Is Using an Online Generator Cheating?

“I love your story. How did you come up with the idea?”

“Where did you get your character’s name?”

“I never would have thought to write a Cthulhu love story in Ancient Egypt; how original!”

I’ve met folks who don’t want to admit that they used a generator, because they’re worried it sounds like their ideas weren’t, well, their ideas. Therefore, let me get this answer out of the way quickly:

No.

Using an online generator, whether for characters, plot creation, or what kind of cuisine your story-world specializes in, is not cheating. Some writers may agonize over a character’s name for days or weeks. Others might use a place-holder until the right one comes to mind. And others still might hop onto their favorite generator and go with the first name spit out for the selected criteria. All options are completely viable (assuming, of course, you aren’t treading into murky waters by taking a character name from work by someone else).

Generators are a place to start. Unless you’re creating an entire novel via generator for fun, you’re not going to end up with the exact same idea you started with. Yes, a character name can be important, but that isn’t where the character ends. Okay, your basic plot might start out tasting a little prepackaged with a randomly-generated flatness. It won’t stay that way (there are editors – wink, wink – who will help make certain of this!). If a generator keeps you writing, whether you’re stretching your skills or seeking assistance for building a world, use it!

Besides, a Cthulhu love story in Ancient Egypt definitely needs to be written.

Check out a few of my personal favorites:

Seventh Sanctum

Great for all those times you need to construct a weapon or create a new species and anything in between.

Behind the Name

From Lithuanian to mythological to Transformer and more, you can get a first, three middle, and a surname.

Chaotic Shiny

For all your dungeon-crawling needs.

 

Letters to My Editor: In Search of Balance

What does a working relationship between a writer and an editor look like? Author and HNE client, Jessie Clever and I have known each other for more than ten years. So in our case, it looks a little snarky.

Welcome to Letters to My Editor. She writes to me one week on her blog. I reply the next on mine. Mayhem just might ensue.

Click here to read Jessie’s most recent letter.

Letters-to-My-Editor_edited-1Dear Jessie,

It’s hard to believe that today marks the penultimate Monday of 2015 and, even weirder, my last letter to you in this series. For now, at least. I’ve enjoyed our letters so much, and I’m grateful to you and our readers for the experience. Here’s looking forward to future LTME reunions!

Over the years, I’ve been working on slowing down, being mindful, and letting go of the pressure to meet a prescribed criteria for the holiday season. It’s a work in progress. Keeping a balance between responsibilities and the break in routine presents one of the biggest challenges to this effort. Either I get caught up in doing too much and drown out every last ounce of holiday cheer, or I embrace the chance to breathe but feel a massive disconnect that derails my return to work in the new year. I want to start 2016 off feeling inspired, refreshed, and excited instead of disoriented, drained, and listless. January through March is a gray enough time in Indiana as it is; I don’t need to sabotage my productivity as well.

I have two favorite and simple tools for finding this balance when travel plans and wintertime festivities take over my schedule: a pocket-sized notebook and a watch. These two combined let me leave my electronics behind. With the time on my wrist and only pen and paper to hand, it’s a lot harder to get sucked into answering emails or checking social media.  I can jot down to-do lists, questions that bounce around my head, and especially, ideas that spring from the hilarity or crisis of the holiday dinner table (a truly terrifying thing to admit since, on occasion, a family member reads my blog). With less screen time, I’m more present with loved ones, but I also feel responsible and successfully accountable to my work by writing things down for future reference.

I’m curious: what do you do around this time of year to keep your creativity flowing in the midst of celebration and obligation? And what is 2016 bringing your way?

Best,

K

Subscribe to Romancing a Blog for Jessie’s latest posts and to Long Story Short for mine!

Letters to My Editor: First Do Nothing

What does a working relationship between a writer and an editor look like? Author and HNE client, Jessie Clever and I have known each other for more than ten years. So in our case, it looks a little snarky.

Welcome to Letters to My Editor. She writes to me one week on her blog. I reply the next on mine. Mayhem just might ensue.

Click here to read Jessie’s most recent letter.

Letters-to-My-Editor_edited-1Dear Jessie,

November is over, and huge congrats are due to all WriMos! Writing (or even just starting) a 50,000 word draft is a big deal, and you’re absolutely right; it should definitely be celebrated!

