Saturday, August 01, 2015

Publish: Optimism and other lessons

Hi folks, I am writing a summer long series. It's called Publish and is in conjunction with my TEENS Publish workshop at the Ringer Library in College Station, Texas. The tribe is almost finished with their masterworks. The title of our anthology is A New Generation: TEENS Publish 2015 Anthology. Our revision letters are in and our last meeting is over. It was hard to say goodbye.

I learned so many things over the eight weeks we met. The first thing was the power of optimism. Your dreams can come true, ask anyone in the tribe.  It's just that easy. If you dream a thing and seek it, you will find it.

I loved that the writing tribe faced every bit of the writing process with an upbeat attitude. They expected to find the story they were trying to carve out. Failure wasn't an option. Critique was just a way to do better. Take a lesson from the tribe.  Assume your story will float. How can you do this? Buoyancy comes from your upbeat spirit. Here the deal: if you are writing, a place for that writing will form. That's just the way the universe is put together. 

Another thing I've learned from the tribe is if you are not excited about the next amazing thing you are about to do, you have missed the creative boat. The mind is flexible. Let it bend the way it wants to. Not knowing the "rules" is a major big blessing. Don't worry about what has come before. Don't worry about the next big thing. Trust your big old imagination. It is going to surprise you again and again. Yes, it may sound crazy. Go there. The tribe reopened me to the possibilities. 

Finally, not understanding what to do is okay. Asking questions is okay. Not knowing where you are going is okay. Trying all kinds of things is okay. Creativity is about the willingness to make mistakes, lots of them. It's fine to be where you are on your journey. Be glad that you have a journey. Embrace it. You never know what your mistakes will teach you. The writing tribe embraced the mysterious, the unknown, the uncharted country. 

Personally, I feel I will never face a writing project the same. I have a blank page in front of me. Is there any greater writing magic than that?  I hope you have enjoyed the series. Usually in August, I dig deep into my soul and explores some of my burning questions. I hope you drop in for some of the fire in my bones. 


Here is my doodle:Tree




Finally a quote for your pocket.

Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence. Helen  Keller

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Publish: Revision is not sexy.

Hi folks, I am writing a summer long series. It's called Publish and is in conjunction with my TEENSPublish workshop at the Ringer Library in College Station, Texas. The tribe is working hard. The title of our anthology is A New Generation: TEENSPublish 2015 Anthology. We have moved into the last phase of our project: revision.

Yep, revision.  It's where you take your precious pages and hack at them with machete.  Fun. Fun. Fun. And NOT sexy. It's about "we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was. Better, stronger, faster." If you saw The Six Million Dollar Man back in the day you know what I'm talking about. 

So what is the blessed technology that will help you on this journey? The first technology is language. I bet you didn't even know written language was a technology. It is. So time to tighten up the writing. Yes, this is just like going to the gym every day and working a circuit. 

This circuit goes like this. Ditch the "to be" verbs. Rip out adjectives and choose stronger nouns. Toss the adverbs and choose stronger verbs. Look for repeats and remove the "peats". Stop feeling things and just cut to the chase. Find white space. Make it all pretty. By the way this activity is like building a spiderweb. takes a while. Not so interesting laying out each little strand, but when it is done, it is a masterpiece. 

Oh, you get double extra charged writing if you vary sentence lengths. 

Now a second technology.  Grammar. Yes, grammar is a thing and getting it will help you create stories that sing. Go to OWL. Try Grammarly. Grammar Girl. The Blue BookBuilding Great Sentences. Add in some AutoCrit. Don't wing this stuff. Grammar, you will thank me. I liken grammar improvement to beating the dust out of rugs with broom. Hard work but eventually it is all cool  Here is a secret. It's not about making everything "correct."

Revision is hard work. It's tedious at times. It's not fast. It does lead to what you meant to say. And that is everything,isn't it.

I will be back next week with more revision stuff. The last in this series!

Here is a doodle. My son Jesse at age 3.



A quote for your pocket:

Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar. E.B. White

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Publish: Revise the Big Picture

Hi folks, I am writing a summer long series. It's called Publish and is in conjunction with my TEENSPublish workshop at the Ringer Library in College Station, Texas. The tribe is working hard. The title of our anthology is A New Generation: TEENSPublish 2015 Anthology. We have moved into the next phase of our project: revision.

Revision starts with the big picture. I have written a rough draft. It's time to consider the big picture. I have written a terrible manuscript as it should be. This thing is worthy of being printed out and being used as a doorstop. That is all.  Now the work of revising begins. I squint my eyes and dive in. Why is my story boring? Does my story make sense? Does it have a beginning, middle, and end? I gotta fix that stuff.  This might take days. I will cut some of the boring bits.  I will rewrite some of the boring bits. I will add some bits so the story is less boring. I think I will buy a cupcake. Stress. Stress.

Cupcake is eaten, it is time to play my favorite game: Does this chapter really need to be a part of my book? I start out with assumption the chapter needs to be axed and then try to find 5 reasons that that shouldn't happen. Here are 5 sample reasons to keep a chapter.  The hero meets the villain. Check. The hero realizes he is just a sham and must find a way to change. Check. The hero hurts someone really close to him.  Check. The hero finds out a secret that changes everything.  Check. The hero snogs with a girl he never expected to snog with. Check. Gosh, I love this chapter. I am genius.

