Emily Bufford's Blog

November 3, 2015

Ugh

I am writing.
On the novel.
Again.
NaNoWriMo is pulling me toward it, and I can't say no.
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Published on November 03, 2015 17:34

July 14, 2015

Re-Focus and Shine

Announcement: I am completely burnt out on novel writing. There’s a lot to reconsider, and I don’t want to rush and make a mistake. I’m putting the novel on the back burner until I come to grips with what I want. Rather than actually writing, I’m going to think and think and think, make notes, study, and think some more.

In happier news, full steam ahead on short stories! I am still determined to meet my goal of either publishing one story this year, or winning one award. I’ll be equally happy whichever way it goes, and I’m confident it will go one way or the other. Less time actually writing on the novel means more time revising short stories which I love to do. Going to fire up my submissions excel spreadsheet and get going. Vroom vroom! I’m so ready.
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Published on July 14, 2015 15:22

June 25, 2015

Time is Wasting Away

It’s been more than a week since I last blogged, and I hope you don’t take that as a sign of my stopping. Because I am writing on my novel, just not on the blog. Yet I don’t want to leave anyone hanging. I did not win the Tethered Letters Contest I entered. Boo. I did, however, receive a lovely email from them which told me they liked my piece and want me to submit it to their revision service to help get it into shape to possibly publish with their magazine. Not an outright win, not an outright loss. I believe I will take advantage of this complimentary offer because, why not? Feedback from a panel of professional publishers (for free) is always welcome. It’s a much needed boost for my confidence. I’m still looking for my one publication of 2015. I got started a few months late, but I think I can still reach this goal with hard work. It’s just difficult to balance working on short stories for publication and working on writing my novel (which I am currently loving). There’s only so much time for a lady that works 40 hours a week, has a commute time of 8 hours a week, and loves her family more than all the world. I’m going to take a hard look to see how to stream line my life to leave more time for pure writing time to get the novel done already. I’m a long way from the goal, and it’s not moving along as swiftly as I’d like. Yet if I put too much pressure on myself, writing dries up altogether, and I spend a lot of time staring at the last sentence I was able to write not believing I can write another paragraph, sentence, word, letter! It’s all about balance, and I’m still trying to figure that out. I want to be motivated and energetic, not pressured and scared. Either way, I’m going to keep writing because I must.
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Published on June 25, 2015 08:54

June 17, 2015

Introverts and Media

http://elitedaily.com/life/quiet-migh...

I am an introvert, and when I read the above article I really fixated on one particular quote:

“Another reason [introverts don’t talk much] is because introverts don’t like small talk. It’s a total waste of time. We don’t want to hear about baseball or the weather; we want to dig deeper into your lives.”

It hit me: This quality of introverts commands the type of media materials I like to absorb and create. If it doesn’t dig deep into the soul, I don’t really care about it. A lot of pop-media is meant to primarily entertain not divulge the secrets of someone’s soul. Hence why I don’t feel connected to it. Pop-media is simply contrary to the structure of my brain. Pop-media isn’t wrong; it entertains the masses of people, which is important in its own right to provide relaxation and leisure away from life’s complexities and pain. It just isn’t as meaningful or profound or deep or clawing. When I create, what I want is to scratch the heart of a person so they can watch it bleed. When I absorb media, I want it to claw its way into my heart and make me feel intensely. Pop media provides a nice shade from the searing sun of reality; what I want is to have my readers stare directly into the bright light, burning their retinas and glorifying in the horrifying beauty of millions of tons of burning flames.
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Published on June 17, 2015 11:55

June 14, 2015

Education, or No?

It’s a pretty commonly held belief that in order to really learn a language and become a native speaker, classes and text books only get you so far. In order to really know the subtlety and variety of a language one must actually live in a place that primarily speaks that language. Diagramming, definitions, explanations, grammar rules, etc from a book only go so far. One must actually function inside a place that uses the language daily to become good at it. When someone coming from textbooks is first plunked inside a place like that, there’s a lot of bumbling and stumbling. Messing up pronunciations and screwing up grammar. With time though, it becomes natural as the person instinctively hears the turns of phrase, the slang, the subtle up and down in speech rhythms. The person learns primarily through listening and doing, forgoing textbooks and rules. In fact, that’s the way many people learn to speak a new language, never even cracking a textbook or having a grammar lesson—they learn through immersion.

To learn how to write well, it is much the same. Instructive writings books are fine and can be great tools at the beginning. Thousands of them exist, so they cannot be a waste, and really they are not. Like a language textbook though, they only get a person so far. This is what happens a lot in undergrad as an English major. There’s an intense focus on analyzing the works of writers, breaking them into parts to be drawn on a chalkboard or notebook paper. Character, plot, tone, etc are defined from textbooks and picked apart in a creative piece. Theories of writing from experts is widely read and discussed. Toward the end of undergrad, students are expected to begin analyzing texts on their own, using citations from expert theories as support. It’s the beginning, it’s the foundation of what makes writing good or not so good. All this can be gleaned from books, either by actually spending the fortune to go to school, or by reading instructive texts. It’s a first step, a solid foundation of understanding writing.

