Tag Archives: Writing Process

I’m here to Break Rules and Chew Bubblegum

And I’m all out of bubblegum.

We’ve all been there. In fact we’ve done it all our lives. “No, mom, I can’t do my homework until I clean my room.” “Honey, there’s no way I can do the taxes until all these dishes are done.” “There is no way I can go out and save Gotham with this spot on my cape.” We’ve all be there.

Dun Dun Da-oops. I hate laundry day.

Dun Dun Da-oops. I hate laundry day.

That point where the mess we’ve been living in, no matter how small or great, suddenly become unbearable and we must remedy this situation NOW. Usually at that exact moment when something even more important comes along.

This phenomenon of distracted productivity has led to some of the best and most effective outcomes of my life. That guilty pleasure of breaking the rules of what I should be doing now with the rationalized justification of “but I’m doing something that just HAS to be done” mixes together to create a beautiful synergy. Without which we would never have the clean rooms our mothers loved so much.

Or the clean manuscripts. Yep you knew I was going to make this about writing somehow. In writing people are always setting up great lists of how to write and create the perfect manuscript. I read these and try to take the great advice to heart. One of the biggest and most often quoted of these tips of writing is don’t break your momentum. Save your editing and revising for where it belongs, after your first draft is completed. The concept is that the more we put on the brakes to read and re-read what we’ve already written in an attempt to make it perfect the first time around, the less likely we are to finish it. We get bogged down in the first fifty pages doing them over and over and thus lose motivation and momentum to ever finish the last fifty. Every stop, every backtrack makes every restart that much slower and harder to accomplish.

And I believe in this tip. I use it and even teach it to my students in class. I put up a big picture of the Nike swoop and tell them “Just do it.” Just write and get the draft out without censorship or revising. Don’t break the momentum and writing become a lot easier.

Then we come to the rule breaking part. This last month I’ve been working on book 2, The Scions of Wrath, of the American Scion series. I have my beautiful research and outline to work from. I’m set and ready to just push through this manuscript. I’m even really excited because there’s so much happening in this book the readers can really sink their teeth into. But the first thirty pages were really bugging me. They came out far longer than I intended. They were pushing the inciting event way too late in the book. And as I kept sitting down to write the inciting event scene, one of the most important in any book, I would stare at the screen and worry and fret over those overly long first thirty pages. It was distracting to the point of debilitating.

And then I remembered cleaning my room before doing homework. It was a sneaky little trick to put off the inevitable, but it worked and in the end I had a clean room and completed homework. So yesterday I sat down and revised the first thirty pages making them much more concise and punchy. And it worked. I not only feel better about where they are but also feel great about writing the next scene and getting this bad boy rolling into hell, for my characters at least.

So there it is. I’m a teacher of rules and methods, and I’ve gone a broke a big one. And it felt great. As writers we need to listen to the rules and tips and trick to know not only when to follow them to make a great book, but also when to break them to make it all come together.

Image courtesy of  Jeroen van Oostrom at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Wife, Mother…Writer?

Yep, I’m all three. On a good day, the three meld into this gorgeous dance of inspiration and productivity. On a bad day, they crash into a glass of wine.

Here's to a more sane tomorrow or the apocalypse, either ends the hell that was today.

Here’s to a more sane tomorrow or the apocalypse, either ends the hell that was today.

Many friends and colleagues have asked me how I manage all three, and I wish there was some great sage wisdom I could impart to enlighten the masses and stamp on a tee-shirt. So far, the best I’ve got is “Hold on, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.” I make it work by sheer force of will and an unhealthy dose of insomnia. But that doesn’t get things done. To get things done, I’ve had to utilize some very unsexy skills like extreme time management and using my wait time. These two plans have given me far more writing time than I could otherwise get. Adding the fact that my husband J.P. Sloan is also a worker by day and writer by night, we have double trouble with time management allowing us time to write. We both have to schedule time to write, usually right after our 7 year old goes to bed around 8-8:30. It is even how I’m writing this blog post right now. Scheduling a “working writing time” not only makes sure we can get it done without trying to hit the “I’m too tired button” in our lives, but also helps train our brains that during this time our writing brain needs to be active. I’d heard that from authors before, but didn’t really believe it until I started using it. Our brains feel like they actively switch to a different mode and the words flow much easier. But that only gives an hour or so a day; far from the time needed to be a real writer on a large scale.

