My reading list grows exponentially. Everytime I read a book, it'll mention three other books I feel I have to read. It's like a particularly relentless series of pop-up ads.
-A.J. Jacobs

Monday, November 29, 2010

Annnd Done

So after my plot epiphany, I mapped out the characters, finished outlining the major plot points, and then sat down and well, you know, WROTE.

The story was all down on paper and embedded in my mind, and after writing it almost all the way through one time and being unsuccessful, I knew what I didn't want to happen.

I turned off my inner editor - something I've NEVER done before and just wrote. I'm talking hardcore writing. My loverlies (Tina Lynn and Kristen) and I bribed each other with pics of Jared Leto amongst other things I shall keep a sekrit.

My fingers nearly bled, I typed so fast and furious.

I didn't even go back and reread what I had already written to gauge how it was sounding because from previous experience I knew that it either a.) would read like a NY Times best seller that might as well be already on a shelf (in my glory moments) or b.) was made of suckage and needed to be rewritten immediately (does See Spot run count?). And either way, I knew it was a skewed way of looking at things, so I decided to write with abandon.

I put a song on repeat (I swear I listened to a song 27 times in a row) and glued my rear to the seat (with the occasional potty and mint chocolate chip breaks. Not simultaneously, you freaks.

And I wrote. I wrote the whole thing. It's a middle grade, so it's totally doable to write a book in a week, especially when it's well plotted (the thought!). But the amazing part to me is that I started writing this book last year.

When I told my daughter that I was going to finish the book last night, her response was: "You shoulda been done a long time ago. You've been workin' on that stinkin' story since I was in kindergarten!" (She's only in the first grade this year...)

Wow. Thanks for the support. LOL. But she was right. One day this past week I wrote 12K in one sitting, when the most I had ever written was 2K at time. The writing with abandon was freeing.

My first draft was finished at midnight last night and clocked in at 38K.

And now I'm here twiddling my thumbs. I so bad want to jump right in and reread what I've written. To see if I wrote 38K of junk or if it makes sense or if it is all a bunch of gibberish.

I know I should wait. I want to wait. But I don't.

Would it be so bad to do a quick once over and read it all the way through and THEN let it sit for a month before editing and revising?

You guys tell me. When you finish a rough draft, what do you do? And how long do you wait before you delve back into it?

Someone might have to tie my hands behind my back, because I'm guessing it'd be hard to revise a book with my nose.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Tiffany Has An Epiphany

Disclaimer: What is about to be said by Tiffany is borderline without a doubt embarrassing. But the thing about it is, there has to be other schmucks like me out there that have been in this same boat, and I hope that maybe by my raw honesty about this topic, it could help at least one other person who stumbles across this blog.

Bottom line-  Tiffany's epiphany is this: An idea does not = a plot.

There, I said it. It seems like a DUH-no-brainer kind of thing, but it wasn't until a couple of days ago that I was able to realize what was wrong with the books that I've written or been in the process of writing. Up until then, the definition of a plot was: a small piece or area of ground: a burial plot.  Which is where I dug myself and my book into every time I wrote like that.

And get this my epiphany occurred while I was in the middle of teaching 4th graders a lesson on plot - of all things.

So, when the other teachers on my team and I discussed how we were going to teach plot, I thought about how it would make sense for me to teach plot through writing. Because DUH! You have to have a plot to write. Right? (Of course I didn't stop to think about my lack of such an important thing in my stories at that moment). It made perfect sense for me to teach my students plot by telling them how real-live authors plot out their own books. So, I turned to the most genius and kid-friendly plot visual I knew of courtesy of the One and Only:  Jamie Harrington. She created what she calls the storysaurus to plot out her stories. It's basically brilliant. And who doesn't like dinosaurs?

Between the storysaurus and Shannon Messenger's outlining pattern, along with a couple of other online resources, my students and I reverse-map plotted The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (An AH-May-zing book, I might add). I drew a giant dinosaur on the board, and then wrote the main focus of each chapter on a sticky note and placed it on the dinosaur's back (you know, like the plates on a dinosaur's back). We then figured out what the starting point was, the inciting incident, the conflicts/crisis that contribute to the rising action, the moment of hopelessness, the actual climax, and then the falling action and resolution. It went amazingly well.

I even went as far as to show them how they could use a storysaurus to plot out their own narrative stories that they have to write, pointing out that each paragraph contributes to the climax and then leads to the resolution.

It's so simple.

