What Do You Listen To While Writing?

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I can’t stand absolute silence when I write. I have to have some kind of sound in the background–an open window on a rainy day is my favorite, but I don’t live in a climate of eternal rain.

I have trouble writing to any music with lyrics–my singing training basically makes me sing along in my head–so I’m sometimes jealous when I see other writers post their superb writing playlists that match a certain mood or story. Those are fun to listen to when I’m doing other things, but they just don’t work for me when I write.

Back in college, I relied heavily on remixed instrumental video game music from my favorite games. I think I wrote an entire NaNoWriMo novel just to stuff from Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross. (Thank you, OverClocked Remix.)

As my video-game playing decreased, though, I moved on to other sources. Rain is always going to be one of my favorites, and I used to listen to RainyCafe a lot, though with the cafe sounds turned down or off–I’m not a coffee shop person, I find that many people moving around too distracting. For a more relaxed mood, I also like Jazz and Rain, which, as you might expect from the name, is jazz music and rain sounds.

My newest favorite, though, is myNoise. Many different soundscapes are available for free, all with adjustable sliders for the individual sounds that comprise them; and many of those also offer a calibration mode, where you perform a brief test to determine your personal levels across different frequencies, then save it to apply to the offered sounds.

Today, though, I finally donated $5 to help support the site (since I like it so much) and discovered how many more soundstreams available to donors! (A one-time donation unlocks these for life, though continued support is of course an option.) I’m not being compensated to advertise for the site, I’m just impressed and want to share.

What other sound resources are out there? Which ones do you find yourself using again and again? Leave your favorites in the comments and I’ll put together a master list!

Save Every Word You Write

Watercolors 1

When I got into art journaling last year, I found myself hungry for new media. I had some craft acrylics leftover from old projects, I had plenty of paper and fabric and yarn, but I wanted more. Lots of the journals I saw and admired used watercolors.

I had some old tubes from a set I bought on a family vacation. I don’t know how I always ended up with new art supplies on vacations, but I did. I hadn’t touched them since high school, so at least twenty years ago, and I didn’t doubt they were damaged, but I still had them. Rather than buying a new set, I decided to rescue them.

Watercolors 2

Some of the colors were fine, like the cadmium yellow and red, squeezed out of their tubes as easily as if they were brand new. Some, like the burnt sienna and black, were stubborn and gooey–I had to slit their tubes open with a blade and scoop them out.

The worst, the white and crimson, had completely dried out–I peeled the slit tubes away from them like wrapping paper.

But I can still use them. Add a little water, and presto, it’s still paint.

Where am I going with this?

Save everything you write.

Every plot bunny. Every imagined scene without a story attached to it. Every line of dialogue or descriptive phrase cut from a piece during editing. Save all of it.

Your words don’t lose their power with age anymore than my watercolors did.

Every time I sit down to edit a first draft, I make a new file called “Deleted Scenes.” Anything that gets cut ends up there. Does any of it make it back in later? Not usually, but a joke from one of those deleted scenes in What We Need to Survive is now in a different scene in the forthcoming What We Need to Rebuild, where it works much better.

The joke didn’t get cut because it was unnecessary, or even because it was bad–it got cut because the whole scene needed to go, and there wasn’t a place for the joke anywhere else in the book. Turns out, two books later, it found a home.

Save everything you write. You don’t know when you might need it again.

This Week, I Read… (2017 #18)

Sunday Tomes and Tea - Wizard and Glass

#54 – Wizard and Glass, by Stephen King

After the nerve-wracking cliffhanger that ended The Waste Lands, I was more than ready to hunker down by the fire with Roland and hear the tale of how his quest for the Dark Tower began. I wouldn’t think most series could support six hundred pages of backstory sandwiched between resolving one cliffhanger and starting a new one–but here, it works brilliantly.

It helps that because we know Roland, we know his sharp tongue and hard edges, that we can expect and even enjoy a tale of love and loss about the boy he was, standing on the edge of manhood and only coming to it through great pain.

I was warned this book would be a difficult, emotional read, and that was absolutely true. But it was also thrilling and funny and ripe with poignancy. It’s not just the tale of Roland, but also a mostly-honest town misled; friendship and dedication and trust; and the small ways evil can worm its way into anyone’s life.

I love it. I love it so much.

55 - Beyond Ecstasy

#55 – Beyond Ecstasy, by Kit Rocha

I have strong but incredibly mixed feelings about this novel, the eighth and penultimate in the Beyond series.

The easiest way to tackle how mixed my feelings truly are is to break the story down into its three major components.

First, as an erotica, I’d give it three stars. Nothing about that aspect of the work is bad–I’m not sure this writing team is capable of producing sex scenes that aren’t sexy–but nothing in it is new, either. The New Dom character is ground they already tread with Cruz in book 4, and while Hawk is more eager and less conflicted about his desires, it’s not different enough to be notable.

