January 31, 2014

How Similar is TOO Similar?

This week in my What’s Up Wednesday post I talked about reading a book that felt eerily similar to my own WiP. I received a lot of wonderful encouragement from everyone—thank you!—but it really got me thinking more about this notion of similarity between already published works and our manuscripts. How similar is too  similar? At what point do we pack it up and move on?

While it is (mostly) true that there are really no new ideas, just new spins on those ideas, there are some things to consider:

1. An increasingly difficult market to break into.
If you have a good look around—Publisher’s Weekly, agent sites, MSWLs—you’ll probably notice that less and less YA is actually being requested. It gets exponentially worse when you’re a sci-fi writer trying to pitch a YA sci-fi story. Unless your story idea is totally original and your writing absolutely top notch, it’s my understanding that it’s really hard to catch agents’ and publishers’ attention. (I could be way off base here, but I don’t think I am.) That means bringing something anything less than unique to the table is kind of a waste of everyone’s time. Who wants to waste people's time? I sure don’t.

2. Personal pride.
Yep, pride. I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want to be a poor man’s Hunger Games. (That’s just the example I’m using, so bear with me.) Sure, there will always be stories that are reminiscent of others in big or small ways, but don’t you want to put out something you feel only you can write? I know two people will come up with a similar premise and write two entirely different stories, but don’t we all want to feel like our story is original to us? I guess it would always bother me that someone else got to the idea first, and I would always wonder if his/her take on it was better than mine was. It may be a touch insecure, but there it is.

3. There’s similar and then there’s SIMILAR.
I’m not going to pick on any stories here, but I’m sure we can all think of at least a few examples of stories with similar premises. I could write a story with a FMC who is selected to fight to the death in some sort of arena without being slammed too hard with Hunger Games comparisons. But what if I wrote a story about an orphaned boy wizard raised among non-magic folk who finds out he’s a wizard and is whisked off to a Wizarding school, forced to face the big baddie of the story time and time again? Um…I think we’d all mostly agree that this treads a little too far into Harry Potter  territory. There’s similar and then there’s too  similar.

Mirror images: Great by Rockwell.
Not so much between two stories.
I guess the question you have to ask yourself--the question I’ve  been asking myself--is this: How much do you love your story? Will it break your heart to set it aside and move on temporarily or even permanently? If the answer is yes, you love it beyond all reason, then keep plugging away at the thing. But if your answer is anything less than a resounding YES, maybe take it as a cue to embrace new ideas and chalk it all up to a learning experience.* I think that’s what I’ve decided to do. I’m pretty sure it was Veronica Roth (post-Divergent) who pointed out the importance of loving your story to the moon and back again, because you will be spending a lot of time with it if you’re fortunate enough to be published. Like, a lot. The fact is, there’s much that I love about my story, but I don’t love it quite enough (right now, anyway) to put in all the time needed to differentiate it from Other Book. And that’s okay. I’m surprisingly not as bothered as I thought I would be. On to other things. Nothing like a new shiny project to buoy your spirits!




* Because let’s face it, no time is really wasted that you spend on the craft of writing. I learn SO much in the process of planning, writing, and revising a story. I really wouldn’t trade that.


January 29, 2014

What's Up Wednesday

What’s Up Wednesday is a weekly blog hop with other folks on this writing journey. Should you wish to join us, we encourage you to visit a few other WUW blogs each week, get to know some other writers, and spread some writerly love! Don't forget to leave the link to your post.

For those of you who are new to WUW, here are the headings we're using:

WHAT I'M READING
WHAT I'M WRITING
WHAT INSPIRES ME RIGHT NOW
WHAT ELSE I'VE BEEN UP TO


Welcome, and thank you for joining us!


WHAT I'M READING

I pre-ordered a copy of Into the Still Blue, and as an Amazon Prime member I was hoping it would get here on release day or very shortly thereafter. Imagine my surprise when it showed up five whole days before its release! After a really crummy night's sleep, I spent the better part of Sunday lounging around with Perry and Roar. Well, not really...* All I will say is that it was such a great conclusion to one of my favourite series. After that, I picked up Phoebe North's YA sci-fi Starglass  and I'm really enjoying it so far.

WHAT I'M WRITING
Yeah...so. What a difference a week can make. This past week I picked up a book (a good one) and was a bit dismayed to discover oodles of similarities between it and my own WiP. Eek. Seriously, within the first 25 pages I had a bullet list of things that now need to change in my story. Why does it always feel like two steps forward, twenty steps back? So basically my WiP is going to have to morph into an entirely different story, which is a hugely daunting task. Needless to say, I've been giving it the side-eye. And while I've been doing that, I've also been brainstorming another story. Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do to get the creative juices flowing. I spent big blocks of time over the course of two days researching, studying the phonology of words, jotting down notes. We'll see if it forms into some kind of usable idea. 