Yet, as I stared at that storysaurus after school, I realized, OhmygoshIamatotalandcompleteidiot! It's right there! My huge and most ridiculous problem: I DON'T HAVE A PLOT! Nor did I have a plot for the first book that is collecting dust on a shelf, that will never see the light of day again. That's where I went wrong.

I was missing some of the major elements of a plot because I was a total pantser. I didn't plan it out. I let the ideas write themselves. The words would flow from my mind and my fingers would type and I would just go along. But then, I would find myself in a corner or in the middle of a burial plot. And I wouldn't know how to get out of it, and I'd go into panic mode, and then put the book away and declare myself a Professional Reader who will never ever become a professional writer. A very vicious cycle that guarantees a lot more panicking than actual writing. I don't like that panicky feeling.

Then, I had a huge brain storm session with my loverlies Tina and Kristen, which helped me so much. I now have a plot. I know my plot. I can write my book. It's so simple, it's stupid. Well, not really. The plotting almost made me lose my mind all day yesterday, and I basically walked around like a zombie without a single coherent thought until I worked it all out in my mind. Considering that yesterday was a school day, I can tell you another honest truth: my classroom did not get much accomplished during my Brain Spasms (AKA WHAT IS MY PLOT?) but when it finally came, the feeling was one of sweet satisfaction. And when I was given the thumbs up by my critters, I was in Plot Heaven.

I also got a great tip from my critters to watch The Plot Whisperer which solidified everything I had in my mind.

So there you have it.

I was a pantser.

I am no longer.

I am now a plotter.

And maybe, just maybe, I will have a complete book that is worthy of being shown to someone soon.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Got Nothing...But Jared

I'm actually quite pathetic right now and have nothing of value to offer anyone. However, 30STM has been busy and they have a snippet of their upcoming music video.

And since I've watched it 30 plus times and looking at Jared listening to their music is all sorts of inspirational, I thought I'd share.



Monday, November 15, 2010

Dear James Dashner,

(Yes, there is an enormous possibility that he might just stumble across my blog, so back off all you realists)

Dear James Dashner,

Let me first begin by saying: You are genius. I'm totally not sucking up, because as per my recent I Will Not Let An Author Make Me Feel Like I'm Not Good Enough Epiphany, it would seem totally like I was reverting back to my former self. I am not. And I will not.

Anywhoo, I bought your book over the summer, not having a clue what the book was about, due to my slight issue of feeling the need to buy every and all YA books so that I can read them and then possibly build a house out of them. (That'd be a pretty cool idea, huh?)

Your book wasn't the first on my list of To-Read, I will be honest, but for some reason, when I started to dig through the hundreds of books, it sort of called to me. It said: Tiffany! Read me!

And so I did.

And I tore through the book in a way I've never done before. I found that you put me so far into Thomas' character, to the point that it was scary. I felt like I was in his shoes the entire time. I was thinking the same things he was thinking, I was questioning the same things he was questioning, I was feeling the same way you described him to be feeling. It was crazy!  I can honestly say that I have never read another book that had me so one with the main character. Really.

I don't want to spoil the book for anyone who hasn't read it, but I'll just say, I felt as if I had a memory wipe like Thomas did, and so I tore through the book, following Thomas on his journey to figure out what in the world was going.

And the new language was all sorts of amazing, good that? I mean, for you to create a new language and then to make it totally believable and not forced was so great that I now speak in that language. Even though no one seems to understand what it means when I call them slintheads and klunks. Oh well. Maybe they should read the book...

Then the ending. The ending...if you want to call it that. As if it wasn't enough to have me so immersed in your crazy Maze world, where I had no clue what was going on, you go and leave me TOTALLY hanging at the end and make me run out and buy The Scorch Trials THE NEXT DAY, in  which I tore through that book only to find out that I STILL have hardly any of my questions answered. Not to mention the fact that you yet again left me hanging.

I would normally have a deep hatred for you and your cruel ways. To leave an obsessive girl like me waiting around for another year just to find out what in the world is going on in that crazy mind of's just plain wrong. But, instead, I feel this need to take what you taught me through your books and use it to make my writing better.

So even though I contemplated, at one point, stalking you, kidnapping you, and then forcing you to tell me WHAT IS GOING ON, I've decided to take the high road. Probably, mostly because I am not in the mood for being arrested. I realized after reading your book that the ability to put a reader into the main character's head is the most invaluable thing an author can do. I mean, I already knew that, but I don't think I had ever read a book that had done that so well.