So in my busy wife, mother, teacher life, my writing time also has to use that under-utilized section of everyone’s schedule called “wait time”. Wait times are those points in our day when we know we can’t travel to do anything else and we know we are just going to have to sit there and do nothing. This could be in-between two meetings or classes. Or my personal favorite, the doctor/dentist office. As we all know, when we go to the doctor they always see us immediately. NOT. We have to wait and wait, often for much longer than we would like. Usually the only options during this wait time is to watch their interoffice TV, stare at the cracks in the wall or read three year old magazines, again. But we know this time is coming. If we plan for it we can use it to get stuff done and thus free up time for later. So, when I look at my schedule and realize there’s some wait time in my day, I make sure my book stuff is with me and bang out a word count. Now I’m less frustrated with the wait and have time to spend with my family later and not feel guilty.

But guilt and family time are two big obstacles in the busy writing momma’s life. I need to make sure my son is feeling loved and supported. I need to be there for his events and celebrate and grow with him. I am not willing to sacrifice my son and family to my writing, not very PC and Woman’s lib, but there it is. But I’m also finding a balance and a pride from my writing as well. Especially as I watch my son. My guilt has eased as I watch him take more and more interest in writing and writing well from watching his father and I work. He is only in second grade but has already won two writing contests for his age group and school. For his martial arts belt tests he has to write an essay at each level and each time his is singled out for praise. He sees our dedication and love of writing, and instead of resenting it, he wants to work on his writing as well. He is already hoping to be published one day and working to that end.

And that came from balancing being a wife, mother and writer. It is not only my manuscripts that benefit from my dedication, but my son as well. Keeping this going takes a lot of effort, but each smile and success keeps me going and keeps the fight worth it.

So no great sage advice here. Just a reminder that we influence those little ones. It is not just about giving or taking time, but also showing them when actions are worth more. For them we walk the tight rope every day. If we show them cord, they may just decide to walk it with us.

If you want to read from other authors on balancing parenthood and writing, find them on Sharon Bayliss’s Blog Hop below.

1.

Sharon Bayliss

2.

Balancing Act

3.

James Wymore

4.

Amy Bearce, On the Journey Blog

5.

Clare Dugmore Writes

6.

Missy Shelton Belote, Author

7.

J. P. Sloan’s Fistful of Fiction

8.

Black Cat Blog

9.

Jessika Fleck, Writer

10.

Courtney Sloan’s Dark Draftings

11.

Julie Coulter Bellon

12.

Katie’s Stories

13.

Kids, Writing, and Why I Quit Sleeping

14.

Eliza Tilton

15.

Andrea Berthot, YA Author

16.

Kate Foster, Writer

17.

The Unspeakable Horror of the Literary Life

18.

Kimberly Ito – Author of Fiction

19.

Kristen Terrette, Smiling in the Chaos

20.

Kimber Leigh Wheaton

21.

Vicki Keire Writes

22.

Jennifer Tressen

23.

Live, Love, Laugh

24.

Christine Rains

25.

Shelli Proffitt Howells – A*Musings

26.

Alex Taylor – Author

27.

Treefall Writing


Spring has Sprung and other Clichés on Revising

Yes, it’s that time of year when the temperature is getting warmer, the ground is opening up with colorful treasures to entice the birds and the bees, and the internet is full of posts about the springing of spring making it a metaphor for everything from child-rearing to motocross. Spring cleaning, spring love, spring forward, spring break: almost everything we associate with spring is positive and growing. Harriet Ann Jacobs but it beautifully when she said “The beautiful spring came; and when Nature resumes her loveliness, the human soul is apt to revive also. Many religions tie spiritual and natural growth together making spring the optimal time to create and begin new adventures.

