the next weekend it takes a lot of effort to warm those juices up again and get them flowing.

So, I try to carve out time during the week to avoid this vicious cycle. By day I'm a hydraulics and hydrology engineer. By night I'm a writer. It's kind of like being Clarke Kent, only I don't have super strength, super speed, or wear underwear on the outside of a leotard. Ok, so I'll be truly honest here. By night, I'm sometimes a writer. After sitting in front of a computer all day, one of the last things I want to do is sit in front of my screen for another minute longer. And most of the time I have other things that are more pressing to do than write. Take tonight as an example. After working 9 and a half hours, I'm now working on this blog post, I'm also doing laundry, working on a technical summary for my day job that is needed by end of business on Wednesday, eating dinner, and watching NCIS. And, I know I'm not the only one with a schedule this hairy.

With my life the way is, I typically have only small windows of time open during the week for writing. Unfortunately I have never been one of those people who can sit down and start pounding away furiously at the key board. It takes time for my brain to switch into writing mode and even more time for it to warm up to where the words are flowing freely onto the page, especially if my day is chaotic and busy. The only exception to this rule is when inspiration flares and it's a race against time to get the words down before the idea evaporates out of my head.

To make it easier for my brain to switch from geek mode to creative art mode, I try to leave an unfinished idea on the page from my last writing session. This works as a writing prompt of sorts for the next time. Leaving some bread crumbs on my thought path allows me to turn a tiny writing session into more of a writing sprint. After getting in two to three mini-sessions a night, three nights a week, the word count really starts to add up.

Some other ways I squeeze in writing time during the week:
  • Get to work about half an hour early and write before all the noise begins
  • During my lunch hour while holed up in my cube
  • Making notes on my crackberry while waiting on the ridiculously long red lights during rush hour in Houston. Disclaimer: No I don't do this while my truck is in motion...

When you think about these options, and the possibility of so many more, there's always a way to find time to write.

So how do you shave down your hairy schedule and find time to write?

Lyla Campbell

On my way back from dinner tonight, this delicious bit of irony hit me: I'm a writer who couldn't spell to save her life. When I was younger spelling, and grammer for that matter elluded me. My performance in the 4th grade spelling bee had my teacher so concerned that he waited with me after school to talk to my mother. Basically, he felt someone in the gifted and talented program shouldn't "suck" so much at spelling. Of course the way he put it to my mom was much kinder than that.

While I've gotten better with the grammer bit, my spelling skills have remained pretty much static. I will be eternally gratefull to whoever invented spell check. Without it, my writing would read like a foreign language.

So am I the only writer out there who can't spell? Hopefully, I'm not alone.
Lyla Campbell

In keeping with the resolution I gave myself to post more regularly, here's the first new post of the year:

We have all been there. You're chugging along, pumping out word count at a steady pace, then...WHAM! You're stopped dead in your tracks, all the momentum your plot had going is now gone. And to make matters worse, you have a bump on your nose from slamming face first in to the brick wall known as writer's block.

After you recover from the impact, you're left wondering "What next?" But the answer doesn't come. You might get up to stretch your legs, rummage through the fridge for a snack or watch some mindless TV in an effort to hit the refresh button in your head. Still, when you return to the page there's nothing but a big blank to draw on.

I have heard some people say "Writer's Block doesn't exist, it's all in your head." My response to that is "RUBBISH!" Sure, there's always this direction or that direction where you could take the story line. But that doesn't mean that you like what you put down on the page. And most of the writer's I know take the plot path that makes them happy.

Whether you believe writer's block is real or not, it's still frustrating as hell trying to get around a sticky spot in your plot. My favorite way to clear the fog out of my head is to narrate the story out loud to myself. I start from the beginning of the scene where I am stuck and if necessary, go back a little farther than that. Many times hearing the story told will shed a different light on it. I'm a fan of talking to myself. So I find this method is particularly effective.

Or, if you're slightly afraid of looking like a crazy person, rambling on and on and on to yourself, use a friend as a sounding board. Give them a brief rundown of the scene and then brainstorm ideas for where to take it next. This is why joining a local writing group can be very helpful.

If after all your efforts you're still sinking in mental quicksand, skip to another part of the story. Spinning your wheels on a spot where you're stuck doesn't help. Work on other scenes or on other projects for about a week and come back to it with fresh eyes. Often times writer's block is a symptom of burn out and is your brains way of telling you to take a break.

So what do you do when all the steam is let out of your story? I'd love to hear how you deal with writer's block.