As to what happens next, a common pitfall I see is an author rushing to submit or publish a draft. So, the first step to continuing on with your NaNo manuscript is to do nothing. Sit on it for a good long while. Yes, it can be tricky to return to it without the initial momentum, but taking a break can bring a more objective and refreshed eye to the early stages of editing.

When you do revisit your manuscript, try sharing it with someone. Find a trusted friend to read it along with you. This serves two purposes: it keeps you accountable so you don’t fizzle out after a chapter or two (I speak from experience on that count), and you’ll have access to first impressions that aren’t coming from a brain in which the world of your story already exists. There are even editors (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) you can hire to read your manuscript and give direction and focus for your adventures in revision.

There will come a time when you need to stop fiddling with a draft, but allow space for reflection. Your manuscript will be better for it.

Best,

K

Subscribe to Romancing a Blog to get Jessie’s next letter and to Long Story Short for my next reply!

Letters to My Editor: The End Is Near

What does a working relationship between a writer and an editor look like? Author and HNE client, Jessie Clever and I have known each other for more than ten years. So in our case, it looks a little snarky.

Welcome to Letters to My Editor. She writes to me one week on her blog. I reply the next on mine. Mayhem just might ensue.

Letters-to-My-Editor_edited-1

This week’s letter from Jessie, “The End Is Near,” can be found over on Romancing a Blog.

Don’t miss my reply next week here at Long Story Short. Subscribe today!

Letters to My Editor: Definitely! Except…

What does a working relationship between a writer and an editor look like? Author and HNE client, Jessie Clever and I have known each other for more than ten years. So in our case, it looks a little snarky.

Welcome to Letters to My Editor. She writes to me one week on her blog. I reply the next on mine. Mayhem just might ensue.

Click here to read Jessie’s most recent letter.

Letters-to-My-Editor_edited-1Dear Jessie,

To answer your question first, I was thinking this year I’d celebrate your birthday by sending you a puppy. I know you’ve already got two, but really, that’s the only gift I can think of to top a month’s blood, sweat, and tears. Thoughts?

In the mean time, I got to thinking about something you mentioned in your most recent letter:

“Genres have distinct rules with distinct formats, and again, if the editor is writing in a different genre, they may disagree with something you’ve written because it doesn’t fit the rules of their genre.”

I definitely agree. Mostly.

I have a complicated relationship with genre. On one hand, bookstores have a horrible habit of not stocking their shelves with a separate section listed “BOOKS KATE WILL LOVE.” On the other, genres put up boundaries that don’t always strictly exist in literature.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I am generally a proponent of guidelines, policy, and order. As a reader, when I want to sink myself into a puzzle, I head straight for the mystery section of my local library (quite frequently as those who catch my weekly What’s Your Read posts will recognize), and as an editor, I advise writers to be mindful of the different needs of different genres. When outlining a mystery, I suggest working backwards from the moment the culprit is revealed; this creates delicious opportunity for foreshadowing, viable red herrings, and a surprising but believable guilty-party.

However . . .

If we stick with “rules” we miss the golden opportunities of borrowing from other genres to enrich stories, introduce writers to a wider range of readers, and move a genre forward. Sticking with the example of mystery, it can be a very dynamic contributor to any genre, but adding a mysterious element will potentially require breaking the rules of the original, intended genre. Or at least widening the rules to include some additional ones. You don’t have to be writing a full-fledged whodunnit to employ the technique I mentioned above, but your mysterious element will fall flat if you don’t consider it.

It’s a tough balance, and an author should absolutely advocate for his/her own work. But I would be a poor editor if I didn’t also mention that it is possible to hold too tightly to genre. Time and again, I firmly believe that that tricky balance is maintained through consistent, open, and considerate communication between writer and editor. The editor should never usurp the writer, and the writer should be receptive to input in order to make an informed decision. Editing should strive to be a conversation.

Best,

K

Subscribe to Romancing a Blog to get Jessie’s next letter and to Long Story Short for my next reply!

Letters to My Editor: Jessie Made Me Do It

What does a working relationship between a writer and an editor look like? Author and HNE client, Jessie Clever and I have known each other for more than ten years. So in our case, it looks a little snarky.

Welcome to Letters to My Editor. She writes to me one week on her blog. I reply the next on mine. Mayhem just might ensue.

Click here to read Jessie’s most recent letter.

Letters-to-My-Editor_edited-1Dear Jessie,

Why, yes, I do happen to have personal experience with National Novel Writing Month, as you well know. You were the one to talk me into doing it a measly couple of days before one very crazy November. Pondering how you managed to do so still keeps me up at night.