Second, as a post-apocalyptic war novel, I’d give it four stars. The main plot of the series feels more or less like a backdrop in the earlier works, but here, it really steps forward, upping both the tension and the gruesomeness factor in ways I dig. This aspect also supports the third (but primary) thing this book is trying to accomplish…

…the romance. I was on board for the first 95% of the book, I really was. Hawk and Jeni grab at each other with both hands and cling for dear life, because time is truly short, and they both know it. Yes, their rush causes them to make some unwise choices, even knowingly–but characters have flaws, right? I was into it.

Then, after the crisis that tests them and turns into the possible end of their relationship, they both take a step back and consider if the mistakes are too big to fix. Okay, I’m still on board, this is entirely believable. But then they solve it by getting married? When the fundamental problem of their relationship is that they dove into it headfirst without consideration? WTF?!?

So my rating for this book as a romance is a measly one star. That ending ruined it for me. They didn’t learn a thing, they didn’t grow, they just decided they were going to be together because. And because is never a good enough reason.

56 - Beyond Surrender

#56 – Beyond Surrender, by Kit Rocha

Way to bounce back from a mediocre book with a fantastic one, guys, seriously.

Telling the meat-and-guts story of the war alongside Nessa’s romance was an inspired choice. Throughout the series she’s been on the sidelines, vital to the O’Kane’s survival as she produces the liquor that keeps their money coming in–but she’s nearly useless at the skills of war, and her helplessness really sells just how bad things have gotten.

And Ryder? Hot damn, do I love a man that can laugh with his lover. Him teasing Nessa was almost too adorable to take. Personality-wise, they were a great match.

Taking a short break from their POV chapters during the final confrontation itself was also a good choice, letting the reader see the battle from multiple perspectives familiar from the earlier books, letting us see how those characters had changed and how they felt about what they were fighting for.

The only disappointment to me–and it’s minor, not even dinging the review score a star–is that I went into this knowing that characters would die, but the important ones would be safe. Several “starring” characters–ie, ones that had their own romances–were injured, but the deaths were restricted to side characters. I mean, I get it. I would have thrown my Kindle across the room if Cruz had been killed…but that doesn’t mean knowing we wouldn’t lose anyone major did take some of the suspense away.

Let’s Talk About Tropes #7: Second-Chance Romance

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There’s a special place in my heart for a good second-chance romance story, but when this trope goes bad, it goes super-bad.

Why?

To answer that, let’s break down the basic elements:

#1 – Establishing the previous relationship and conflict

For the current story to qualify as a second chance, there needed to be a first one. Were the characters already dating/engaged/married? Was this a childhood sweetheart situation, all innocence and cuteness, but then they went off to different colleges? If the separating conflict is too serious (cheating, abuse, etc.) it may be hard to show the characters recovering from it believably. If the separating conflict is too weak or mundane, our beloved second-chance aspect of the new romance may feel shortchanged.

#2 – Reconnecting the characters

By far the most common one I’ve seen is for one character to move back to their hometown–second-chance romances are often paired with a Small Town Setting™ to up their charm factor. But that’s not the only option by any means. If the characters work in the same field or related ones, one of them could take a new job that puts them in the other’s sphere. They could run into each other randomly in a Big City Setting™; they could both attend the same important event, like the wedding of a mutual friend; they could stumble over each other on social media somehow. The Internet is a magical thing, after all.

But with all these viable options and more, why do so many seem forced? Well, because, to some degree, they are. If the point of the story is the romance (which it is, of course, to us romance authors) sometimes we’re more focused on getting the relationship going again than how the characters reconnect, which means we’ll slap any old reason on the face of it to put our two leads into each other’s faces. Take a little extra time to think through reasonable situations. Ask your friends where and how they’ve run into people they used to know, and what (if anything) came of it, whether the relationship is romantic or not. I mean, I ran into someone I had a crush on in junior high while we were both in line at the post office to send Christmas presents to our families. Absolutely nothing came of it–no number exchange, no attempt to contact each other again, I haven’t seen or heard from him since–but for a pair of fictional characters, that meeting could have had different consequences.

#3 – Layering old and new conflicts

Every romance has to have conflicts; the best question to ask is always “Why aren’t they together now?”

But second-chance romances have an extra layer to handle: resolving the old conflict somehow while maintaining new ones. Your leads aren’t the same people they used to be, no matter how familiar they may seem to each other–they’ve changed. What is it about how they’ve changed that means the unresolved conflict from their previous relationship can be overcome?

Sometimes I’m disappointed by the couples rekindling their flame too quickly, because they toss the old conflict out the window with barely a pause to breathe. Make sure the issue is given the weight and consideration it deserves (which will depend, of course, on how serious it was to begin with) before letting your couple fall into bed together.


So, my lovely readers, do you like second-chance romances? What is it about them you enjoy, and what pitfalls are you tired them falling into?

This Week, I Read… (2017 #17)

51 - A Court of Wings and Ruin

#51 – A Court of Wings and Ruin, by Sarah J. Maas

THIS REVIEW IS NOT SPOILER-FREE. THIS BOOK IS NEW AND POPULAR AND USUALLY I DON’T CARE ABOUT SPOILERS BUT FOR THIS ONE CONSIDER YOURSELF WARNED.

So, I loved it. I did! But I didn’t love it as much as ACOMAF, and that’s mostly because I’m a romance reader.

