Archive | January, 2010

Prolific Blogger Award

31 Jan

After a relaxing (read: lazy) Sunday spent in the cozy comfort of my living room reading Jen Lancaster’s Bright Lights, Big Ass; after selecting a celebrity photo for doppelganger week on Facebook¹; after watching The Matrix (for the first time ever) — I checked my blog and found the sweetest little thing waiting for me!

Laura Best, author of Bitter, Sweet, is one of the first blog-friends I met when I started this blog way back when.  She’s always über-encouraging, and it’s been amazing to watch her go from revising her almost-published novel to someone who does book signings and receives free hot chocolate from fans.  Anyway, she received a Prolific Blogger Award and has passed it on to me, along with six other awesome bloggers (including three blogs I frequent — Jennifer Neri, Linda Cassidy Lewis, and NewToWritingGirl).  Thank you for your sweet words, Laura!  This was a fun surprise.

Soooo…you guys know what that means, right? 

I love surprises, especially when I get to be the one doing the surprising.  Part of the Prolific Blogger Award means the recipient gets to pass it on.  I really like the idea of this, because I love being a little match-maker; it’s fun introducing friends who may not know each other.  So — make your little Owl and Sparrow friend happy, and check out the blogs mentioned earlier, as well as the ones I list here.  Hopefully, they’ll be as inspiring to you as they are to me.

In no particular order, here are the seven recipients I’ve chosen:

Melissa @ Blame the Weatherman 

Megs Payne @ Scattered Bits

Merrilee Faber @ Not Enough Words

J. C. Hart 

Cynthia Newberry Martin

Christine Fonseca

Alexis Grant

And…with that, I will now be retreating back to reading Jen Lancaster, protecting my water glass from Dexter the Kitty (who seems to think drinking my water while getting his head stuck is a consistently fine idea), and wondering what the heck is going to happen on the season premier of Lost this Tuesday night.  If, somehow, you happen to know?  Do not spoil it for me because  I WILL jump through this computer and go all Smoke Monster (circa the episode where it destroys Keamy and his posse of freighter-bullies) on you.

Oh, yeah, and if you’re a recipient of the award, read footnote #3.

¹Evangeline Lilly from Lost, in case you’re curious.²

²Wishful thinking.

³Prolific Blogger Award Rules | ONE: Every winner is expected to pass on this award to at least seven other deserving prolific bloggers. | TWO: Each Prolific Blogger is asked to link to the blog from which he/she has received this award. | THREE: Every Prolific Blogger is asked to link back to this post, which explains the origins of the award. | FOUR: Every Prolific Blogger is asked to visit the post listed in rule #3 and add his/her name to the “Mr. Linky” at the bottom.

Tea Stains and Deadlines

27 Jan

So: if you are reading this post, it means that the people who live in the apartment directly above my head have not, in fact, managed to fall through my roof/their floor.  For the past, oh, I don’t know — hour, perhaps? — there have been knocking noises of varying intensity and speed, intermittently sprinkled with heavy thuds and galumph-galumph-galumphs that make me fear for my ceiling, myself, and my cats.

Obviously, this is just the best environment ever for reading and editing a novel!  I’m about two galumphs away from relocating to a much happier place (i.e. Starbucks).  Speaking of that happier place, I haven’t had coffee in over a week, since before my unfortunate date with feeling horrible.  I know, right?  Weird for me, the Latte Queen.  Side note: I’ve replaced lattes, temporarily, with tea.  I used to think my coffee mugs were just special, magical sorts of coffee mugs, impervious to those annoying little brown rings that appear and don’t like to come off.  Now that I’m tea-ing instead of coffee-ing, I’m discovering that this is most certainly not the case.  My sweet ceramic vessels are merely ordinary, vulnerable, non-super-powered mugs, susceptible to vile, stubborn stains.

(Seriously, what are those people doing above me?)

Project: Edit is coming along well enough, though not as speedily as I had hoped.  When I set my deadline for Phase One, I allotted two weeks, thinking, “Wow — This is a big challenge!  I love big challenges.  I can do this, but I’ll have to work really stinkin’ hard.”  Unfortunately, I am (like the coffee mugs) susceptible to falling short of my own expectations, especially when random sickness strikes.  If I had to give myself an arbitrary number that reflects my productivity level this week, I’d say I’ve been at a 6.2 on the scale of 1 to 10.  Friday will be here soon, and I’m only (almost) a third of the way through the draft.  

