On Writing

I said it was *not* a full edit!

As I mentioned in my last post, I decided to print out my current WIP in order to get a handle on the story.  I have a beginning, a middle, and an end, I just can’t seem to connect them all (actually, it’s more that I can’t connect the middle and the end together).  After struggling with the computerized version for several months, I wondered if printing the whole thing out would help.  I very emphatically told myself (and others) that this was not a full edit – I was not going to be editing for content, spelling, grammar, or any of the other small details.  I was focusing on the Big Picture.

But how can you ignore these small mistakes?  I see them, move to correct, stop myself, remind myself that’s not what I want to do right now, skim several more sentences with that mistake still strobing in my mind, trying like crazy to stop myself from going back and correcting.

I’m only successful about half the time…

Categories: On Writing, Writer Sara Johnson | Tags: , | 5 Comments

It’s a writer’s life for me

Since I last blogged here, my life has changed drastically.  I am living every writer’s dream (well, one of their dreams):  living abroad without having to work for a living, all the time in the world to write.

Oh, if only I could say I was using that time well.

You see, last year I met the most amazing man.  Things were going well, and he got a job offer in Finland.  After some discussion and frantic planning, we got married and we both moved to Finland.

Unable to work, I am now a housewife.  With no kids to fill my time.  From 8 in the morning until 6 at night, I am free to do whatever my heart desires.  My job, my husband says, is to write.  He has full faith in my ability to write a best-selling novel and have it off to an agent by the end of the year.  He is my biggest supporter, my loudest cheerleader, my most enthusiastic reader.

And yet.

In the six months I’ve been a full time writer, I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished anything.  I started to finish one work in progress, but got stuck and didn’t feel like it had as much potential as another WIP.  So I started working on finishing that WIP, and I’m stuck again.  I have two other stories in my head begging to be let out, but I feel the need to get something finished rather than start anew.  After all, I’ll never get published if I never finish anything.

I told my husband the other day that if I let loose on the two new ideas in my head, I could have 50k words pounded out in a couple of weeks.  I would feel (and be able to show him) that I had been productive.  It’s this finishing thing I have a problem with.

I am also, remarkably, fairly busy.  The other ex-pat wives I know are just as surprised as I am by that.  We don’t work, we don’t have kids, and yet we are busy all day.  Not with shopping and watching TV and lunch with the girls that lasts for hours, but with the normal housework and errands you always have – dusting, laundry, dishes, mopping; going to the grocery store, the bank, the insurance company.  It’s often after 3 before I have a free moment, and then I think, “Oh, I have to start cooking dinner in a bit, I don’t want to get immersed in something I can’t really devote the time to.”  You know, like figuring out how to connect Plot Point 1 to Plot Point 2.  Honestly, I have no idea how I got anything accomplished when I actually worked 40 hours a week.

Time to turn things around.  Time to make myself a job, with tasks and deadlines and goals.

Because that is my job.

Goal/Task #1:  blog every day.  Whether it’s here on this blog, or on my other blog about life as an ex-pat, I will blog every day.  My deadline is midnight my time.

Goal/Task #2:  From 9am-11am every day, I will work on finishing my WIP.  And only that.  No dishes, no laundry, no dusting – only writing.

GoalTask #3:  I will actively join a writing group.  No lurking allowed.

Do you have suggestions on how to make yourself work as a writer?  Please share!


Categories: On Writing, Writer Sara Johnson | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Unintentional Writing Insight

“My eyes sting from the smell of typing ink. My fingers are striped with paper cuts. Who know paper and ink could be so vicious.”

Kathryn Stockett, The Help, p. 357

Who knew paper and ink could be so vicious. True Dat.

Categories: On Writing, Writer Sara Johnson | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Writing Exercise, or Copyright Infringement?

Writing Prompt: Think of a critical scene in a book you love. Write a different ending to the scene, then continue the story with the new ending in mind.

Congratulations, you’ve just written FanFiction.

Time Magazine had a piece in a recent issue about FanFiction – what it is, who does it, who likes it, and who doesn’t. It was a well written piece, and it really got me thinking.

I’ve never thought much of FanFic – and by that I mean I don’t think about it often. I’ve known about it for years, of course, and have read some, but sometimes finding something of quality is difficult. I don’t even have time to find new good blogs, let alone good FanFiction, so it’s simply not something I’m into. I don’t think I’ve actually written any FanFic, although I have thought out scenes in my head: What if Angel meets another vampire with a soul and falls in love with her – would she be his salvation? What if she’s an original vampire, and is immune to sunlight? The scenes I have written in my head are a mishmash of Angel/Blade/In the Forests of the Night mythology. So, yeah, FanFic.

