N. Renee Brown

Part-time Author, Full-time Book Junkie

Improv for writers!


So about 12 weeks ago (along with all the other HUGE changes in my life: joining Weight Watchers, getting a trainer again, going Vegetarian) I decided to start taking an Improv class. It is a great class, and a wonderful outlet for all those strange and unruly emotions hiding beneath the surface of us “regular” human beings.
But as I began working with Improv, I began seeing it as more than just a chance to perform (I am a performer by nature and by genetics, having had a long line of carnies/magician/actors/storytellers in my family line)…I began to see this is a chance to expand my writing as well.
Improv is all about NOT thinking. It is about getting into the moment and finding the funny in the experience…and I think writing should be too.
We, as authors, think too much about subtext and character motivation. Perhaps that old woman ate that fly because she was hungry, not because of an eating disorder. Perhaps that young man put the cat down the well because he’s an ass, instead of taking a stand against the moralistic society he has been thrust into. Perhaps, people do things just because…
My wife has a HORRIBLE habit of asking me what I think. It is her default. When in a discussion, if she is not getting the answer she wants she will say, “Any thoughts?” Sometimes I just don’t have any, sometimes I just don’t care. Or sometimes it is so convoluted I don’t want to try to tease it apart.
And guess what, our characters are just like us. Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason to them, and it isn’t worth figuring out…or sometimes there is so much to it, that to bring it out would just cause more confusion and tension than it is worth.
So cut them a break, cut us all a break…leave some mystery, un-plumb (what is a plumb anyway????) those depths, get shallow. If it is worth knowing, you’ll figure out a way to show us.
So, the challenge this week…
A) Don’t think, just write.
B) Find out what a “plumb” is. (Edit: Found it!)

Blog Bite: Flash-a-Thon (not nearly as racy as you think)

2977 words on new stories done, PLUS the first 5 chapters of my NANOWRIMO novel are outlined…not to bad for one day’s work.

The first (and hopefully not the last) Flash-a-Thon was held this weekend. It was conceived of by my friend DL Thurston, fleshed out by the CVS Writing Group, and supported by Unleaded Writing (in that Day and I brought snacks to Flash-a-Thon headquarters…and also promoted it on the blog and in the twittersphere unabashedly).

Flash-a-Thon!

Basically, it was 12 crazy hours- noon to midnight -in which you had to produce words once an hour. You can’t think about writing or think about your story or do research, but almost anything else counts. Character studies, outlining, stream of consciousness, or (gasp!) writing a story/poetry/chapter/scene. Putting pen to paper was the important thing here. Actually producing words was the point.

 

Yeah, I know, twelve hours of writing seems a little daunting, but once I got into it I was fine.

 
See, every hour had a prompt, so I didn’t even have to come up with my own ideas. I just waited to see what was provided and went from there.
Of the prompts provided (by lovely guest authors) I used 9 of them. Of the 9 I used I posted 7 of the stories I created. Of those 7 at least 3 are something I will revisit (to polish/expand/whatever and then submit)…one is the beginning of a much longer piece…and 3 will be expanded into different stories. That means every story I posted, I found something good in. Of the 2 I did not post, one of them is dreck (I hate love stories!!!), and one of them will evolve into a short story OR might be included in the nano-novel for this year (it is still up for debate in my mind).
The 3 hours I did not use the prompts were filled with outlining the thriller I am planning on writing for this year’s NANOWRIMO.

So yes, I participated in every hour! 12 hours of writing! (Again, it sounds much grander than it was.)
Those 12 hours were NOT completely filled with writing. No, I’d bang out my story in the first 15-30 minutes and have half an hour to hang out and do whatever (check out Unleaded Writing later tonight for a whole post on “quick writing” from me). During one hour, I pounded out a story…yelled at my wife to hurry…drove down to Virginia to Flash-a-Thon headquarters…and made it in time to get the next prompt with 45minutes left for writing. Another hour we all got done by half past, so we played a game. Another hour I made lunch. And another we ate pizza and made cookies.

So it isn’t like my whole life was sidetracked by this, it was just 12 little blocks of time to write, and so what if I spent an extra 10 minutes (usually around 50 past the hour) wondering what the next prompt would be and itching to get started…that’s good, right? It got me not only THINKING about writing, it’s got me writing too.
All in all…a worthwhile and productive day.

A whole new addiction…

OMG! I’m broken, my brain is broken…good broken, but broken.
I came home today to find my computer displaying all these crazy webpages. No, it wasn’t a virus…they were all from the same site and Day admitted to pulling them up. I will never have to want for story ideas again, because I have discovered CRACKED.COM!