Therefore, I’m officially going to tweak the deadline by a week.  If I can up my productivity level to at least an 8 (more like a 9.4)(what does that even mean?), I can most likely finish Phase One by Friday, the 5th of February.

Wow.  Just as I’m about to leave for Starbucks, the banging overhead has finally stopped.  Our ceiling is still in tact, and Mr. Cat is curled up on an electric blanket, safe and sound (and snoring).

Happy writing to you all!

Revision Update, Phase One | 104 pages down, 231 to go | 30.9% finished!

On Being All There, in Editing and in Writing

23 Jan

The clouds are low and purple-gray this morning, which for years has always been my favorite kind of day (improved upon only by hours and hours of heavy, lightning-free rain)(and a novel, a hot beverage, and sleeping cats).  It’s the perfect kind of Saturday morning to think about some of the lessons Project: Edit has taught me, so far, in my three days of reading/note-making/color-coding.

Things are going well, despite my mid-week setback.  I’m sixty-eight pages in (not far enough to be on schedule, but far enough to be making good progress), and my spiral notebook is bursting with thoughts and observations on what’s good, what’s not, and how things could work better.

One major thing that has occurred to me over and over again throughout the week is, as you can tell from the title of this post, the importance of being all there when you write, and also when you edit.

Though I haven’t gotten to read the last third of the book yet, the feeling I got while writing it still feels fresh in my head.  Whenever I wrote the last third, I’d sit down, put pen to paper, and dig in deep.  No, really: deeeeeep.  I’d dig in to my senses, my emotions; I’d close my eyes; I’d imagine myself being the characters, being in the situation, feeling what they feel and reacting like they would react.  Then, I wrote.  

I have a feeling that when I get to the scenes I wrote with that kind of passion, I’ll know it.

Right now?  It’s not that I wasn’t trying to get into the writing — it’s that I was thinking too much, trying too hard.  The story is there, and it’s unfolding, and there is feeling; it’s just that it’s all going by too fast.  In my attempts to be clear, to be spare and direct in my prose, with precisely the right words, I’ve quickened the pace so much that place and emotion and story are flying by faster than they should.  It’s a skeleton.  It’s choppy.  

Some of this, I think, can be blamed on how some scenes feel like they take longer when you write them, because you spend so much time figuring out the right way to write them.  Then, after hemming and hawing over it, you end up with a three-sentence paragraph that doesn’t set the scene at all, and abrupt transitions that could use a little more explanation.  

Plus, it’s easier to see the problem when it’s in tangible black and white; things look different on the printed page than they do on the screen.  Without seeing it from this perspective, I wasn’t aware of the problem, so I didn’t consciously try to fix it.

Though those may be valid contributors, I think the real issue is what I mentioned before: I wasn’t diving in with passion, every single time, ready to feel and think and work.  It is work.  Ideally, we could all feel ready to feel, every single time we sit down to write, but life happens, distractions happen, and these things take effort.  It’s not easy to put forth that kind of effort, every single time you sit down to write.  It’s tiring, and much easier to write the bare bones and tell yourself you’ll make it better later

Even in edits, I’m finding that I have the tendency to want to trust myself to just remember what I want to change about a scene, and how.  To counter this — because, logically, after 336 pages of just remembering, I (being human) will most likely not remember everything I want to — I’m disciplining myself to take complete notes, full of thoughts and ideas and, most importantly, specifics.  To write why I do/don’t like something, rather than just writing this is crap with my pretty red pen.

Later isn’t such a friendly word to me; it leaves me with lazy, lackluster writing, rather than something with passion and creative nuance and specific sensory details.  

I’m encouraged by what I’ve noticed this week, even though I’ve got some work to do to fix it.  There’s great potential with skeleton writing, but it’s the sort of potential a coloring book has before it’s filled in with crayons.  It’s not beautiful yet, but at least there’s structure, a clear picture.  And, I’m pleased to say, at the moment there are no erratic scribblings of neon green and burnt umber to ruin it.  That’s always a plus.