But I’ll play along, impeccable sport that I am. (Don’t challenge that, Clever.) Be forewarned that this is entirely a personal reflection. I don’t pretend to recommend the experience for everyone no matter the value I put on it.

From my standpoint, NaNoWriMo is an incredibly supportive, creative, rewarding, challenging, and inspirational hell on earth. And if that sentence doesn’t clearly state my opinion on NaNo, good. It shouldn’t.

First thing first: it isn’t easy. Writing a 50,000 word draft in 30 days is, for most of us, a logistical nightmare. Americans, trying to explain to your family why you have to disappear right after your Thanksgiving meal to write your daily word count may be a tricky issue. Day job employers aren’t wild about their staff calling in with a chronic case of nanowritis either. And if you happen to be an outliner/planner who just happens to allow herself to be persuaded to wing it for a month by a dear friend and client, well, I can tell you that your spouse will be force feeding you reheated casserole and your child will begin to think Mama is the troll that lives in the home office and complains erratically about bad internet connections. . .

However, NaNo is a personal commitment, a call to FOR-THE-LOVE-OF-ALL-THAT-IS-HOLY-KATE-JUST-FINISH-THE-INFERNAL-DRAFT, and a community in which to participate at my own comfort level and need. It was a pilgrimage, a trial by fire, proof to myself that I could shut off my internal editor for an extended period of time, and the vehicle through which I gained a greater understanding of myself as a writer, editor, artist, and person. It might not be right for everyone, but at that time in my life, it was exactly what I needed.

For all those WriMos out there, soldier on and all the most loquacious wishes for your success! My only advice is to keep in mind what you want to achieve with the experience. It should be personal and worthy of your commitment and effort. What did I achieve? Well, all I can say is that while the motivation was good, Jessie’s not getting another first draft for her birthday present any time soon.

So, Jessie, now I’m passing the NaNo torch to you. What was it like for you to read your editor’s NaNo draft? How important, if at all, is it to you that your editors write and understand the process from a writer’s perspective? (I cringe at the thought of further discussion of my own writing, but if it leads to any insight, I’ll willingly accept the coming cringe.)

Best,

K

Subscribe to Romancing a Blog to get Jessie’s next letter and to Long Story Short for my next reply!

The Writer’s Companion

It’s the last Wednesday in October, and that means many brave writers out there are in final preparations for National Novel Writing Month. If you are partaking this year, may the word count be ever in your favor. But before you manacle yourself to your keyboard for 30 days, let us all take a moment to celebrate, encourage, and thank those who make the journey survivable: our trusty writing companions.

However, some folks might be new to the experience of writing using the buddy system. What does being a companion mean exactly? What could someone do to support the writer in their life? To gain some suggestions for practical application, I discussed the topic with a real life companion and just as importantly, someone who is not a writer himself: The Hubs. My guy has plied me with support (and ice cream) over the years, and now I share his efforts in solidarity with y’all.

The Planning Stage

What to Do:

  • Listen attentively. Never underestimate this!
  • Engage in conversation with your writer about his/her ideas. Ask questions.
  • Show your enthusiasm. Be the one to bring it up now and then.

What NOT to Do:

  • Lie about your thoughts and feelings. (Be sensitive, yes, but also be honest. If an idea doesn’t work for you, explain why.)
  • Be offended if your suggestions are never implemented. (Remember, this is their story, not yours.)

The First Draft

What to Do:

  • Keep listening!
  • Check-in regularly about the draft AND the writer. When in doubt, ask your writer what they need.
  • Show your curiosity and offer feedback as requested.
  • Gently remind you writer that this is the first draft, not Shakespeare (not yet, anyway).
  • Establish a schedule, but stay flexible. A routine might be a comfort for your writer, but if he/she hits their stride, be willing to ditch the plan.
  • Administer coffee, alcohol, and/or ice cream as needed. And probably some vegetables and protein, I suppose.

What NOT to Do:

  • Pester. (There’s a fine line between checking in and hovering.)
  • Shame your writer for lack of progress. (It’s one thing to keep them accountable. It’s quite another to make them experience shame, which will actually make progress unlikely.)
  • Judge your writer for their consumption of ice cream.