Here is the chapter I cut. The hero gets out of bed. (I didn't write that, did I?) The hero thinks about the scenery on the way to school for two pages. (I suck.) The hero does exactly what I expect him to do when he gets to school. (I really suck.)  The hero spends a long time at the water fountain and I don't know why. (Maybe I should take up a hobby like needlepoint.) The hero falls asleep at the end of the chapter. (Yikes. I mean Yikes!) Salvage not possible.

Some chapters are good. Some chapters are bad. Easy decisions. Many are in the middle. I put these on the organ donation pile or the fix later pile. Organ donation chapters are getting axed but there is some stuff in there I will use somewhere else. For example, one chapter was totally stupid, except for the part where the hero gets into that massive fight with his best friend. That I will keep. Organ donation, it's like recycling but better. Some chapters are not so bad but they do need tweaking. There is enough happening to keep them in the book, but it's not pretty. I will make them pretty later. These chapters go in the fix later pile. This revision is about the big picture.

I have just cut 10 chapters, and put 20 scenes on the organ donation pile, and have eaten another cupcake (they came two in a box). I will make a healthy smoothie now and think about going for a walk or watching endless Netflix episodes. Here is important news: PROCRASTINATION is part of the process.

Have fun revising the big picture.  I will be back next week with more on revision.   More fun ahead.

Here is a doodle.



And now a quote for your pocket. Praying we all unarm the truth and love unconditionally. 

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word. Martin Luther KIng

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Publish: Theme

Hi folks, I am writing a summer long series. It's called Publish and is in conjunction with my TEENSPublish workshop at the Ringer Library in College Station, Texas. The tribe is working hard. We had a committee meeting this week about the title of our book and here it is:  A New Generation: TEENSPublish 2015 Anthology. We also picked a trim size for our book.  Now on to the topic.

This week we dove into theme. I think some of this will relate to any creative life. We created word clouds through Wordle.net.  First we wrote a list of topics. These topics were used to create our cloud.  The word cloud image has to be posted somewhere and stared at on a regular basis as you create your work.  In other words, don't mess with theme while you are writing. Be aware of it but don't touch it.  You will end up on the road of didactic and moralistic.  Avoid at all cost.

We talked about how theme works.  You take a topic and then you say what the author is trying to say about that topic.  Here are two examples.  In Star Wars, a topic is destiny.  The road to destiny will show up when your pining for it, it won't be what you expected, it will rip you away from everything you have ever known, it will be harder than you ever dreamed, and it will be better than you ever expected. In Finding Nemo, a topic is fatherhood.  A father will go to the ends of the earth to save a beloved son; nothing will stand in his way.

Finally I mentioned some of my theme tricks. I drop quotes around to inspire me as I work on a book. I put them in junk drawers, tape them to the bottom of lamps, and tuck them between the pages of my favorite books, and when I stumble on them, I think about them. I also pick out a list of inspirational songs and play them before or while I am working. I also chose inspirational images and then stare at them when I get stuck.  These activities feed my theme. I don't know how and I don't want to know. The journey of writing a book is saying what you want to say and it something of a mystery, just like you.

I hope you enjoyed this little trip into theme.  I hope you never think about and create it anyway. Dig into your soul and you will share what your theme. I will be back next week with revision.

Here is doodle for you:
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A quote for your pocket. This is some inspiration for one of my books.

“The past is never dead. It's not even past.” William Faulkner.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Sprout Wings

Hi folks, I struggled with this blog. So many pressures from every side. Writing is not in a vacuum. It is in the real world, and this world is full of troubles, big and small.  I began to think about an idea I have always held this weekend.  If you fall in a pit, get up on the side closest to where you to want go, crawl out, and keep on going. A new idea came to me. 

Why don’t you just sprout wings and fly away?

How? I mean sprouting wings would be a pretty big miracle and this is the age of information and reason. We don’t live in a world that is NOT clinging to the mysterious. I wondered about the idea of sprouting wings. It felt very evolutionary to me.  You know, life adapts, and a lifetime of crawling out of pits made me long for something more. An evolutionary step seemed better than the same old reaction to stupidity.

Perhaps this is the heart of what makes us human -- three dimensional thinking. Your stories will pop if you think about making your characters evolve.  We tend to the ordinary, consider the extraordinary.  I think the best writers don’t wrap it all up. They deal in imagery and theme.  The unseen world is how they live their days.  Writing is to akin to dreaming, except you are awake. Our dreams can be chaotic and meaningless, but they can also help us make sense of the chaotic meaningless world.  Those words you are putting on the page, you are bringing light into darkness.  Keep going!

Finally, I considered my idea of sprouting wings. There is nothing new under the sun. An old scripture whispered within me: They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They shall soar on wings like the eagles. It is strange how the words of the Prophet Isaiah from around 720  BCE  resonate within me today. I love writers. They are thinking ahead. They are reaching to the ages ahead.  They see into the murky darkness of the future and they see you.

As you write, think about shining into the darkness of the future. You have the potential to transform the world. 

I will be back next week with more of TEENSPublish. I hope that you keep writing. Someone needs those stories. 

A sneak peek at an illustration for my soon to be indie published picture book: CHICKENS DON'T TAKE OVER HALLOWEEN!


Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint 

Isaiah 40; 28-31.   Write this on your heart, folks.