Have a great weekend, everyone!  May your days be rainy (unless you hate rain, in which case I mean, um, sunny), your coloring books be unscribbled, and your work be full of passion.

Revision Update, Phase One | 68 pages down, 268 to go | 20% finished

¹What I’m not saying (at least, not for the first/second draft): spend years on one tiny scene, make it perfect, then move on.  That = a recipe for never finishing.  What I am saying: give it your all whenever you sit down to write.  It probably won’t be perfect, but it definitely won’t be lazy.

Thwarted

22 Jan

Something awful put me out of commission for two days, thwarting my plans for all things edit-related (and even, somewhat, all things plain-old-fiction-reading- and reality-TV-watching-related).  I’m feeling a bit better this morning, so I’m going to try this again.

So.

Here’s hoping that after two days of absolutely justified rest, my mind is actually ready to dive back in — because I so want to keep reading, keep analyzing, keep making colorful notes.  I still hope to meet my self-imposed deadline (one week from today), but it was a bit ambitious to begin with.  Now that I’ve lost two working days, the deadline might need to get pushed back just a bit.  I’ll make that decision next week, though, and only if I have to.

And now, with my paper Starbucks cup filled, not with a latte, but with still-steaming Earl Grey tea, I toast: here’s to diligent work, to diligent rest, and to the ability to decide when to do which one.

Revision Update, Phase One | 40 pages down, 296 to go

PS: You can check out all the updates for Project: Edit, and other projects, on the “Challenges!” page in the sidebar out to the right.

The Plan: Phase One

19 Jan

Project: Edit is officially underway, and my manuscript is starting to bleed.

That’s a good thing, of course.

So, what does this editing actually look like?  It’s one thing to say, “I read through twenty-five pages and made notes,” but another thing entirely to say how I’m doing that, or what I’m looking for along the way.  

My second draft was a total re-write of the first, so in Phase One of Project: Edit, I’m reading through to, well, see if the changes worked.  That’s still too broad, though.  Here’s what I’m looking for, and how I’m doing it.

What I’m looking for:

  • As I read the novel in its entirety, make note of how the pacing feels, if there are any dangling threads, any continuity issues as far as the plot and subplots go.
  • Scene check: are all of my scenes actually scenes?¹
  • Read with an eye for suspense: are any scenes dragging?
  • Are any scenes or subplots or characters unnecessary?
  • Are action, emotion, and theme woven imperceptibly and effectively?
  • As far as story goes, is there too much of it?  Too little?
  • Have I been intriguing without being confusing?  Or, are things too obvious?
  • Make notes on what to improve.
  • Make a general, very broad outline, along the way. (I’ve made outlines before, but since I strayed from them I want an organized account of the scenes I actually wrote).

 

How I’m doing it:

  •  With a blue spiral notebook and an artillery of colored pens, I’m reading it page by page.  I’m not reading particularly fast, nor am I reading as slow as a snail.
  • With red pens, mark the actual manuscript in places that sound weird, vague, boring, interesting, funny — anything that requires a “Look at this — this is what I’m talking about when I say ____.”
  • With a normal blue pen, in the spiral notebook, write any and every thought I have pertaining to story, character, things that need tweaking/re-thinking, and things I like.  I keep the list above in mind as I read, and make notes accordingly.
  • With my colored pens (orange, fuchsia, lime, teal, purple, forest green), I’ve created a little color-coding system.  I’ll circle or underline my spiral-notebook notes when I come to things that need more vivid or sensual description (orange), things that pertain to theme/things that need to be focused on more but are currently buried in clutter (fuchsia), scenes that need to be re-envisioned in order to work better (a purple “Re-E” written to the side), actions I need to take, such as look for every time ___ is mentioned to make sure it’s not too much (teal), loose ends (forest green)…things like that.  The color-coding is so I can easily point out what needs to change, and how, when it’s time to actually go through and make the changes.
  • I’m putting all of these notes under sub-headings (Chapter 1:Scene 1), giving them titles (“The Bridge”), and listing the pages of the manuscript on which they appear (p. 1-4).
  • In the last section of this three-subject spiral, I’m keeping a running list of these things (Ch1:Sc1 – “The Bridge” p.1-4) and writing a brief description of what happens — or what is supposed to be the focus and is not happening — below it.
  • If a scene is not working or needs to be re-done in order to work, I make a note in red about what, specifically, I’m thinking needs to change about it and marking it with the purple “Re-E.”