ACOWAR didn’t do anything wrong, per se. But since the previous book was focused on Feyre freeing herself from her unhealthy relationship with Tamlin and getting into a much healthier one with Rhysand, well, it felt like a romance novel, even though it’s YA fantasy with a healthy romance subplot.

This one, on the other hand, is really, really, really focused on the war. Which is happening RIGHT FUCKING NOW. I honestly didn’t realize it was coming so soon–it seemed like such a big deal that it was going to be the culmination of the series, and that ACOWAR would spend more time on the preparation for it, and also on Feyre playing spy in the Spring Court, which for all the hype in the fandom, only ended up being the small first section of the story.

The reason this focus bothered me was that it felt like the personal relationships were treading water. Feyre and Rhys get reunited, and that’s sweet (and hot) but then their relationship is pretty static for the rest of the book. Nesta and Cassian get to throw sparks at each other as she fights the mating bond, he fights his instincts to crowd her, and they fight each other–but there’s very little in the way of resolution, they’re still in a holding pattern at the end. And the Lucien/Elain pairing is barely touched–in fact, Lucien is absent for most of the book, after he leaves the Spring Court with Feyre at the beginning.

In the end, I think my disappointment (as noted by the lack of that fifth star) is based on how different this book was from my expectations. Which, to be fair, is more my fault (and to some extent, the rabid fandom throwing out headcanons I absorbed) than it is the book’s. I did like it. It just wasn’t what I expected.

52 - Archer's Voice

#52 – Archer’s Voice, by Mia Sheridan

I added this to my TBR a while back from a list of romances with disabled characters, hoping to expand my horizons some more. Archer is mute and speaks via ASL, and wouldn’t you know it, so does the heroine! Thus begins a story that is often sweet but wildly improbable in terms of the character’s backgrounds, living situations, and personal troubles.

That isn’t to say that the story is bad, or that it handles disability badly. But that nagging sense that everything was falling into place too easily was always in the back of my head as I read.

On the positive side, I do like seeing the male partner in an M/F pairing being the shy/naive/inexperienced one. Not all guys are pro, and not all girls are retiring hothouse flowers who need coddling. I always approve of a good script-flipping.

But on the whole, I couldn’t suspend my disbelief enough for the story to wow me. It’s cute to the point of sappiness, but if you like that sort of thing, go for it!

53 - Watership Down

#53 – Watership Down, by Richard Adams

Somehow this book, a childhood classic for many, never crossed my radar until I was a teenager reading The Stand, where Stu remembers reading it and experiences the feeling the rabbits call “tharn”–when they’re frozen in terror, unable to move or think or react.

I vaguely remembered seeing a copy in one of my elementary school classrooms, and thought, I should read that someday.

Fast forward to December of last year, when an early paperback copy showed up at the big library book sale. Sold!

I had problems getting started, with the large cast of characters who, by necessity, were little more than names with relative sizes attached. It’s not as if you can describe a bunny by hair or eye color or how they dress. And of course, being bunnies, there are so many bunnies.

But as I soldiered on, I found myself growing attached to Hazel’s determination, Fiver’s anxious predictions, Bigwig’s absolute commitment to his friends, and so on. The slow pace of the story, with many breaks to tell rabbit fables within the larger story, gives the reader plenty of time to get to know each individual.

What I did NOT like at all was the view that the female rabbits (“does”) were basically no more than stupid baby incubators that needed to be fetched, followed, shepherded, and coddled. I had noticed early on that none of the named characters seemed to be female, but I dismissed it as a symptom of it possibly being intended as a young boy’s book–not that I agree that boys will only read books with male characters, but in 1972 when this was published, that was certainly the prevalent view of things. But no, partway through the book, Hazel realizes that there’s no does in his new warren, and maybe they should do something about that, so that there could be babies.

And it never gets better. The few female bunnies there are never get to do anything heroic, interesting, or even merely useful, and yes, they are quickly relegated to the role of mothers. (Kehaar the gull, much as I like him otherwise, actually refers to them solely as “mudders” in his faux-German gull accent.)

So in many ways I can see why this book deserves to be a classic, for its charming setting, interesting rabbit-based viewpoint, and tale of leadership and determination–but it’s so anti-feminist it makes me itchy.

Writing Homework #9: Every Song a Story

A long time ago, under a different name on an account long deleted, I was an active participant in /r/WritingPrompts, before it became a default sub and exploded into a crazy pit of meme prompts. I didn’t stick around, and to be honest, I have no idea what the community is like these days.

But I do remember one prompt in particular, to take a song that almost tells a story, and write a scene based on it.

My response to that prompt is lost to the sands of time (and the account deletion) but I do remember I chose “Shape of My Heart” because the song so clearly defines a character, but not the story itself.

So this week’s assignment is to seek out a similar song, not one that already lays out a story in great detail, but one that gives insight into the character or situation it describes, and write a drabble/scene/flash fic based on it.

I know, I know, song prompts aren’t exactly a new idea, but I want to present my take on it.

Have fun and keep writing!


Need to get caught up on your assignments?