Drippy and puddle-y and
wonderfully spring-like.


WHAT INSPIRES ME RIGHT NOW

Really, really good books I've had the privilege to read over the past month. It makes me want to step up my game and write something truly awesome. With the exception of the past day or so, we've been having unseasonably warm weather. (Especially weird considering the wacky weather south of the border. It's like someone pulled a Freaky Friday switcheroo on us or something.) The thought of spring is always inspiring to me. I'm not off my rocker enough to think that winter is almost over (bahahahahaha...haha), but it does give me a boost that it's nowhere near as horrifically cold as it has a tendency to be here in Alberta in January.





WHAT ELSE I'VE BEEN UP TO

This past Saturday, as part of the pipe band I belong to, I attended our local Burns Supper to celebrate the life and work of Robert Burns (national poet of Scotland). I had to give a toast--the reply to the Toast to the Lassies--which was pretty nerve-racking for me. I have no issue getting up in front of a room full of teens to talk history or teach the essay, but a room full of adults? Tough. Crowd. The toast was supposed to roast the men, reference Robbie Burns, then wrap up with a toast to the laddies. I thought my speech was pretty decent, but it's a different story when you're staring at a room full of people. Needless to say, I'm really glad it's done. Next time I'm tempted to volunteer for something like this, someone please smack me with a spurtle.** 

Aside from that? Not much else worth mentioning.




SO, WHAT'S NEW WITH YOU, FRIENDS?


* Though, that would be AWESOME.

** This is a spurtle.


January 22, 2014

What's Up Wednesday

What’s Up Wednesday is a weekly blog hop with other folks on this writing journey. Should you wish to join us, we encourage you to visit a few other WUW blogs each week, get to know some other writers, and spread some writerly love! Don't forget to leave the link to your post.

For those of you who are new to WUW, here are the headings we're using:

WHAT I'M READING
WHAT I'M WRITING
WHAT INSPIRES ME RIGHT NOW
WHAT ELSE I'VE BEEN UP TO


Welcome, and thank you for joining us!



*          *          *

WHAT I'M READING
I finished Rae Carson's Girl of Fire and Thorns  trilogy this week. While I'm bummed that it's done, it was so good I know I'll be reading it again before long. Highly recommend! I've started reading Leigh Ann Kopans' One  and am enjoying it thus far. I've been meaning to read this one for a while. I also managed to finally get back to my Harry Potter re-read with Half-Blood Prince and made a serious dent in my Chapter A Day classic, War and Peace. (More on that shortly.) It's been a good reading week!

WHAT I'M WRITING

As I've mentioned before, my sister and I have epically long Skype conversations somewhat regularly. Well, the other day we got into an in-depth chat about my WiP (the one in a perpetual state of revision), and long story short, we figured out a number of great ideas to fix it and make it much, much better than it is. I finally feel excited about this story again, and I've even started working through my WiP deciding what stays and what has to go now. It's such a relief to actually give a rip about writing again. You have no idea...

Goal for this week:  Make an outline of my story with new plot points and come up with a plan to integrate all of these new ideas.


WHAT INSPIRES ME RIGHT NOW

- Success in reacquainting myself with discipline and routine.
- Exciting revision ideas and the motivation to implement them.
- Encouraging discussions re: my WiP with my CPs via email and Skype.

WHAT ELSE I'VE BEEN UP TO
As mentioned, I've finally gotten back to reading War and Peace  after much too long away from it. I had the wild notion that I could read it on my Kindle while speed walking on the treadmill. So I gave it a try and much to my surprise, an hour flew by and I speed walked my way through several chapters of War and Peace. New daily exercise regimen...check! The best part about it is all of the multi-tasking going on.

Listening to the awesomeness that is the Ender's Game  official movie soundtrack. It's so well done and the heavy use of cello in the score is nothing short of amazing!


Last week I mentioned going to Ikea with my hubby. When we were there, I bought myself a RÃ¥skog kitchen cart with the intention of putting it to use in my home office. I decided it would make a great writing trolley, so I loaded it up with notebooks, pens, binder clips and paper clips, my iPod, Post-it notes, folders...* Basically, it's a mobile writing station that allows me to move all of my writing paraphernalia anywhere in the house that feels like a good place to write at any given moment. I freaking love it!


* There's room to toss my laptop in the bottom shelf as well, which is fantastic.




SO, WHAT'S NEW WITH YOU, FRIENDS?


