Moving to aliciathewriter.com

I’m moving over to aliciathewriter.com.

As I take the first steps to becoming a professional–a real, dedicated professional–I figured I’d do the same with my blog.

See you over there!

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The Awkward First Draft

I’m uneasy (and grumpy!) because I have NO IDEA what I’m doing now.

I have nearly 50,000 words written in my book. I have 4 scenes left to write. Once those are done, I’ll be in the mysterious frontier of editing a novel.

Which is strange to say, since I used to be an editor myself. But that was nonfiction, textbook-y stuff. Editing a novel, and editing my own work, is an entirely different ordeal.
I’m proud of myself for nearly finishing my book. But, let’s face it, this first draft is not awesome. It needs a lot of work, but I don’t know where or how.

Jacob gave me a pep talk, which was helpful. He’s amazing with computers, but said that some days, his brain’s not 100%, so it’s difficult to solve problems. When he works through those days anyway, he’s much better off when he’s back at 100%, but when he takes a break instead, he’s that much farther behind when he’s back at 100%. The work you do when you don’t feel like working matters.

It helped.

So I’m going to keep going, keep working. I figure this is one of those gates that prevent the 80% of the population that wants to write a book from actually writing one. Getting started was hard. Writing 50,000 words was harder. This unknown, this anxious will-I-really-be-able-to-turn-this-into-something-readable feeling is even harder. But it’ll make me that much stronger, that much of a better writer.

And I suspect even seasoned writers feel this way. I’ve been working on my Encyclopedia of Extraordinary Writing–and many authors seem to describe this agony, this awkward stage of writing. At least, I hope that’s what they’re talking about.

Any advice? What do you do when you have no idea what you’re doing? When you get to the end of the first draft and it’s not exactly sunshine and rainbows?

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What Cowboys & Aliens teaches about writing

Okay, so Cowboys & Aliens was actually good. I expected it to be barely watchable. I mean, aliens in a western? It’s ridiculous.

Except it’s not really about Aliens. Or cowboys. It’s about people. Individuals. People changing. People becoming better, living up to the greatness within them. It just happens to take place in the West and Aliens just happen to be a catalyst.

Okay, that’s oversimplifying it a bit. You can’t ever take a story fully out of its context. But the heart of the story, what makes it good, is that it’s about people.

The characters were also fantastic.

Things to learn from Cowboys & Aliens to apply to my writing:

  • CHARACTERS: Great stories are not about the setting or the events. They’re about people. This is why Clueless (aka, Jane Austen’s Emma in a high school setting) is a great story, whereas any other high school story is usually lame.
  • CHARACTERS: There were a lot of characters here, but they were all different. Too often in movies–and the few westerns I’ve seen tend to follow this–there is one, maybe two characters. Everyone else is just a facet of the same character. Or is obviously created by the same writer. But everyone here felt different. Felt real.I need to watch the movie again to get details on how to do this well. It’s more than just surface differences. Perhaps it’s that everyone started in different places, but they all ended the same.
  • CHARACTERS: How did the storytellers help us not confuse the characters? With so many individuals, even if they have different personalities, it’s easy to mix them up. I even forgot that Ella had a name for most of the movie–because after her introduction, it wasn’t used at all until the end. But I knew she was different than the other woman. And I knew the preacher was a different person than the grandpa, even though they look similar enough.
  • BEGINNING: In the introduction, quickly establish the situation and show the audience where their loyalties and sympathies should be. In the beginning of this movie, we saw very quickly that the three men approaching Jake were bad guys–the scalps and the flies were sure indicators–so what happened next was justified and didn’t make Jake seem like the bad guy.
  • FOCUS: Many stories were told, many people changed in this movie, but we never lost focus on the central character: Jake.
  • AUDIENCE: You don’t need to beat the audience over the head. We could see the relationship between Jake and the girl developing, even though there was never a single scene devoted to illustrating this. Must watch again for more details on how to do this.
  • TITLE: Maybe a title is more about marketing than I thought. From a descriptive standpoint, Cowboys & Aliens is a horrible title. First thing I thought of was the scene from Bolt where the pigeon is pitching an episode idea to Bolt: “Aliens. Audiences love aliens.”
    But I can see where the title got people in the theaters who otherwise wouldn’t have gone for either a western or a deeper story like this one.
  • STRUCTURE: The classic 5-paragraph essay format is at work here, albeit in a slightly different form. The preacher provided the thesis statement, each character’s story was like the central paragraphs of an essay, and there was a nice ending tying it all together. I noticed Avengers did this also.
  • CLOSURE: Robert McKee is justified. In his book, Story (a screenwriting book I’ve been using to learn about writing novels), he says you must give the audience a chance to dry their eyes and leave the theater with dignity. The final scene in the movie was unnecessary, plot-wise, but necessary to give the audience a chance to take a breath and leave with dignity. It gave us closure and satisfaction.
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I got a Kindle!

I got a Kindle Touch for my birthday!! (Thanks, Mom and Dad!)

LOVE it. I read a lot more. Partially because I can check out a lot of books from the library without actually having to GO (which is kind of hard right now with 3 small kids). And I don’t rake up all these fees for my inevitable late returns.

