Tag Archives: Writing

A recap and a flash forward

In the beginning of September, I challenged myself to try to write at least something every day. And while I didn’t get to every day (some days were just too busy, other days I just didn’t feel up to it), I feel like I made some real progress in training myself to be more consistent. Consistency is the only way I’ll ever end up with a finished product.

I’ve made some progress in my editing–which has been challenging, because in recent weeks I’ve made it quite the task for myself with a massive rewrite of the second half of the story. But even as I’ve been working through it, slowly, it’s been very fun to uncover still more hidden pieces and hidden sides of my characters.

And while it’s felt like a massive undertaking, I do believe there is an end in sight. One or two more good days, dedicated time, I might even be ready to take it from the top once more. And that’s a pretty exciting thought.

Looking ahead to the rest of the month of October (crazy, isn’t it?!) I’ve got two things to accomplish. First, of course, is completing this rewrite. Second is prepping for NaNoWriMo in November. I’ve already got the seed of the story, if you will. So this month needs to be all about cultivating it.

The basic principle is an old building/castle directly beneath a wormhole or something that will transport a person to a different time (perhaps alternate universe?). The main character is searching for someone, a childhood best friend or crush and ends up somewhere unexpected.

Obviously I’ve got a lot of work to do, story line to develop. If you really want to know, the basis of this came from a dream I had (and that a while ago). What I remember most clearly was the longing for the person missing, and the frantic searching. So, those are the themes I’m focusing on. I’ve got a month to work out everything else. And, as I’m learning in this editing stage, I’m not likely to get it all right the first time, and that’s OK. Things will develop in the editing. As long as I’ve go the bare bones to work with, I’ll be all right.

So, here’s to October, a new month and new beginnings. I’ve got two objectives, and I think I’ve got the motivation to see them through.

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To keep on keeping on

I’m more than halfway through the month, and my resolve to write every day is being sorely tested. There have been days that I’m tired and don’t want to do even the littlest bit more work. There have been days that feel like cop outs, where I’ve done the tiniest bit I can. But I’ve stuck with it so far. And I can see where my project is going.

After realizing last week how much additional stuff I could work in, and after writing a couple scenes, I realized the whole second half of my book was going to need some rearranging. So, I took one day (ok, I took a 15-minute break at work) and I plotted out barebones how the second half of the story needs to look. And in so doing, learned some new details about a problem character (turns out he’s a lawyer. It’s good, I didn’t really know what he was before, but it makes sense now). And learning these details allowed me to, perhaps, finally solve the most problematic thread in my story, while at the same time possibly rendering that it completely moot anyway.

I’m not working on this project every day. And sometimes it feels like I’ve barely made progress, despite the brainstorming. But I’m letting the details mingle in my mind, getting a feel for this new timeline. And in my time off next week, I’m really going to sit down and make some solid progress, instead of keeping my nose stuck in a book (I’ve got book reviews written through the month of October, I think I can take a couple days off…)

In the mean time, I’ll count any step forward as a victory.

Stepping Back and Moving Forward

As we all know, the last couple weeks I’ve taken a hiatus from my project because I felt maybe I’d reached the point of needing a critic, and I haven’t found anyone to do the job/haven’t emailed it to the family member(s) I feel would be objective about it. But this week, I decided to give it another read through, after having allowed it to be on the back burner, just to see if anything new jumped out at me. And boy did it.

I think taking a break from a project while editing is a good thing. It allows you to put some distance between you as the writer and you as the editor. It allows some of the unwritten details to fade from your mind a little, which means when you come back to it, you’re more in tune to areas that may need more explaining or developing. I ran into that while rereading the portion where Mason meets with the people claiming to be his parents.

From the moment he meets them, everything happens so fast (don’t worry, I won’t spoil the ending). The psychological turmoil I want him to experience seems a little far fetched. It hasn’t been nearly long enough for him to start questioning what’s real and what isn’t. So I realized that I need to allow the timeline to stretch out just a little.

But in stretching the timeline, I now need to ask myself, does everything else make sense. The reporter who is looking into his story, does her behavior make sense? What would she be doing, or what would she be reporting? If everything happens within two or three days, maybe it’s OK, but if I spread it over a week, something would obviously have to be different. I’ve also come back around to those stupid medical records that seemed to crucial in the beginning, but now seem to be nothing but plot holes and problems. So I have to ask myself, what are the ramifications of getting rid of them all together? Do I lose anything, other than a couple thousand words?

Finally, when I revisited this whole section of the story and started correcting inconsistencies (it may make sense for people who believe someone is their child to pass up on a DNA test, but if the now-grown child is uncertain, wouldn’t he ask for one, or wouldn’t they decide to do one to put his mind at ease?), I realized I needed someone on the inside, which showed me a little more depth to a supporting character. His loyalties aren’t what we’d assumed them to be.

So, now that I’ve looked through it again, I see several areas I can start working on, again. And more than that, I see pretty clearly where things need to go, which can be half the battle when editing. It’s easy to make something that doesn’t feel right, but harder to know what you need to do to make it work. Some distance can give you a fresh perspective.