But like with language, textbooks and their definitions and diagrams only go so far. In order to fully bloom as a writer, the person must plunk themselves into the deep end of the pool. This is what graduate school provides. In order to get into an MFA program a person must already be able to write a basic story. Character, plot, tone etc must be controlled and used decently. Once in grad school, the discussion of expert theories and well written pieces continues, but the ante is upped. Now the person is expected to form their own theories and write their own pieces at a much higher level. At first, there is a lot of stumbling and bumbling, trying to learn how to get into the groove of going from reader of texts to writer of texts. It’s tough, and the other people around you are tough. The hope of an MFA program is to transition a person from student into writer. That is, someone who knows how to produce solid, well written, meaningful pieces and someone who will, for a lifetime, write seriously. But some MFA programs are only two years, some are three, and there isn’t enough time to bring a person into their apex of writing. Time and resources are limited, so at least in my MFA program, they focused on one thing—how to write literary short stories.

Why literary short stories? What I believe is that writing, like any other art, has a foundation in reality. For instance, visual artists first learn how to draw the human form as it is. They are taught to catch the curves and nuances of emotion with their pencils from a real human model. Once they are able to achieve reproducing a realistic human form, they are then let free to explore how to disfigure and twist that human form. That’s what the literary short story teaches a writer; it’s reproducing a snap shot of reality in writing. If a writer can do that, and do it well, they have a solid foundation to work with. Once the foundation is there, they can warp reality into any shape they want. Many of my MFA teachers did not write strictly literary short stories; they wrote novels that mix genre aspects with literary aspects. One writes about a bartender scooped up into a world of crime. A few, straight up chic-lit. Another, historical fiction. So yes, they are writing genre inspired novels, but they know that teaching this genre or that genre will only help the student grow into a writer of that particular genre. So instead, they choose to teach the most encompassing type of writing—realistic literary fiction. Once the writer can reproduce the reality everyone sees and experiences, they can then move on to create worlds of their own. Some of my fellow writer students in grad school were much farther along than I was, I’ll admit that. Some have chosen to stick with literary fiction, some have written YA paranormal novels, and some have moved onto other pursuits. I’ve chosen to meld my literary foundations with a science fiction twist in my (as yet unpublished, still being written) novel. Those of us that have continued to write seriously are coming into our apex, finding our unique voices, expressing ourselves by breaking away from the rules of realism.

Being in an MFA program is like moving to Germany for a year. You are simply expected to write well and keep up. The standards are high, not in a false way though. They are high in the same way a German person expects a non-native whose moved to Germany to simply speak German. Yes, they are kind and understanding, but still, you speak it or you don’t. It’s very much sink or swim. Getting out of an MFA program is like moving back to the US after spending a year in Germany. Will you simply let your German grow stale and unused, or will you seek out others and practice and practice and keep it up? It’s the same with an MFA. Once you’re out, you have to work to keep up those skills and stretch them and grow them. Getting an MFA is only the start; it’s what you do with that knowledge afterward that matters.

No, an MFA is not necessary to be a writer. The path to being a good writer varies as much as the path to learning a new language does. People go about it in all different ways because people are different. One is not better than the other. What an MFA does is immerses you into the writing world for a few years so that learning how to write well is accomplished quickly by removing distractions. Unless you’re just super talented, doing it on your own probably takes a longer period of time, with a lot more struggle and missteps. And that’s perfectly okay, because however you get there isn’t the important part. The important part is getting to where you want to be.
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Published on June 14, 2015 21:51

June 12, 2015

Writing Process

It is so hard for me to write new material. It’s not that the idea isn’t there, it’s that picking the right words is incredibly tough. I woe and moan over every sentence and phrase, checking and rechecking grammar. Being tough on myself. This is the reason my “first drafts” are clean and engaging. They still need work, yes, but they are not a complete mess. Some may spend months and months revising, editing, cutting, pasting, rearranging. I don’t. I spend a very long time getting out that first draft, but I’m super fast when it comes to getting it into its best shape. A lot of writers and writing advisors tell me how wrong this is; that a first draft should just be belched out without worrying about details like word choice and active voice and commas. I can’t. I just can’t.

But it’s all time. The more time I spend now with the words before they hit the page, the less time I spend revising. Either way, I think it’s all a wash in the end. We’re all spending the same amount of time, it’s just what task we’re doing that differs. I think this is why many writers describe revising as heart wrenching and horrible, whereas I use those words to describe writing the first draft. It feels like my brain is bleeding out on the page. It’s rough.

The best part about writing clean, engaging first drafts? Sometimes there is no revising, just a swift edit for any glaring errors. I’ve written a published and awarded short story in three days flat. Total time input probably 15 hours, 13 of which was getting out the first draft. 2 hours to edit, then—

Bing! Completed story
Bang! Second prize in Svenson contest
Boom! Published first time sent out

That’s just how I roll. The first draft is immensely difficult, and the rest breezy. I know I’m way far in left field compared to other writers.
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Published on June 12, 2015 09:02

June 10, 2015

Revision

I’m trying to think of something intelligent and informative to say about revising. It is a necessary part of the process of writing. Doing the initial belch of words onto the page is one thing, actually wrangling them into something readable is another. Myself, I have more trouble doing the initial belch than I do the revising. I don’t think that is how most writers feel though. I’m trying to pin down why revising is easy for me. I know I have a system worked out in my mind as to how I do it, and I want to share that with everyone. But I do not yet fully understand it myself, so I cannot explain it to others.