January 21, 2014

2014 TBR Pile Challenge

I've taken part in reading challenges in the past (I signed up for the Debut Author Challenge last year...and ended up tanking royally), but this year I wanted to do something different, something I've needed to do for far too long now:

Tackle my buckling-under-the-weight-of-books TBR shelf.

So, in addition to my annual Goodreads Reading Challenge, I've decided to sign myself up for the 2014 TBR Pile Reading Challenge over at Bookish. Participation in this challenge will require regular reviews, something that I should really be doing anyway, so that's a definite plus. At some point I'll post a list of the books I'm hoping to finally  read either in a post or under a tab, but for now I'm just excited to get going on it.

I will say I'm hoping to read at least one pre-2014 release a month, but I'm also hoping that number will keep climbing as I go.

Oh, and one of the best parts? It's open INTERNATIONALLY, so that means anyone within shipping range of the Book Depository can take part in the giveaways. For more information about the challenge, visit the 2014 TBR Pile Reading Challenge sign-up page.

Sounds like fun, right?


January 15, 2014

What's Up Wednesday

What’s Up Wednesday is a weekly blog hop with other folks on this writing journey. With that aim in mind, if you want to join us, we encourage you to visit a few other WUW blogs each week, get to know some other writers, and spread some writerly love! Don't forget to leave the link to your post in the widget at the end of this post.

For those of you who are new to WUW, here are the headings we're using:

WHAT I'M READING
WHAT I'M WRITING
WHAT INSPIRES ME RIGHT NOW
WHAT ELSE I'VE BEEN UP TO


Welcome, and thank you for joining us!



WHAT I'M READING
Over the past week I've been working my way through Rae Carson's Girl of Fire and Thorns  trilogy. I'm on the final instalment, The Bitter Kingdom, now. I really wish I hadn't waited so long to finish this series, but at least I can plough through them all at once now, right? There's a lot to love about these books, but I can definitely say that they're everything I really wanted Bitterblue * (Kristin Cashore) to be. (The whole 'young queen trying to figure out how to rule a fractured kingdom' thing is similar.)

WHAT I'M WRITING
So I started brainstorming a new idea or two, but I'm not really sure what to do with either of them yet. For now they remain in brainstorm mode. And in a weird turn of events, I sat down the other day and started reading through the first chapters of my YA sci-fi (the one in a perpetual state of revision), making the odd change here and there. I was surprised just how much it doesn't completely suck. It still needs some major overhauling (conflict-related issues, removing anything and everything that even has a whiff of dystopian, bumping up the timeline to near future...), but I think there might be something there. Still. I think? Whatever.

WHAT INSPIRES ME RIGHT NOW
- Brainstorming sessions with my sister, Erin. 
- The fact that my WIP isn't broken beyond repair.
- My husband. He's a pretty fantastic guy, you know.
- Rae Carson's writing. It makes me want to write high fantasy.

WHAT ELSE I'VE BEEN UP TO
I've been doing a lot of reading, trying to bring some semblance of order to my life (aka a routine), easing myself back into writing, hanging out with my hubby while he's home (we made a quick day/road trip to go up to IKEA and DAVIDsTEA an hour north in Edmonton), babysitting, making new friends... Not the most exciting week, but it was more fun than usual.



SO, WHAT'S NEW WITH YOU?



* Don't get me wrong, I love Kristin Cashore's Graceling  and Fire. I just wasn't in love with Bitterblue.


January 8, 2014

What's Up Wednesday

What’s Up Wednesday is a weekly blog hop with other folks on this writing journey. With that aim in mind, if you want to join us, we encourage you to visit a few other WUW blogs each week, get to know some other writers, and spread some writerly love! Don't forget to leave the link to your post in the widget at the end of this post.

For those of you who are new to WUW, here are the headings we're using:

WHAT I'M READING
WHAT I'M WRITING
WHAT INSPIRES ME RIGHT NOW
WHAT ELSE I'VE BEEN UP TO


Welcome, and thank you for joining us!



WHAT I'M READING
I'm re-reading The Girl of Fire and Thorns  before continuing on with the rest of the trilogy (which I haven't read yet). I'm loving it as much as the first time I read it. I've really been feeling like fantasy and sci-fi lately, so this is the perfect fix. At some point, I'm hoping to get back to my Harry Potter re-read (I'm on Half-Blood Prince) and War and Peace.

I just barely managed to meet my goal of 85 books for my 2013 Goodreads Reading Challenge, so I decided to set a smaller goal of 60 books for 2014. I found that a higher goal kept me from picking up books that might take too long to read. While I like having a reading goal for the year, I don't like feeling limited by it. So, 60 books it is. 