Because isn’t that what we, as writers, do? We imagine What If. That is our mantra. We ask What If when it comes to the stories and characters we write, so it seems only natural we would ask it of the stories we read and watch.

What if Gale had been chosen for the games instead of Peeta?

What if Tom Buchanan died – would Daisy and Gatsby have gotten together?

What happened after Johnny drove away from Baby? Did they ever meet again?

What happened when Inigo Montoya took over as the Dred Pirate Roberts?

We think What If, we write that story down, and we want to share it with others who also wonder What If. It’s natural.

But is it legal?

FanFic writers do not make money on their stories when they post to websites like fanfiction.net, but is it still copyright infringement? Authors Ann Rice and Orson Scott Card think so, and are quite upset when fans pen What If. But others, Stephanie Meyer and J.K. Rowling, are all for it, figuring it’s a great promotional tool. Is one group right and one group wrong?

It’s said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and I think that if I were published and someone did fanfic on my work, I would be excited – I mean, after all, something I wrote inspired someone else enough to write! That’s amazing! But, wait, you’re having two of my most loved characters do what?! No, no, no, that’s not good at all. So yes, I understand perfectly where Rice and Card are coming from, in that respect, because you can’t say fanfic is fine, unless you do this with it. It doesn’t work that way.

Good FanFic truly is amazing – the ability some people have to truly know the characters the same way the original author does – or, at least, the layers the original author wants you to see. Maybe Stephanie Meyer did her own fanfic, wondering What If Bella had chosen Jacob instead of Edward, or What If Charlie dies in a werewolf attack? A thorough writer would certainly entertain the possibility, to see where the story goes.

Honestly, good (note the use of the word good here) fanfic seems like a lot of work to me. You have to really know these characters that were created in someone else’s head. That takes research, study, and more imagination than I think I have. (Not sure what that says about my skills as a writer…)

So, what do you think of fanfic? Good? Bad? Would you want someone creating fanfic based on your work?

Be sure to check out the Time article – some good quotes:

“…fan fiction was not just an homage to the glory of the original but also a reaction to it. It was about finding the boundaries that the original couldn’t or wouldn’t break, and breaking them.”

“…I love the show, but what if it went further? What happens if I press this big, shiny, red button that says “Do not press”?”

“It was a way to bring to light hidden subtexts that the show couldn’t address.”

“Fictional worlds, while they appear solid, are riddled with blank spots and unexposed surfaces.”

“It’s human nature to press at the boundaries of stories, to scrabble at the edges, to want to know what’s going on just out of range of the camera.”

“A writer’s characters are his or her children, but even children have to grow up eventually and do things their parents wouldn’t approve of.”

Categories: On Writing, Writer Sara Johnson | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

If you’re having important thoughts, you must be in the shower

I used to have all these random thoughts floating through my head at the most inopportune time – while driving, while showering, while standing in line at the DMV.  Without fail, those ideas would escape me before I could get to a place to write them down, no matter how hard I tried to retain them in my brain.  I have written the most beautiful prose and the most insightful blog posts without pen and paper (or other mode of documentation).  You just haven’t seen them because of the lack of ability to document them.

I’ve kept a standard 3×3 post-it note pad in my car for several years now, as well as a pencil.  Although it’s not advisable, I’ve been known to write while driving (note – I don’t take my eyes off the road as I write, or I write at stoplights).  The results aren’t pretty, but the thought at least gets on paper.

Do *not* try this at home

I have also used my bathroom mirror as a scratch-pad for years, writing thoughts and to do lists in dry erase marker.  But someone recently pointed me to this nifty invention:  The Waterproof Notebook.  Genius!!  Never miss a brilliant idea again!


I’ve been known to use whatever is handy at other times – bill envelopes, paper napkins, the extra blank page usually in the back of a book, boarding passes, the white space in magazines.  But I finally found a good sized notebook that will fit in almost all my purses.  It’s big enough to actually write thoughts in, but not so big that it won’t fit in most of my purses.  Perfect.

Except…I’ve had it for three months now, and it’s damn near blank.  All I have in it is the name of a wine someone keeps looking for, and the dimensions of a shelf I need in the kitchen.