I’m sure I’m late on the bandwagon, I’m one of those girls that finds some things very early (Facebook/Word Press/URLesque) but other HUGE things very late (Harry Potter/Twitter/sinus infections), but how this site had eluded me just blows my damn mind!

It is written to entice a teen male, and mostly written by them I am sure, but DAMN if it isn’t as entertaining as hell.

So, for my first trick pulled from Cracked.com, “The 8 Most Ridiculously Badass Protesters Ever Photographed”

Take a look, enjoy the writing…and I’ll be sure to follow up with some storyideas on Twitter for you.

When to give up?

“…there are lots of other writers…who don’t have a chance in hell of making their dreams come true…” — Sean Minogue

Yeah, it has been that kind of week.

I always thought I was the kind of person that grew from rejections. I didn’t let them get to me, and I would take VERY seriously any feedback they gave me. I would take the rejection in stride and move on, trying, struggling, fighting to make my work better.

Today though instead of Googling comma use (I hate you, vile comma!)…I am Googling, “When to stop trying to be a writer.”

I’m not throwing a pity party, although I’ve been known to throw some great ones. No, I’m wondering if they all know something I haven’t yet had the courage to face. Today, I am honestly and thoughtfully asking msyelf, “Should I stop trying to be a writer?”

And, for those of you wondering…I don’t know yet. What I do know, is that there are precious few useful articles out there on this subject, but I did find a few.

The first, from which the above abridged quote was taken, made me realize that I’ll never STOP being a writer. I like writing. Even with all the complaining and cat vacuuming, I do like it. And I will likely do it, even if I never publish anything. Blogging and journaling will continue, perhaps even reviews. It also reminded me, that a passion does not have to be a job…a passion does not need to be validated by anyone other than yourself (that goes out to Day, btw)…and to be careful of those to fallacies:
http://www.seanminogue.com/2009/10/03/when-should-you-stop-trying-to-be-a-writer/
I also found a quick and dirty 12 Signs it is Time to Leave Your Job article. It doesn’t COMPLETELY apply, but if you change some of the wording I think this might turn out to be a nice checklist as to your happiness with writing. Things like getting sick, and letting it impact your life to the point that others notice something is wrong should be a BIG indicator that writing should move to the back burner: http://www.sixwise.com/newsletters/05/07/06/12-signs-it-is-really-time-to-leave-your-job.htm

This next one, is for those of you that are looking for a cheering section. Yes, I am aware that stopping is admitting defeat. BUT is it really defeat when you can re-direct your energy to things that you will get more personal development and enjoyment from? If you are looking for reasons to stay in the writing field then have at this one. Me, I’m trying to figure out if I should leave… http://markterrybooks.blogspot.com/2009/02/should-you-quit.html

This one is the same way, and it is written from someone who is obviously not suffering at the moment, which makes it even worse sorta. BUT there is one grain of help here, it starts with, “So when do you quit?” and goes to the end of the article. In particular I am looking at the idea that another dream might mean more to me than writing. Do I have that now? Is there something out there that, when faced with a life or death choice, I would rather have than writing? Interesting question, don’t you think? http://www.murderati.com/blog/2009/4/19/how-do-you-know-when-to-quit.html

So I am left with some questions to ask myself in all seriousness:

Am I doing this to make a living? Or is this a passion I can continue doing quietly without recognition?

Is this impacting my life in a negative way to the point I can no longer ignore it?

Is this fulfilling me? And are there rewards (attainable) that I have yet to reach?

Speaking of attainable…are my expectations reasonable?

Is this done in a fit of pique? Out of self-pity? If so, will every rejection elicit this reaction and can I live with that? Can my wife?

Finally, and most importantly, is writing keeping me from following another dream, more dear to me than it? If I was told I could never write again in favor of this other dream, could I accept that and move on?

I know I can’t answer these right now, I need time to think and process. I also know that my questions won’t necessarily work for you, but I’m hoping if you came to this place looking for help that I have provided it. If it does then I’ve accomplished something…

On the mend…(Blog Bite)

I hate getting sick, but the good thing about being sick is how good you feel after. Today, I am still sniffling and coughing, but man feeling MARGINALLY human is such a bonus that I am overjoyed! I’m filled with optimism and am trying to take advantage of it.

So here are my updates for ya’ll…

1. I’ve recorded 3 episodes of Unleaded, unfortunately we are having trouble getting the podcasts to upload onto the “new(ish)” WordPress version…so you can’t hear them. BUT the transcript of the first one is up. Look forward to #2 (which is the beginning of a 4 or 5 part series on the parts of a story) next Monday.