WHAT I'M WRITING
Nothing yet, but I have been thinking about what I'd like to work on in the coming days. Maybe it's the dawning of a new year, but I've been seriously considering an entirely new project, which is not even in the brainstorming stage at this point. A fresh start is really appealing to me right now after all this time away. I think it's possible that the reason I haven't been itching to write is because I haven't found the right project yet. I'm not abandoning my other stories, but I'm open to working on something new.

WHAT INSPIRES ME RIGHT NOW
Newness, fresh starts, possibility, my plan to do things differently this year. I'm inspired by the new year ahead and the fact that I haven't had a chance to screw it up just yet lol. I'm looking forward to what I hope is going to be a good year. We'll see, right?



I'm also inspired by my favourite show on television, The Good Wife. As writers, we've heard time and time again that certain trends in YA are over, dead, not worth wasting your creative efforts on, really. I think The Good Wife is a prime example of how something that has been done countless times--in this case, the legal drama--can feel fresh and new. I used to be a Law & Order junkie and the one thing you could always count on was the formulaic nature of the show with very few deviations. The Good Wife, however, comes at the legal drama from all different directions, takes something that could feel 'been done' and breathes new life into it. It inspires me to follow suit and get more creative with my writing. The same old thing just isn't going to cut it anymore.

Challenge accepted.

WHAT ELSE I'VE BEEN UP TO
Playing endless rounds of Settlers of Catan (the Cities & Knights expansion...in German as well as the Star Trek version) with my husband while drinking lots of slow cooker spiced apple cider. Reading great books. Re-watching the first four seasons of The Good Wife on Netflix. Oh, and I started babysitting an adorable one-year-old the other day, so I've been playing with Fisher Price little people and the Corn Popper (that everyone everywhere had when they were little). I'm hoping to get into some kind of routine that includes more exercise, reading, and writing and less time with the Corn Popper. I lead such an exciting life.



SO, WHAT'S NEW WITH YOU?

January 3, 2014

To 2014 and All That It Holds

I suck at resolutions, goal-setting and follow through, and while I really do love the idea, picking one word to rule the year has never really panned out for me either. I know one of the only ways to find success when striving for change is to set out specific and attainable goals, so I know that I might just be setting myself up for failure here by taking a more general aim at change. I’m going to go ahead and give it a whirl anyway. Instead of one word, I’m going to pick a phrase--a label, if you will--for 2014:


Vague enough? Let me elaborate a little bit. There are so many things about the way I’ve been living my life that make me want to shake myself, kick my own arse, throw myself a look of haughty derision. I’ve become uninspired, unmotivated, undisciplined…just un-everything. Not cool, Jaime. Not cool. In short, I’m disappointed with the slug I’ve allowed myself to become. So, here’s what I mean by “doing things differently” (and by “differently”, I’m allowing that any  and all  change for the better counts):

STOP
…wasting time on things that don’t matter (i.e. watching lame TV shows, checking and re-checking all of my social media accounts a gazillion times a day, worrying all the frigging time about things completely out of my control). 
…letting stupid things annoy the heck out of me. (Related to the first point, sure, but it deserves its own mention because it’s a massive pitfall for me.) 
…allowing toxic relationships to drag me down. (Limit the time I spend with certain people or steer clear of them and their negativity/bullying/passive aggression/whatever altogether. Maybe even stand up for myself now and then.)  
…waiting for things to change and instead do things to make  them change. (“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” or some such.) 
…being passive and/or lazy about so many things.

START
…actively seeking balance in my life by allotting larger chunks of time to the things that matter and relegating the crud that doesn’t to much, much smaller time slots. (Watching lame TV vs. writing. Not really a hard decision, right?)
…making healthier food choices. (This would not take much right now. Any upward movement in this area would be considerable progress. Seriously.) 
…working exercise into my daily schedule (before my health gets any worse, before my knees completely give out from all the sitting I’ve been doing, before I’m down to only stretchy pants...eek).
...being a better wife, friend, sister, daughter. (I too often drop the ball here, which is completely inexcusable.) 
...getting comfortable with the word "no". (It's okay to say "no" to things I don't have time for/don't want to do.) 
…pushing harder toward what I want out of life. (I’d like to be published, to become better at the instruments I play, to become more fluent in second languages that I already have some degree of proficiency in, to take up photography and any number of other things I want to learn…)
Here's to being sillier.


I turned 35 this past summer, and while that makes me groan (because ugh) and at the same time feel fortunate to be given even that many years, it’s a reminder that I’m not getting any younger. Life is too darn brief to sit idly by while it speeds past. Above all, next year at this time, I'd like to look back on 2014 with minimal regrets and an overall feeling of satisfaction with all that the year held.


So here’s to 2014, THE YEAR OF DOING THINGS DIFFERENTLY.