What I do know is this much: start big, then go small. Big decisions, like cutting out chunks or adding in chunks, need to be made first. There’s no point in revising line by line if the actual content is a mess. Once the big pieces are together, and in the correct order, it’s time to go line by line. I am more helpful on that end. First thing I want to do is make sure the writing is as Active as possible and not Flat. How I do this is print the manuscript and highlight every verb in the piece. I then read it, first line to last, questioning if every verb is exactly what it needs to be. I eliminate as many To Be verbs as possible, putting as much as possible into active voice. At this point I’m probably noticing more than just verbs too, but that’s my main focus. Many sentences in the passive voice will need to be turned around to go into active voice, so there’s a lot of re-writing sentences. Once I feel the verbs are active, I highlight every “ly” word in the piece, and again, I go line by line eliminating them. That’s pretty easy. Rare occasion calls for adverbs. Once that process is over, I correct the manuscript on the computer then I print a fresh manuscript. Now I read the whole thing backward, from last sentence to first sentence. This helps me make sure each and every sentence is as dense and full and appropriate as it can be. I’m not interrupted in my thoughts by anticipating the next sentence.

I don’t know if that is at all helpful. I can’t say exactly how I know to add or remove chunks. Input from others is helpful, but only to a point. There’s something inside that just knows what to put where and what needs to go. I guess that’s just part of being a writer. I cannot, as of now, give a check list or summary of how to make the big decisions. I just sort of know…
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Published on June 10, 2015 15:17

June 9, 2015

New Orleans Genre Writer's Conference

It is Tuesday, and I am just starting to feel recovered from my weekend attending the New Orleans Genre Writer’s Conference. Before I go further, this is not a conference for all genres, more the Geek Chic ones—Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. Mystery, Thriller, and Romance genres were not included in the weekend, just to inform if you’d like to go next year (which I highly recommend). As a first year event there were bumps in the road; panels ran over, schedules were juggled, times changed. However, as a first year conference there was a big plus—one on one time. With only 15 attendees, I was able to one-on-one with almost every author, panelist, editor, and agent. (H. David Blalock I missed you, which mourns my heart because I know you have so much to offer.) I’ll admit, at first I felt a bit duped by the small numbers, but by Saturday around 11am I realized how beneficial it was. Some panelists rambled a bit, others presented their ideas in a very organized fashion; I think that simply reflects the personalities of the panelists. Either way, both types poured out their knowledge for us to absorb. And much of it was specific knowledge only those that had trodden the path of publishing could tell. I cannot comment on the experience of being in New Orleans because, well, I live here! I can recommend getting in the door next year before this con loses its small, intimate flavor.
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Published on June 09, 2015 15:20

June 2, 2015

Popular VS Good

I’m not terribly interested in the Best Seller formula like some writers might be. Why? Because my top interest is not in being “popular.” Books, like anything else, is a popularity contest, and those that appeal to the masses are the ones that sell well. Often times, though, “good” and “popular” do not always go hand in hand. My primary concern is to write a “good” book. If it’s “good” enough, it will be popular. I could write by the popular formula, but my chances of becoming a top seller are still mighty slim. And, if I wrote according to that formula, I would personally hate what I wrote because it wouldn’t feel like mine and probably wouldn’t be “good.” What I am “good” at is not writing by formula; what I am “good” at is marching to the beat of my own drum. And when a fellow writer tries to force the popular formula on me, I have an immediate strong reaction. It’s not for me, and it’s not for many writers, and it’s not the only way. Other writers that cannot see past a Top Ten list are a bit blind, in my opinion. If another writer wants to jump on the band-wagon of writing to the popular formula, by all means please do it if that’s what feels “good” for you. Just don’t expect me to do it, don’t present it as the only way. Please see past the commercialism and respect “good” writing for what it is—“good” writing.
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Published on June 02, 2015 17:25

May 29, 2015

Idea Language

“Language is the means of getting an idea from my brain into yours without surgery.”
~Mark Amidon

Great writers are teachers, in so much as they use language to present an idea to a reader. The best teachers do not force ideas upon the pupil; they simply present the pupil with an idea and leave it up to the pupil on what to do with it. Believe it, not believe it, obscure it, disagree with it, praise it, whatever. And I think that’s why writers can’t just go around directly saying things like, “I believe X, Y, Z.” Pupils need examples, need proof, need a fleshed out idea. So, writers create a story. Show, don’t tell, as they always always say. So, writers tell a story hoping like hell that their idea, their message, gets across. Not to prove anything or tell the reader what to do, just to bring up the idea and present it to the world. Language happens to be the writers means for doing this.
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Published on May 29, 2015 08:26