2. I’ve decided to change a big part of my Brain Flu story, and it’s a good change! I’ve given my heroine someone to talk to and someone to get emotionally attached to in appropriate ways! Trust me, it sounds worse than it is…but when you throw yourself into your work all the time that is inappropriate!

3. I’m going to submit my outline for the Brain Flu story to the writing group next week! I’ve gotten too involved in the story and now think it is terrible and way too thin to hold up. With the help of my friends, I’m hoping we will find out a) that is NOT true or b) how to fix it with the least hurt possible.

4. Saturday will be writing day! I’m so looking forward to it! Downtown at the Penn Quarter Teaism, if you want to join us just let us know.

Ok, enough updates…I need to get back to the editing on my chapter.

Find your peace, and live it!

-Renee

CVS 2.0 (Blog Bite)

I’m tired of being a fan.
I’m tired of being a wannabe writer.
And I’m ready to do something about it.

This year, attending Balticon was not as fun as it had been in the past. Why? Because I wanted to be a guest not an attendee…ok, not even a guest, but I wanted to be there as something more than a fan!
Coming back from Balticon, I shared this with the other members of CVS (my writing group). Now, with their help we are pushing CVS 2.0!

What IS CVS 2.0 you ask?
Well, it’s hard to explain, but we had gotten caught in a rut (like all writing groups do). Our submissions were down, our goals were not being reached, we were devolving into a social group.

Well, we’ve decided that is not what we want out of CVS! As a group we’ve committed to renewing our dedication to writing…and to one another! It’s time for us to push one another to write…to ask one another what we are doing to get published…to go en masse to cons and start developing the sort of web of support and acknowledgement that gets new authors the buzz they need to succeed.

Ok, so look out world…we’ve decided to leave the cats alone and come after you. And boy do we have a story to tell!!!

Peacin’ it,
Renee

P.S. Thanks to DL Thurston and Day for being so 2.0 about this new direction!!!

Pints and more Pints

Sometimes the craziest things get stuck in our head and end up giving us terrific stories.


My favorite example of this comes from a friend in the writing group. Now you have to understand that we, like every writing group, have a few in jokes. One of them has to do with a rather unfortunate mis-read on my part that ended up making a very scary monster a hick in my mind. Well she took that in joke and made a story out of it, you can find that story in Cthulhu Unbound #1. Yeah, she ran with something crazy and it panned out.
So, what crazy thought would pan out if you just let it?


Here are a few crazy facts that might inspire you. And that’s what I am here for, inspiration!


Only female mosquitoes draw blood.


The Twinkie does not have an indefinite shelf life in and of itself, it is only through the airtight packaging that it can last past a week.


Cinderella’s first name was Ella.


Carrots were not originally orange.


Tom Sawyer was the first novel written on a typewriter.


A flea can jump 130 times its own height.


The heaviest human brain ever recorded weighed 5 lb. 1.1 oz.


Pokehontas appeared on the back of the 20 dollar bill in 1875.


Sound at the right vibration can bore holes through solid objects.


Flu shots only work about 70% of the time.



Peacin’ it together one word at a time…
Renee

Pounding the pavement…

You know, writing is a lot like being out of work.
No, seriously, bear with me on this…

In talking to a friend the other day about her husband’s lack of job, I asked if he had considered volunteer work. When she said no, it hit me…(no she didn’t hit me, she’s a very good friend and knows I am looking out for them when I ask these sort of forward questions).

When you Write (with a capital W) you spend your time churning out the word count, making dramatic forays into plots heretofore unexplored, developing characters that will impact not only your story but the world that reads about them…and when you write you are struggling for every word and doubting everything you put down.

BUT I’m here to tell you, there isn’t a lot of difference between the two.

Ok, so back to the job analogy. You’ve lost your job or your drive to write…now you get right back out there because you are a brave little toaster and you work to find a new job (aka the next great idea or plot twist). BUT all you are doing is looking, you aren’t putting anything on that resume, you aren’t keeping your hand in, you aren’t keeping up with the latest developments…AND you feel justified, because you don’t think you CAN take time out to do those things.

You spend your time trying to come up with the next paragraph when a sentence will do. You spend your time struggling for character development when a bit of dialogue will get you on the road.
You spend your time angsting over the plot, when you just need to get your butt in the chair and write anything.

Anything is better than nothing.

Now, I’m not saying you need to keep this “part-time” job when you get offered a “full-time” job. Then again, it’s some extra scratch you didn’t have before, now isn’t it? And who knows, perhaps having this thing on the side might blossom into something amazing later…

So today, instead of looking for that career making plot or character, just write one sentence, just one paragraph, answer just one question, come up with just one scene…just do something to keep your hand in.