So now I’ve been challenging myself to write just one scene a day, plodding along at making the necessary changes that make this story, or at least its characters, believable.

New month, new challenges

The great thing about a fresh month is being able to press the restart button on personal challenges. Turning your goals off and back on, with a new determination and none of the overwhelming discouragement.

I’ve started the month off by doing something creative each day, focused on writing. Whether it’s a writing exercise, reading through some of my book to edit, or just writing a poem or something, my goal for this month is to do something each day. I’ve even got a silver Sharpie so I can put a check mark on each day I’m successful.

Part of me is antsy to return to some other project and start writing or even editing. Another part wants to start planning and plotting for my novel in November. And maybe I’ll start some of that, but for now, I’m taking small bites. I’ve got a couple research pieces to finish up. I’ve got more than half a book of writing prompts I could go through, most of which take maybe 15 minutes of my day. And if I push myself to commit to that, 15 minutes will eventually become an hour, or more, and I’ll be well on my way to… something. I’m still not sure what my end goal is for any of this. It’ll take a lot more research, a lot of soul searching, and a lot more time and energy. But first, the habit. They say if you do something consistently for 30 days it becomes a habit, so I guess I’ll give that a try.

Seeking: Critics who won’t be too mean or too nice

It’s exciting to see all the pieces fall into place when you’re working on a project.

At long last, this week I finished another read through of my story. I know, I know, I’m really bad at this consistency thing. But I’ve done it now, and I can see how much better is is now, and how many problematic pieces have been fixed by discovering new ideas hidden within what I already had.

So now it’s time, truly time, to step into the next phase of editing, where I pass it on to someone for critique. I know it’s time because I read through it and didn’t find any new things to highlight with a note that says, “this is awful.” When you stop finding things to correct in your work, it’s time to get another set of eyes on it.

It’s both exciting and a little scary to be at this phase. The hardest part for me has always been letting other people read my work. I’m afraid they’ll fall into one of two camps–either starry eyed fans like my dear husband, who thinks it’s all golden (I like to believe he’s seeing the potential within the trash), of they’ll read it and give me a list of things to change not because they are wrong or bad, but because that person would have written it a different way.

Having spent a reasonable amount of time editing people’s work myself, the one rule I always kept for myself was not to change something in order to change the author’s voice or style. If I thought there was a better way to phrase something, I might tell them, but leave the choice up to them. The fact that I would say “comprises” instead of “is made up of” is not a valid editorial decision, unless we’re trimming words.

All that to say, it’s scary to trust your writing to someone else, because it’s a part of you. You’ve put your heart and soul into it. And it doesn’t take a lot of work for someone to crush that creative spirit. Sure, most of us will probably rebound, but it’s hard to drag yourself up and dust yourself off and try again, same as with anything. But when it’s something you’ve created, sometimes it feels a little different. And it takes a special kind of brave to keep doing it, in the face of discouragement.

So, here’s to a special kind of bravery, and hoping I’ve got enough of it when someone tells me my story is trash.

Writing is hard

The title says it all.

I think we’re done here.

But seriously, writing is hard. For me, the initial drafting is usually the easy part. Especially if I’ve done some planning and outlining, the writing flows pretty well. Or so it always seemed. But as I’m continuing my way through my writing exercises, it’s bringing up so many additional things that I’m conscious of, but not quite sure I’m being purposeful about.

For example, one of the exercises was titled “Hemmingway’s Iceberg,” a prompt where you write a detailed character description, then try to convey information about the character in short sentences, showing instead of telling. That’s usually one thing I’m pretty keyed in to when it comes to my writing, and something I usually catch when I’m editing. But following the advice of everyone for writing is overwhelming. Should I outline my whole entire story in immense detail? Should I write detailed character sketches for everyone? Or just main characters?

I’ve always been a little bit more of the “fly by the seat of your pants” kind of writer. I’ve adapted some, and in my last few projects I have done moderately detailed outlines, which has truly helped in the process. But I’m afraid of getting so bogged down in the planning that, when the times comes, writing the story has lost the joy of creation and discovery, which is what has always drawn me to writing in the first place.

So what’s the answer? For me, it’s just doing my own thing. If I’m having a hard time with dialogue or my character doesn’t feel real, I’ll take it as a sign that I need to do a sketch and compare words and actions with who my character is. If I’m stuck with writers block, I know I need to sit down and map out where I’m at and where my story needs to be.

Best practices aren’t for everyone. Writing is a very personal endeavor, and as such, what works for me won’t necessarily work for you. But, writing is also about having various tools to use when you need them. And with that in mind, it’s good to know some of those best practices, and have a plan in place for when you might need them.

 

So, after all that blah, blah, blah,  I’ll share a personal bit of writing, from the last exercise I didn’t do a few weeks back, the one on getting inspiration from the art world. It took me a little bit of time, but once I thought of it, it just flowed. Maybe you can guess what painting inspired it.