Hence the onslaught of posts.

But there’s a reason it works. I fought and fought the urge to do this post, but the spring bug has won. And for once in my life it is because of the things growing out of the ground. I’ve never been a big plant person. If you wanted your plants to die, just bring them to me. My mother and sisters have been great at plants. Beautiful gardens hand done and planned by each of them. I had trouble with my cactus.

And then came moving to the semi-country and visiting the farms for produce and berries. I got excited learning how to use these new plants and creating jams from the fresh berries. Then last year we decided we could do some of that. Plants with a purpose I could get. So we composted and put in our bed with tomatoes and cucumbers and peppers, and I waited for them to die. But they didn’t. Working at them, they grew bigger than I imagined. We had enough that I could can for use during the winter. We decided to take out a bed, so we could plant fruit trees. I had never transplanted flowers before, but I tried. I put them in other beds hoping I wasn’t the gruesome executioner of the springtime beauty.

Jump to this spring, and after this winter decided to finally pull back its death grip on our area, the first of our garden poked out its head. And wouldn’t you know it, those transplanted flowers woke up and blossomed beautifully. So, now we are adding two new beds and three blueberry bushes and a pollinator garden. Even our apple trees already have blossoms. Who knew I could be a plant person?

It's alive! ALIVE!

It’s alive! ALIVE!

The whole spring metaphor thing seemed like less of a cliché and more of a truth. Okay, let’s be honest; it’s still a cliché, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.

This spring timing worked in my favor. My editor, the wonderful and talented Vicki Leigh, sent back my manuscript for OF SCIONS AND MEN for my first round edits and revisions. I got to spend time taking this piece that I already had spent so much time on and make it stronger and better. It was exhilarating. Nurturing something into a beautiful success. I have to admit, I am one of those crazy people who loves revising.

A recent metaphor, non-spring related, I’ve heard recently for revising is that drafting is just putting sand in the book; revising is making the sandcastle. That’s true. Revising is where you take your original idea and shape it to be the true reflection of your soul. There are only so many story ideas in the world, but no matter how many people writes “boy-meets-girl” no one will ever write it just like you. Revising is where you make that piece of your soul shine. Just like building a sandcastle.

Just like you make small seeds become a delicious jam.

As the late and great Robin Williams said, “Spring is Nature’s way of saying ‘Let’s party’.”


Plotting Pantzer

“Cheat your landlord if you can and must, but do not try to shortchange the Muse.” -William S. Burroughs

This idea from Mr. Burroughs has been my creed in writing for a long time. Let the Muse be my guide. I had every faith she’d lead me to words and ideas needed to turn a single “what if” thought into a three dimensional world someone could eat, sleep and love in. This path of letting fate and my muse guide me to the best story possible sometimes classified me as a “Pantzer” in the writer’s world.

See, writers like to classify themselves into two categories, and like the Dr. Seuss story about the war over which way bread should be buttered, these classifications are the root of many great debates, perhaps even more so than the current war over the oxford comma. Many writers are how I described above. These “Pantzers”, so named for the way they write by the “seat of their pants”, claim that plans limit writing and the characters. Many also feel that the planning rarely stays constant from beginning to end, so why waste time on it?

Their points are vehemently countered by the opposite faction, the Plotters. These writers use programs and notes and charts to plan out their book from beginning to end. There are many choices of charts to follow. From the old reliable of Campbell’s Monomyth/Hero’s Journey to the 3 Act structure to the Working W to the 4 Act Progression, which is right to write, and which will ease the path of the young writer. Programs like Scrivener versus the ol’ word processor give different options to think through every nuance of the story and characters. It is also a great way to make sure continuity stays consistent and characters don’t change eye color from one scene to the next. An adage states to write well the two stages of writing someone should spend the most time in are prewriting/planning and revising. Plotters exemplify this to a T.