 

So, that’s my plan for Phase One, which I’ve scheduled to last from yesterday (18 January) until a week from Friday (29 January).  I’m going to push hard to get through all 336 pages at a steady pace, setting myself up nicely for Phase Two (which is where I’ll start to make sense of, and begin to implement, the changes that need to happen, from large to small).

Anyway.

That’s the plan, we’ll see if it works.

And now, enough talk about this.  It’s time to dive in and knock out some more scenes!

Revision Update, Phase One | 25 pages down, 311 to go

¹Taken from Holly Lisle’s One-Pass Revision Method,a scene: “has a start and a finish, characters and dialogue, engages at least one and sometimes all five senses, has conflict and change.”

Project: Edit

18 Jan

The day has (finally) come: time to start reading through my second draft.  I couldn’t be more excited!  Now, I’m not going to refer to today as “Day One,” because my husband hates it — says it’s overused and inaccurate, sort of like the way people toss literally and ironic around haphazardly.  For example, before the final showdown on any given reality show (such as, of course, my favorite: Survivor) the final few start to reminisce about how they’ve been in it to win it since Day One, or in an alliance with so-and-so since Day One, or suffering through typhoons and enduring the eager parasites since Day One.  Very few of them actually mean Day One itself.

So!  Even though today is actually Day One of edits, I shall refrain from (officially) labeling it as such.  

Um.  Anyway.

Latte?  Check.  A fresh set of red pens ready to bleed on my pages?  Check.  Easy access to this and this (by Natalie Whipple and Holly Lisle) ready to go?  Check.  Cute new outfit from J. Crew that makes me feel like the writer/editor that I am?  Check!  A plan?  Check.

Perhaps now is a good time to mention that this plan of which I speak is going to get tested out for the first time starting this morning; therefore, it may get tweaked/trashed/overhauled along the way in favor of something better.  

What won’t change?  The end goal: to make this project an exciting, well-written novel; to inspire and entertain those who read it; to write characters who reach through the page to connect with the reader on an emotional level.  To not only write a novel, but to write an excellent novel.

It’s been so hard to take a break for this long, but I’m a) glad I did, and b) glad to get back to work.  Today’s task: start to read the thing, from front to back, checking to make sure my scenes are scenes and that the story is as interesting, fun, cohesive, and suspenseful as I hope it is.  (Preparing myself to read with objective eyes, in 3…2…1…)

I know at least a few of you are working on your own edits — how is that going?  What has worked well for you along the way?  This is also a question for those of you who, even though you might not be editing right this minute, have done it before.  I’d love to hear what worked well from those of you already on the other side of edits.  (Side note: as I write this, I remember Jennifer Neri wrote a post about this type of thing recently, too — you can find it here!)

I’d love to stay and chat, but well, there’s a two-inch stack of pages just itching to be sliced up with my pens.  

PS: In the sidebar, I added a new(ish) page called “Challenges!”  This is a place where I’ve started an organized, easy-to-access list of my writing process, and the various challenges I’ve set for myself/others along the way (Oktoberzest and Diligent December, for example).  I’ll be keeping it current as I progress through Project: Edit.

Scissors

13 Jan

I am afraid of scissors.

Not just any scissors, though — only the kind of scissors found in the hand of an insecure, inexperienced hairdresser who pretends he knows how to cut curly hair until two hours later, when he comes back crying with an instructor over the mess he’s obviously made.

Those kind of scissors, you know?

I also get irked when instructors pretend they know what they’re doing, too, and refuse to admit that the mane of frizzy non-curls and the shelf-like excuse for layers looks like crap.  And when, in response to my “Areyoukiddingmethislooksabsolutelyterrible!” gasp, they (yes, they, as in two separate supposedly competent instructors) advise me to “Just go wash it yourself and see if it looks okay, then come back and we’ll fix it.”

I expected more from you, Toni & Guy Academy in Carrollton, Texas.