Editing & Revision

What to Do:

  • Offer to read your writer’s work. And of course, do actually read the darn thing, carefully and considerately.
  • Give specific feedback. A general “I really liked it” isn’t helpful. Take some time to identify moments that did and did not work for you and why.
  • Be present. Editing and revising can leave a writer in a state of exhausted doubt. Encouragement and attentive listening at this stage (and every other stage!) is crucial.
  • Share your excitement. This is an extension of feedback, but offering your experience and what resonated with you can be a real consolation to your writer.

What NOT to Do:

  • Fixate on a singular issue when asked for input. (If it’s recurring, identify it as such, but avoid dwelling on the subject.)
  • Expect the subject to never come up. (It most likely will.)
  • Get ahead of the game. (Unless your writer requests your assistance, this might not be the time to show a draft to all your nearest and dearest or make a list of every possible beta reader, editor, agent, and publishing house for your writer.)

At any time in the process, there are a few things that will always be good to keep in mind.

  • Did I mention listening? Seriously, listen. Be a safe place to vent.
  • Remember your writer’s goals for a story. Help them remember as needed too.
  • Advocate for your writer. It can be hard to explain that one is working and therefore, is not available to socialize. Having someone willing to back a writer up and even provide a cover story now and then is extremely valuable.
  • Be an escape. Take your writer’s cue, and when he/she needs a break, help make it happen. Remind your writer of his/her humanity. If they haven’t seen the sun in two weeks, it might be time to get creative with the physical location of their preferred writing apparatus.
  • Celebrate. I can’t stress this enough. Outlining a novel, slogging through a draft, and improving it through revision are all really difficult and worthy of acknowledgement. Perhaps the occasion calls for more ice cream . . .

remember to celebrate

Letters to My Editor: Gist and Tell

What does a working relationship between a writer and an editor look like? Author and HNE client, Jessie Clever and I have known each other for more than ten years. So in our case, it looks a little snarky.

Welcome to Letters to My Editor. She writes to me one week on her blog. I reply the next on mine. Mayhem just might ensue.

Click here to read Jessie’s most recent letter.

Letters-to-My-Editor_edited-1Dear Jessie,

Sometimes an author’s point can get sacrificed at the expense of marketability. In my humble opinion, this is almost always a bad thing. The author’s intent breathes passion and energy into a plot. It drives action and fuels conflict. Removing it is practically an amputation.

Keep in mind that it is possible for a certain story to be the wrong vehicle for an author’s point, but the loss of message is far more likely due to a lack in one of two areas: knowledge or communication.

Knowledge

Knowledge is power, right? Or at least, your greatest ally. Know your intent. Granted, awareness might not come until after you’ve written the darn thing, but be open and honest with yourself about what you’re writing. Is it personal? Is it meant to speak to a certain situation or audience? Take some time to write your point down as its own separate blurb. Make it clear, concise, and genuine. Boil it down to its essence until you could rattle off the gist to anyone. Keep it on a sticky note next to your keyboard. Tattoo it on the backs of your hands if you must (probably not the best advice I’ve given). Knowing your intent is your first and most important line of defense against unnecessary sacrifice. That sticky-note blurb will guide you when deciding whether or not to go to the mattresses in the editing process.

Communication

Share your intent with your editor and be willing to elaborate as needed. Not only should your editor be respectful of what you’re trying to say, he or she is going to help you get your point across more consistently and effectively. This does require patience, openness, and collaboration. Strengthening your message might actually require pruning it back before it becomes a Chekhov play that hits the audience over the head with symbolism and meaning every two lines. (Apologies to Chekhov lovers everywhere. His work is great, but I’ve certainly never had to ask, “Please, Anton, what did you want me to take away from this?”) If you and your editor know what’s at stake, your intention has a doubly strong chance of becoming a healthy, meaningful factor of your manuscript.

If your editor knows about your point and is still saying you should scrap it entirely, listen to their reasoning before making a decision. Ask questions. Whether or not you make the change, there might be some valuable information in what they say. On the other hand, if he/she doesn’t ponder the situation carefully, isn’t willing to explain, or doesn’t respect your attachment, get the heck outta there. It might mean waiting longer to be published, but you have the right to be heard at your best, not simply at what will sell.

Best,

K

Subscribe to Romancing a Blog to get Jessie’s next letter and to Long Story Short for my next reply!

Acknowledging Burnout

Burnout is a danger for anyone in any profession, and individuals who wrestle schedules, finances, and energy to make writing—or any artistic pursuit—even a fraction of their lives are no exception.