Features:

  • Page refresh works great. I was worried it would take too long, but it’s not noticeable while I’m reading.
  • I can keep lots of different books with me, for whatever my mood dictates.
  • It’s thin, but a good size and shape. Reading with the Kindle in a cover feels close enough like I’m holding an actual physical book.
  • There are LOTS of free books from the library and free out of copyright books from the Kindle store. I’ve read pretty much all the Sherlock Holmes stories this way.
  • I like being able to change font size. I have it pretty small most of the time, but at night when I’m tired or it’s a little dark, I use a larger font.
  • Syncing is nice. I have the Kindle app on my phone. It’s not great for reading ALL the time (the screen is too small to enjoy), but for those times when I have a few free moments but don’t have my Kindle with me, I can continue to read, right where I left off at.
  • You can organize books into folders. So far I have one folder for things I’ve written and another for the “sorry your library book has expired” letters for all the library books I want to renew.
  • I sent the story I’m working on to my Kindle. It looks great. Just as professional and real as a published story.

Drawbacks:

  • It’s SLOW to type. It doesn’t always keep up with me. Not a big deal most of the time, but I have it password protected and it can’t keep up with the 4 digits if I type them at a normal rate.
  • I have a password because my kids selected to buy a $120 special offer. Fortunately, the wireless was off when they did so and the purchase did not go through. I have no idea if there are returns on the special offers, so I waited until the special offer expired before risking turning on the wireless.
  • The ultimate drawback of any ebook reader is trying to train myself to browse books differently. You’re not looking at shelves in the library, neatly organized with pretty covers. You’re looking at a list of title names.
  • TEMPTATION to spend a million dollars at Amazon. I’ve had the Kindle for 2 months now and haven’t succumbed yet, so there’s hope. Hopefully the library will continue to get books I’m interested in so I can keep resisting.
  • You can click on certain areas of the page to turn forward, back, and to toggle the menu.  Sliding your finger on the screen takes you elsewhere (chapter forward or back). That’s great, but sometimes I click and it takes me to page 1 and resets the furthest page read to page 1, so I have to find my place manually (I can’t just choose “go to furthest page read” from the menu). I thought it was just a glitch or I clicked wrong, but it’s happened a few times now.

Despite the drawbacks, overall the Kindle is fabulous. If you like to read a lot. I’d say most people aren’t really going to benefit from having a device solely devoted to reading ebooks, because most people don’t read much anyway. But for those of us who consume books, the Kindle is fantastic.

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Ebooks and instant dictionary

Surfing the internet is great, but in my current pregnancy moodiness, I found Pinterest and blog-hopping becoming more and more depressing, since I can’t actually DO any of the amazing ideas I was finding.

So I took a break from those. At the same time, I came across a scripture that I love: “Do not spend…your labor on that which cannot satisfy.” Yeah. For me, right now, the internet is NOT satisfying.

So, of course, I turned to reading. Since I’m immensely lazy (and just plain immense at 33 weeks pregnant), I don’t make it out to the library much anymore. So I turn to free books for my Kindle app.

After reading a post by Shannon Hale on her upcoming Austen-ish book, I read Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen. Hilarious. The narrator is my favorite character in it.

Then I turned to The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Yes, I do imagine Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law as I read it, since I saw the movies first. There’s a ton of interesting comparisons between the two.

Sherlock Holmes is, in a lot of ways, an easy read. Simple story, same narrative structure almost every time, and interesting. But I kept tripping up on words and phrases I, not being from that time period, just didn’t understand.

And I LOVE the instant dictionary in the Kindle App. Highlight a word and the app will look it up for you. If that doesn’t give you anything, there’s a link to Wikipedia that usually does. I wouldn’t bother looking up half the words I did if I had to do it manually. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this feature.

The only drawback is that you can’t look up phrases. Which is a bummer, because there’s occasional lines of French in Sherlock Holmes that I never looked up. *See comment on immense laziness above.

I am very close to getting a Kindle myself, since I’ve been spending more and more time reading on my Kindle app and less time reading physical books. And since more books are available free through OverDrive at the library.

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Taxes: deduct your contact lens solution!

Normally, I wait until April to do my taxes, but since I have a baby due then, I’m getting them out of the way now.

Did you know you can deduct the cost of your contact lens solution? Put it on Schedule A, under the medical section. If you didn’t keep receipts last year, start saving them now for your 2012 taxes!

Here’s a link to allowable and non-allowable medical deductions, arranged by how likely my family is to use them. You can get the same list direct from the IRS here.

The list of allowable deductions includes surprising things like:

  • medical mileage (Jan-June 2011′s rate is 19 cents per mile; July-Dec is 23.5 cents/mile; and 2012 is 23 cents/mile). Every time you take your kids to the doctor, log the date you went and how many miles you went. Here’s a printable if you prefer paper to spreadsheets.
  • annual physical exam
  • bandages
  • birth control pills and pregnancy test kits
  • breast pump/lactation supplies
  • contact lenses and supplies to take care of lenses (solution, etc.)
  • glasses
  • any prescription medicine, but not over-the-counter medicine
  • insurance premiums

The IRS’s policy is to tax you the proper amount, NOT over-tax you. Take all the allowable deductions you can! Our family had more than $9,000 in medical expenses last year to deduct.  How about you?

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Preschool and pregnancy

I created this great preschool schedule, but being pregnant slowed that way down. We have done a few fun learning activities, though:

Cornstarch and water

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Lots of painting on our new easel:

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Playing in the sandbox I made:

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I painted our kitchen island with chalkboard paint:

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And learning how to use hammers and pliers:

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