One day last week I did have a brilliant flash of something, and was so excited when I reached in and pulled out my little notebook.  Finally!  Something important to write down!

Wait, where’s my pen?

*sigh*  This is what happens when you come prepared.

Categories: On Writing, Writer Sara Johnson | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

I don’t need that word…or that one…or that one…

Is it really writing, if you’re taking something that’s already written and crossing words out?  Well, there’s still an element of creativity to it, and it gets you outside of your brain, so…yes!

I got this writing prompt idea from Storytelling Nomad, a “blackout” writing exercise in which you take a piece of writing (your own, someone else’s) and you cross out words to create a new piece.

Pretty fingerprints color the small, thick kid.  Being weird as an adult would be a problem.  No one dreams of a worse mission – an experiment to see if a drug cures dangerous interest Yes, it seems lame to appreciate things, but a career stuck not trying might end with a battle against human foibles such as reading and angering birds.  The world has become crazy, the response to go to war, dragging friends into adventure.  Curiosity isn’t the answer anymore, but we need to take chances exploring fantastic worlds most of us can’t even imagine.

Still not sure if it’s incredibly profound or incredibly incoherent…

Categories: My writings, On Writing, Writer Sara Johnson | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

“Wierd” words that trip me up “alot”

I think I’m a pretty good speller, and although my grammar isn’t always perfect, I do a pretty good job with it.  I know how to use to, two, and too, as well as you’re and your and their, there, and they’re (note the Oxford comma, TYVM).  But there are certain words and phrases that trip me up every time.  You would think that after spelling a word wrong 200 times, I would know how to spell it, but no.

“I before E, except after C, unless sounding like A, as in ‘neighbor’ and ‘weigh.’”  But, ‘weird’ is not pronounced ‘wayrd,’ so why the hell isn’t it ‘wierd’?

I refuse to ever write “Xmas” on anything.  If ‘Xing’ is “crossing,” wouldn’t ‘Xmas’ be “Crossmas?”

Chicken Xing

Image by 4nitsirk via Flickr

There are specific lessons that stick with you from school.  For me, one of those lessons came from Mrs. Nelson in 8th grade English:  It is not ‘alot,’ it’s ‘a lot.’  To this day, seeing one word instead of two drives me batty.

Separate.  Sep-ah-rut.  I have to distinctly say each syllable in my head, lest I use a second E instead of an A (seperate).

Commitment – one of one letter, two of another, but which is it?  Whichever way I don’t spell it.  And ‘disappointment’ – 2 S’s?  2 P’s?  Thank goodness for autocorrect.

I end sentences in prepositions often enough that I think that grammar rule is null and void.  And “Where y’at?” doesn’t actually mean “Where are you,” at least according to Remy McSwain, so it’s totally acceptable.

(And apparently, I can’t spell ‘sentence.’ I always want to throw in an A instead of the second E.  What kind of writer can’t spell that word?!)

What words do you have a hard time spelling correctly?  What grammar issues do you have, which ones drive you nuts when you see other people use them?

Categories: On Writing, Writer Sara Johnson | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Unfinished Novels, Typewriter Art, Photographs in Photographs, and The Million Dollar Question – Weekend Roundup

I read a lot of blogs in Google Reader, and I’m horribly far behind right now on posting some things I’ve been wanting to post about.  Let’s see how many I can sneak in today, shall we?

Ah, that unfinished novel.  The one you’ve completely given up on, you’ve lost half of it to a bad hard drive and aren’t possible able to recreate it.  The one you wrote ten years ago and never got back to.  The one you’ve given up on finding a way out of.  Post it at myunfinishednovels.com.

Keira Rathbone makes art with a typewriter – visual art.  “One of Keira’s mediums is the use of vintage typewriters to create her art. Typing out letters, numbers and symbols in place of brush strokes and pixels results in beautiful enigmatic images.”  Very cool:

Keira Rathbone – Typewriter Art

Loving this site:  Dear Photograph.  Old pictures in new pictures are nifty:


Rachelle Gardner posed an intriguing question over on her blog:  Would you rather receive a million dollars for a book that no one will ever read, or have one million people read your book but never make a dime?  I have to say, reading through only some of the comments, I’m in the minority.  Yes, I write not because of the money, but because I have to – if I didn’t write, I would go crazy.  But for exactly that reason, I would be perfectly okay with no one ever reading a specific book I write – because there will be another.  And I’ll have a million dollars.  I don’t know, that’s how I feel – what about you?