After pondering (and relating to) an article on artistic burnout making its rounds through my circle of creative friends and colleagues, I started searching for additional recent discussion of the topic. Survival techniques and prevention tips are everywhere. Stress relieving exercises, reminders to get more sleep, and the sage advice of learning to say no are repeated ad nauseam. One website advised the “high-octane woman” (who is apparently unlikely to buy into the everyday relaxation methods) to take an expensive and adventurous vacation to break out of the routine of busy-ness. Wouldn’t that be nice? (Coincidentally, one of the symptoms of burnout is cynicism. I’m not going to fall into the “high-octane” crowd.)

acknowledging burnoutBut hold on. Aren’t we missing something with all the tips and checklists? Burnout is the result of high demand (personal or external) and repetition, and the first step of breaking the cycle is acknowledging that there is one. That alone takes time. I can’t jump off a roller coaster I’m strapped into halfway down the first hill and expect to make a healthy landing.

The technical symptoms of burnout include fatigue, insomnia, forgetfulness, anxiety, apathy, irritability, and more. But I also display a lot of those when I have the flu (illness can also be a symptom), so how can I tell if I’ve simply contracted something or am creatively tapped out?  Everyone experiences stress in their own way, but to gauge your current status, ask yourself a few questions:

  • What am I passionate about? How much do I care about it now?
  • What am I excited about that’s happening today or in the future?
  • Does the success or motivation of others inspire or annoy me at present?
  • Do I feel like I’ve accomplished something at the end of the day?

Assess the situation without rushing to fix it. Finding a quick solution often perpetuates the original issue or creates a new one. Stewing in the ashes of burnout is in no way enjoyable, but taking note of the surroundings can prevent future thrashing about in an unproductive and even injurious manner. Time is arguably the most important ingredient in any response.

Are you burned out? The first step is to closely observe and call it like it is.

Letters to My Editor: Books and Babies

What does a working relationship between a writer and an editor look like? Author and HNE client, Jessie Clever and I have known each other for more than ten years. So in our case, it looks a little snarky.

Welcome to Letters to My Editor. She writes to me one week on her blog. I reply the next on mine. Mayhem just might ensue.

Click here to read Jessie’s most recent letter.

Letters-to-My-Editor_edited-1Dear Jessie,

Books and babies: two things that bring out the best and worst unsolicited advice. Expectant parents, like unpublished writers, are especially tantalizing targets for the expertise of every other parent, or writer, in the world.

Before I address your question, I consider the plight of the adviser. Most of us have at some time or other felt socially obligated to offer a piece of wisdom to a colleague or friend. My own exceedingly generalized and unoriginal piece of unsolicited advice for the world of the written word is this: we could all benefit from approaching a writer’s manuscript as though it were the writer’s living, breathing offspring.

It’s not a huge leap, really. A manuscript is the creation and responsibility of the writer in whom he/she has invested a significant amount of time, energy, and love. So, for example, when I’m asked to comment on someone’s work, I try to think of myself as this manuscript-child’s teacher sitting down for a conference with the parent-writer. Yes, I need to be open and honest about the young’un’s progress and behavior, but I should never dismiss or usurp the vital and unique relationship between story and author. Thought and talk (in that order) about an author’s manuscript should be as considerate as if it were about their kid.

Now on to your question and the receiving end of advice:

 When do you dare to break the mold as a writer and when do you not?

Again, I find the parallel in the world of parenting. Clear rules do exist, like using a car seat or preventing your infant from chewing on electrical cords, but there are other areas that require individual discernment, like when your baby will first try ice cream or what toys you choose to introduce to your child. Lots of opinions are out there, but only you, the author/parent, should ultimately decide when to break the mold. How do you figure that out? Look at your work as a baby and consider the questions below. With your answers, hopefully you’ll be able to carefully choose which points to concede and on which proverbial hills you’re willing to make a last stand.

  • What’s your goal for your manuscript? (To be true to itself no matter what, to be published, or to sell well are all valid answers.)
  • Where’s the balance between this particular story’s individuality and the best chance it has of being read?
  • Who are you as the guardian of this story? What are your values/principles?

Raising your manuscript will require both protecting it from harm and letting its sweet baby knees get scuffed. What works for one author might not for another, and what proves to be a death knoll for one manuscript could be the elixir of life for the next.

Best,

K

Be sure to subscribe to Jessie’s blog at Romancing a Blog to get her next letter!