In my history, I’m the rebel neither group really likes. The Plotting Pantzer. I would plan the major plot turns and characters, then run with it. Normally, turns would change and the characters would lead me to new, most times better, places, I’d never considered before. It was a wild ride every time.

But now, as I am working on book two of the American Scions series, THE SCIONS OF WRATH, I have wadded through new waters.

Plotting, we got your plotting right here.

Plotting, we got your plotting right here.

Yes, dear friends, you are looking at a fully formed W plot structure for my next book. It goes through not just the major plot A, but also the B subplot. There may or may not be some romance (in the most twisted way possible) for our dear Rowan. And adding to the excitement, that is my series Bible there, full of character sheets, histories, emotion tells, maps, secrets, etc.

So, this is me voyaging over into the realm of organization and I feel excited to see it all there like that. I’ll report back on the success of this new approach, but for now Geronimo!


Writing in a Bubble

Teaching college level composition and other writing and communication classes I’ve begun to notice a disturbing trend. It’s been there all along, silently driving down people’s ability and desire to write. This stalking predator of words has driven students, young and old alike, into great terrified frenzies of self-doubt over the concept of putting their ideas to paper to share with the world. It drives classrooms to uncomfortable silences filled with the unmistakable desire of fight or flight.

This destroyer of creativity: writing in a bubble.

Image

As it was just recently put to me by a student, the idea is a student can either sit down and write a good paper by themselves the first time, or they are a bad writer. This student shared with me how the idea of a professional writer having to edit and edit their work was so, well, novel.

See, I had recently shared with my class one of my writing projects, a query letter. I showed them my first attempt; they read it and liked it. Then I showed them all my mark ups. They were amazed; there was more red than white on my paper, and I was okay with that. I showed them my next draft and its mark ups. And the next. And the next. Until I finally showed them my strengthened and concise letter. We then discussed the advantages of the last version to the first one they all liked in the beginning.

This made more of an impression than I had even intended. To see their teacher writing and re-writing, and talking to others, and getting feedback, and using the writing process I was teaching them was new. They thought from their high school days and earlier, that if you had to rewrite your work, obviously you were not a good writer and should be relegated to the dunce chair. Thus they were devastated every time they got marks back.

https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/a4/Museum_of_Lincolnshire_Life%2C_Lincoln%2C_England_-_DSCF1724.JPG/256px-Museum_of_Lincolnshire_Life%2C_Lincoln%2C_England_-_DSCF1724.JPG

So, I’ve changed how I talk about this.

Even more than before, I’m stressing how “real writers” don’t need to write in a bubble. They have people look at their work, read their work, give them feedback, and they rewrite not because they aren’t good, but because they know it can be better. And don’t we all just want to show the world our best work as the reflection of the creativity of our soul.

I bring in examples of not only things that can help them and encourage them to work with and talk to one another about their writing (for some reason they thought that was cheating!), but I also show them how the writing world has been set up to do this. Now the classroom is a alive with conversation and sharing.

Perhaps this is one big difference that has been happening lately in the publishing world. With the now big five and even mid to large level publishers, the safety net of not writing in a bubble is built in. There are a slew of people to go over the work, edit it, market it, help with art, give feedback on everything, and protect you on a multitude of legal and creative fronts. But in self-publishing, you have to seek out and create this net, or chance it with writing in a bubble. This is not impossible, but it does take more work. I’ve seen even recent movers and shakers like Curiosity Quills, Spencer Hill and Angry Robot Books taking up arms to protect their authors while making their works even stronger for the commercial world, a feat thought impossible before for those not of the Big 5 ™.

In the end, no matter where we are writing, class, online, publishing, we need to remind ourselves that perfection is not about having to do everything right the first time, or even the seventh, but to end up with the best work we can using the resources around us. We are a writing community, and in the spirit of community, we need to realize, that sometimes it takes a village to raise a book.

Images courtesy of graur razvan ionut / FreeDigitalPhotos.net and Green Lane /CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 via Wikimedia Commons