How do you keep track of  the books you’ve read (or want to read)?  I started using WeRead through Facebook, but I’ve also heard of GoodReads.  Is one better than the other?  Is it worth trying to bring everything over from one site to the other?  Thoughts, anyone?

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Words escape me

Writers should have a command of their native language.  As wordsmiths, they should rock at word games.  As a writer, I should rock.  And yet…

I’ve been playing WordTwist on my phone, and let me just say…I suck.  SSSSSSSuuuuuuck.  With a capital S.

In a recent game, I had the following board:

E   U   A   V

W   A   Y   G

H   Y   E   O

O   T   W   H

Here are the words I found:  ahoy, aye, get, hay, hew, hoe, hog, hot, hoy, tea, thaw, toy, way, wet, yaw, yew

I found 16 out of 56 words.

Now, granted, I can’t possibly find 56 words in the 2 minute time period provided, and some of the “words” are iffy (wha, vau, tho, tew, hayey – they don’t even exist in MS Word, damn it!).  But still, I couldn’t come up with more than 16?  What about ago, or age, or hey, or why?

I mentioned my vocabulary inadequacies to the Beau, which I think prompted him to invite me to a game of Words with Friends.  The first game he whooped my butt 387-209.  Yes, I suck that badly.  I’ve done better since, and it’s been a fun way to kill time at work. 

Then this weekend we played Quiddler – it’s like Scrabble, but with cards.  One round, I came up with the words “the” and “is.”  He looks at me and says, “I would have gone with “thesis.” 

Duh.  (The score count would have been the same, but I would have gotten 10 extra points for having the longest word.)

Anyway, I’m enjoying the mental calisthenics these word games are giving me.  I hope it helps me extend my every day vocabulary, because obviously, I need it.

(What words can you find in the WordTwist board above?)

Categories: On Writing, Writer Sara Johnson | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Weekend Writing Workshop

I took a writing workshop this weekend through the local community college.  I didn’t know what to expect, having never been in a writing group.  I knew it would be writing prompts, which I hoped would jump start my writing, which has recently stalled.  It was prompts, but it was…different than I expected.  There was both good and bad.

I arrived Saturday to a class of ten, unsure what to expect, what to think.  It was clear that several people were in another writing class together with the instructor and, as it normally is, it’s a bit intimidating going into a group of people who have a pre-existing relationship.  We did a quick writing prompt, a 4 minute exercise based on the word “listen.”  I was happy enough with my work, it was the very briefest beginning of an idea that has been in my head, and then I learned we would be sharing our work out loud.

The first person read, a man with a deep voice which would make even the menu at Wendy’s sound amazing.  The second person read, and I was absolutely floored by her talent.  The third person read, and while the narrative wasn’t particularly interesting, the descriptive style was impressive.

Then it was my turn.

I realized what I wrote was crap, but what could I do?  I read.  And then there were five more after me.

Was I the worst in the group?  No.

Was I the best?  Far from it.

We did nine writing prompts yesterday, and I can’t say that my writing got any better.  I often wondered why writing circles are necessary – I can do writing prompts by myself, I can read to…someone.  But no, I can’t.  I am fiercly protective of my work, and it’s hard for me to share.  So yes, the group made me share.

I was blown away by some of the others in the group.  I was humbled. I realized that while I knew my writing was not the best, in reality my writing was crap compared to some of these people.  Out of 10, I was not in the top three.  And it was disheartening.  When lunch rolled around, I wondered f I would be able to force myself to go back afterwards.

I did.

Saturday evening, I wondered if I would be able to force myself to go back Sunday.

I did.

And I’m glad I did.  Because Sunday was better.  I felt more comfortable, I felt like I wrote better.

And the whole experience made me realize that while, yes, I can do writing prompts on my own, and I can read to others, that alone will not expose me to the reality that that I am not nearly as good as I wish was, that I need something more to push me to do better.

So, yes, I need to be part of a writing group.  I need to hear others who are much better than me in order to strive to be better.  I need the creativity that flows through these groups to feed me.  I need to let go of that inner shyness, that tentativeness that doesn’t allow anyone to hear or see what I’ve written, because of the fear that it sucks.

Because, yes, while some of it sucks, some of it is good.  I know it.  And the group is supportive enough to tell me so.

Categories: On Writing, Writer Sara Johnson | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

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