So, thank you Mr. Dashner, for your amazing books, and inspiring me to find a way to connect my readers to my main character in a way that makes them feel like they are truly going on a journey with them. So, how 'bout an ARC of The Death Cure? Pretty please?? I'm not so sure I can keep my promise of not hunting you down for a whole year...

Me (Your #1 Fan)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Insanity Has No Boundaries

Most of you don't know me in real life.

Some of you do.

The few who really know me, though, know that I'm a tad on the strange side. But I like the word eccentric better. And at times, I can be obssessive. Okay, so maybe not at times. More like all the time.

I used to be able to keep my insane Tiffany away from mingling with the sane Tiffany's life, but lately, those two have merged together in a very disturbing way.

So much so that at school, a student surprised me with a  LIFE SIZE Edward poster. You may ask: Why would a 4th grader know about your obsession to the point that they would bring you a life size Edward poster? Well, I really can't justify myself to you. My students know me all too well!
Evidence from Exhibit A:

Evidence from Exhibit B:

Evidence from Exhibit C: (Edward's new brooding place on the side of my filing cabinet, next to my round table where I work with small groups)

Some may argue that my insanity is a little too much and they may not want me teaching their young children's impressionable minds. And I may agree. But, hey I'm honest and I'll never pretend not to be me.

However, if ever a student brings in a poster of this:

Edward will have to be replaced. Damon is the vampire of my choice. Oh, and by the way, I love my new hairdo. Shoutout to Kristen's hair chick, Erin. She rocked my hair, and now I'm going to have to travel to Buffalo everytime I want my hair did. Who woulda ever thunk that this girl would have such short hair!!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What the What...Newly Reformed Tiffany

Have you ever read a book that has made you doubt your abiltity to be a writer. That feeling that creeps up inside your chest and settles there telling you that you will never make it. Ever. Like, the fact that their writing is: Just. That. Good. That you feel like you should throw in the pen and give up while you're ahead?

I've had quite a few of those books, but some of those top authors that manage to evoke that feeling of inadequacy out of me are Suzanne Collins, Ellen Hopkins, and Laurie Halse Anderson.

They are amazing writers. And with each of their books that I've read, I've torn through the pages, fallen in love with their characters, and felt like I lost a family member when the series or book was finished.

But instead of using their books as inspiration, I used their books as a way to punish myself and tell myself that I wasn't good enough, nor would I ever be good enough to write a book made of that much awesome.

And I've finally realized that my mentality is just plain stupid. I don't know what their journeys were like into their writing career. How many books were turned down before "the right" one hit, how many times they felt at the bottom of the barrel and "not good enough." (And if they had the I-Wrote-And-Sold-My-Very-First-Book-Within-A-Month Syndrome, then I'm covering my ears, and I don't want to hear it. La la la la la...)

My mentatlity was putting such a strain on my creativity and the ability to write for fun, so I decided to end that. I will continue to read those amazing authors, but instead of allowing it to bring me down, I am going to use what makes their books so riveting to my advantage, and put that same passion in my books. And when it's my time (if it's my time -- oh wait, do you have to have a complete book to have that time ready for you?) then great. No more writing to find an agent. No more following all "The Rules". No more beating myself up constantly.

Let me introduce you to the new and improved Tiffany Neal.


Nice to see you.

*deep breath*

I feel good. Or maybe it's the black and plum hair dye seeping into my pores and damaging my brain. Either way, I'll take it.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Don't Fall Over

I'm posting a blog post.


Don't be too shocked.

School's going smoothly, and I'm hoping to be back around more often. Probably a couple times a week-ish, er, something like that.

Anyway, the exciting news is that I'm in New York with my crit partner/best friend turned writing partner and we are seriously buckling down on our book. It feels so good to be writing again or at least in the process of writing again.

Kristen introduced me to character chat last night, which when she first brought it up sounded a tad bit crazy, but WHOA it was awesome. Basically TinaLynn chatted with Kristen and I who played the main characters.

I know, I know, sounds bizarre and maybe even a little crazy, but it SO helped. Tinalynn asked some great questions and our plot seriously thickened and we worked out some amazing things as we stepped in our characters' shoes and pretended to be them. And, just so you know, a few times I was nervous that character Kristen kinda scared me a bit. And I wasn't so sure sleeping in the same house with her was a good idea.  (You know I love you Kristen)

I'd so suggest you doing this to get to know your characters better. I feel I know the character I'm writing so well right now and the chapter that I'm working on shows it.

It's good to be back. Hope to start seeing everyone around again.