Maybe I should back up a little bit.  I’ve been to this place twice before and received stellar service, which is a big deal because I’ve had some major Hair Trauma in my life¹.  So, I decided to return even though the guy who did my hair those two times moved on to a real salon — I figured that asking for someone who has a lot of experience with curls, combined with the instructors roaming the floor helping out their students, would land me at least something presentable.

I was wrong.

My stylist hardly spoke to me for two hours² and when he did, he mumbled.  He asked me how to style my hair (and then proceeded to not take my advice).  He cut it haphazardly, and not completely, and hair kept falling out of his fingers when he pulled it out to cut it.  Five minutes in, my hair was already starting to dry.  With curls?  Not a good look.  There was no hair product on it at all, and all the tiny curls began to expand.  And expand.  And expand.

I gave him the benefit of the doubt until he began to style it.  He brings out an on-its-deathbed bottle of styling cream, and when I say, “That looks almost empty,” he looks at it and goes, “Huh.”   Then he squirts a pea-sized amount³ and proceeds to mess with the same (already dry) section of hair for the next thirty minutes.  (For visual assistance here, you should know that the rest of my hair was twisted and clipped above my forehead, like a frizzed out mane of horsehair.)

I start to get angry at about the time he pulls out his blow-dryer and asks, “So, do you normally just do a power blow on it?”  When I say, “I have no idea what that means,” he asks if I use the blow-dryer sans attachments.  Okay, I haven’t had many hair cuts in the past decade, but I know one thing: you don’t blow-dry curly hair without a diffuser attachment.  You just don’t.  I mention the diffuser, and he responds with a confident, “Uh…I think I have one of those here somewhere…?”

Long story not-so-short, he steps away and finally asks for help.  The instructor comes over, unclips my horsehair-like mane, and foofs it just a bit.  I couldn’t believe it — this was how an instructor decides to fix the mess?  It looked like an asymmetrical frizzed-out helmet of hair, a two-inch mane of ugly bordering my face and neck; the back was a two-tiered wall, with the one layer I saw looking more like a shelf than a layer, about an inch higher (and straight across) than the longest part of my hair.

I’m not exaggerating.

After communicating my frustrations to a different instructor (to no avail), I headed for the closest real Toni & Guy.  

I walked in the door.  Everyone laughed.  I cannot tell you how relieving it was to have a salon full of hairdressers laughing at my hair: finally, finally, some validation for how awful it was, some “What happened to you?” sort of empathy.  Oh yeah, and a salon full of people who knew exactly how to fix it.

Forty-five minutes later (and about as many dollars), Lupe finished with me.  He far surpassed my directive of “Fix this any way you want to, just help me not want to hide in the bathroom forever.”  It’s sassy, semi-short, and looks pretty (as opposed to crap).  Score for Lupe: return customer for life!

My favorite part of my post-traumatic-shock conversation, as Lupe transformed me from zombie nightmare into a hair model: “Just imagine,” he says, after I tell him about the novel I’m writing, “If you had a book signing today, and you had to go to it with hair like you came in with!”  I know, Lupe, I know.

(Inner Drama Queen = indulged.) (Thanks.)

¹Incident #1: Two weeks before high school graduation, year 2000.  Hair was thinned out on the bottom so much that I looked like a mushroom head with Medusa snakes slithering out from the bottom.  It took about two years to grow out (two years of college).  This scared and scarred me, and I did not get another hair cut until last summer. (Yes, in 2009.  Yes, I went almost the entire decade without scissors touching my hair.  Surprisingly, it didn’t look that bad.)  Incident #2: In 2002, I was on a mission trip with my church, and we were building a front porch; silly me, I forgot to tie my hair back that day, and accidentally ended up getting a large chunk in the front caught in a thick drill.  It ripped out.  I never saw any fashion magazines setting trends for my look, incidentally. (When it grew back, it started as a strange sprig of hair that stuck straight up in miniature-unicorn-horn-like fashion.)

²Have I mentioned yet that it took two hours?  Two hours.  For something that made me want to lock myself in a bathroom.

³I typically use about two full pumps (i.e. about ten times the size of one pea) or else my hair will frizz out.  I also have to do this when it’s wet, or else it won’t make any difference at all.

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