Sometimes, the most beautiful things emerge from individual strokes of chaos.

In a painting, a million wild strokes swirl to form a starry night. The swirls lead your eye across the piece, drawing you into nostalgia, remembering your favorite starry nights.

But when you’re down in the trenches,where the swirls become a maze of canyon walls, you don’t always see the beautiful, just the chaos.

I was in the trenches, to say the least. I was 24 years old, married, living independently, making my own appointments, and utterly overwhelmed by anxiety and stalled dreams.

It wasn’t that I hated my job, I worked hard, but the constant human interaction was draining. It was more that… I was more. I had a degree, I had career goals and dreams, and as the years ticked by and graduation faded, it was hard to believe someone would hire me with barely any experience, so long after school.

And my personal dreams–don’t even get me started. I loved writing, but I was lazy and didn’t always like to edit. I didn’t have any left over energy for another full-time job. All my other hobbies I essentially gave up when I moved. So if my life wasn’t intended to be what I wanted, what was it to be?

I wonder if painters ever feel this way, like their just throwing strokes onto canvas and waiting to see what emerges–art birthed from chaos.

But then, isn’t that what life is all about? Finding beauty in our own personal chaos. To keep painting until the picture emerges, and we can see what we’ve made.

“If at first you don’t succeed…”

There’s a couple ways to end that saying. My favorite is “fry, fry a hen.” But, when it comes to writing, frying chicken isn’t nearly as useful as trying again, and that’s what editing is all about.

In my last post I went on and on about how I was going to go through my story and look at the dialogue to make sure my characters use authentic voices. Well, I didn’t get very far into my story, on account of being lazy and actually having time to spend with my husband this week. I got about a quarter of the way through my story though, and I think I can confidently say, all my people may sound the same, but they sure don’t sound stiff and fake (and believe me, after the book I just read [I feel obligated to state that I’m ahead in my book reviewing, so the book I’m referencing is not Steph Davis’ book, the review of which you’ll see on Friday], I’m quite keyed in to stiff dialogue).

What I did accomplish this week was yet another revision of my first chapter. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if the first chapter isn’t golden, no one will keep reading. Here’s what I started with:

“First, that scientific achievements and breakthroughs were the only thing worth pursuing. Every person, upon graduating high school, was expected to step into the professional world and begin working on something great. The rate of stepping depended on how smart the student was, but society dictated that anyone older than 27 who wasn’t doing something to make the world a better place wasn’t worth the time and effort. Such a person could only expect to do the manual labor the great minds thought were beneath them.”

Obviously, that wasn’t my whole beginning chapter, but the chapter was only one page long, so that was probably a third of it. And it sucked. So I made myself try to show instead of tell, and here’s what I ended with:

““You’ve got to be thinking now about what you’ll do with your life,” his father would tell him. “After high school, you’ve only got a few years before you reach 27, the age of expectation. But each year between 18 and 27 that you spend on anything other than your chosen focus is a waste. It will only hurt your chances of really making a big contribution.”

In third grade, Mason still wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, and his parents were getting anxious.

“If you don’t start now, you’ll end up doing manual labor with the rest of the lower class people who aren’t smart enough to do anything else,” his father said. “We aren’t raising you to do that kind of worthless work.”

A week later, when they found out Mason was playing with the janitor’s son at school, Mason realized it wasn’t just the work his parents thought was worthless, but the people as well.

“But he’s my friend, why can’t I play with him at school?”

“Some people are better than others, son. It’s important to know where you fit in the social hierarchy. Upward movement comes in small steps for most people. Some people never move up. And if you are friends with those people, you’ll only move down.”

“But, dad—”

“No, Mason. My word is final, you’re not to associate with that boy anymore. If I find out you’ve so much as made eye contact with him, I’ll give you a hiding you won’t forget.”

Mason grew up, struggled with school and graduated with average marks, to his parents’ chagrin. Ad year upon year passed after graduation, Mason’s relationship with his parents grew more and more strained. His parents, successful scientists in their own rights, were ashamed of him, anxious for him to prove himself or disappear—with neither option being necessarily preferable.

Yet as his 25 birthday came and went, Mason saw his future stretching before him in a bleak stroke. With little chance at a significant scientific job, Mason’s only hope was to find some menial task and hope the project leader would allow him to work the job as a career, letting Mason save face and avoid a lifelong career as a janitor or garbage man. Mason never fully bought in to the idea that janitors and garbage men were somehow lesser people, but he wasn’t chomping at the bit to join their ranks, either.”

It might seem obvious that showing is better than telling, and we all know that it is, but still we fall into the trap of getting words down on paper and dealing with the rest later. And some portions end up needing a lot more dealing with than others. I’m sure this won’t be the last time I rewrite my first chapter. I’m still not 100 percent sold on it. But I’ll keep trying until I get it right.

Also, I expect that soon I’ll have to hunt for someone to do some critiquing for me, and that will, hopefully, open the door to whole new levels of editing that I haven’t even noticed yet.