Good luck, and peace out,

-Renee

P.S. Got a new phone!!!! I love new gadgets!

The feet have it. (Blog Bite)

This is going to be a strange story, but I promise I’ll try to make it amusing…but it’s about feet and how amusing can you really make feet anyway?

For the last few years…at least the last 8…I’ve fought with my feet. Seriously, with weapons fought with them. I’d walk around for a while, like say at the zoo…but there would come a time when my heart and mind were still willing but my feet started putting up a fuss.

They would fuss so badly that I would sit down every chance I got, and when I stood back up it would be agony.

I couldn’t keep up with anyone, because I was always on the lookout for the next seat I could slip into. I spent more time watching those silly videos in museums than you would care to count, not because I wanted to see them but because I was desperate to make my dogs stop howlin’.

Well, in a moment of utter defeat and demoralization Day finally convinced me to get some gel inserts (Dr. Scholl’s even!)…I didn’t think they would work. I think I may have even turned up my lip (or tried to but was in so much pain neither of us are sure where it came from). I slipped them into my shoes and haven’t looked back.

I walked around the zoo the other weekend for about 4 hours without stopping…I kept up with TWO 19 year old girls…THEY were the ones that said, “Ok, my feet are getting tired.”

Well, thinking about this foot thing got me thinking about the writing thing…I’d been looking so hard for that magic bullet, that THING that would make writing make sense and come easy that I had neglected to hear the very practical advice coming from many different quarters.

Do it until it makes sense.

Sometimes we have to get demoralized and give up before we will open up enough to realize there is no special pill that is going to make us a great writer. It’s all about work, and work includes working through things that make no sense. Work means banging away at it until you want to scream and hoping for the best. Work means not having fun but looking back on the completed project with pride. Work means get your butt in the chair and write. Write. Write. Write.

And do it till it makes sense.

Find your peace, and live it.

Renee

Balticon and a roar of a start…

Balticon is always a wake-up call for me. It is a weekend spent with people that are succeeding at something I aspire to. Be it podcasting or writing these people are DOING what I feel like I only give lip service to. Now I know that is not true, I know what I am doing behind this screen and I know it to be valuable and worthwhile. STILL, it does not stop those feeling of inferiority from creeping up on me like the murderer in a mystery story during the rest of the year.

Yet when I come to Balticon, instead of feeling bad I’m broken out of my funk and into the bright light of, “I CAN DO THIS!” Every year Day and I drive back on Monday (Memorial Day), talking about the plans for Unleaded and our various stories…from here came the idea for Unleaded in the first place and the first novel I wrote, from just those 2 hours-ish driving back after a weekend of being submerged in writer/podcaster nirvana.

This year though…this year was different.

Honestly, I was disappointed…not only in myself but in Balticon. I felt like a fan. A fan is not what I EVER wanted to be. It’s not that fans are bad…I just don’t want to be one. I want to be a writer. I want to be a podcaster. I want to be ON the panels not IN them. I want Balticon to allow me to rub elbows with my peers…and I want those peers not to be clambering for autographs and dressed up in hall costumes, but instead talking about the process of writing and their love of it (or hell, even just bitching about it over a beer).

Being a fan at Balticon is not nearly as fun as being an aspiring something…

And yet, I was still aspiring enough to become hideously disappointed when the panelists (SPECIFICALLY MODERATORS) had A) no clue what the panel was about, B) made it clear they had no clue what it was about, C) made no attempt to prepare for the panel, and D) plainly didn’t care. This happened more than once and it was such a terrible blow that I found myself attending things I would never have sat in on just because the person moderating it had an interest in the topic.

Argh, sorry…but that really burned my butt this weekend.

Anyway, to get back to the point…I found myself at a loss this year.  I had no novel to show off, I had little interest in the people that had little interest in the panels, and I was stuck being the timid fan girl.  I hated Balticon right then, for showing me what I was failing…namely myself.  I never wanted to feel this way, but there it was and I had to do something about it.

What did I do?  I made a plan.  “In Harm’s Way” will be edited and submitted to my group this year…AND I’m going to work on the joint project with Day all summer and make it my NANO novel.  I’m also starting Unleaded again, it is about 10 minutes of my time once a day…there is no reason I can’t give it that attention.

So…the corner had been turned, the terrible bleakness that descended upon me during Balticon has given way to a new obsession, and let us hope next year I will be pandering my novel to anyone who shows the least bit of interest.

Do you hear me? Because I’m talking about YOU…I see you hiding back there, the Balticon attendee who doesn’t really know who I am, but you see I KNOW who you are and you cannot escape my new determination to become a published novelist!

BWAH-HA-HA!

Find your leaf and turn it,

Renee