Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Million Words

Blue sky outside, perfect weather, so I'm keeping it short, folks.

I'm going to write about the painfully honest today -- what it takes to write a book. There is no magic fairy wand, no incantation, no gift of the Irish, no talent, no brilliant idea, no flash of genius -- writing springs out of practice. Reading thousands of books helps, but the biggest thing you have to do to write a salient manuscript is to press a minimum of a million words to many sheets of paper.

You can't run a marathon, climb a mountain, or sail around the world without some work, and you can't write a book without some work. That's why you keep hearing the advice to write every day. Most of those words are about learning how to write. If you have a writing dream, fan it this week. Toss on kindling. Throw on dedication. Make some tangible goals. Mix in some accountability. Stop dreaming and get on your yellow brick road. Press some words against paper.

My computer is on a slow boat back from China but good news for all of you who love the doodles : here is a doodle. I call it a "Scribble."

Today's playlist hit is "Mr. Blue Sky" from ELO. This song spun around my turntable soooo many times through junior high and high school.

Here is the quote of the week!
The conditions of conquest are always easy. We have but to toil awhile, endure awhile, believe always, and never turn back. Marcus Annaeus Seneca

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Creating a First Draft (Part 4)

Hi folks, this week will be short and sweet. I'm scoring the not-t0-be-named test this week, and the hours of reading are wearing me out.

With no further ado, I'm going to talk about fearlessness and feelings. Here's the bad news: There are no new stories. Here's the good news: You bring your originality to everything you create.

This week, I want you to really take risks with your first draft. That crazy idea that's hovering in the back of your brain. Pull it to the front and just do it. Put it on the paper. If you feel what you are doing is crazy...if you feel that you have taken a dive off the deep end...if you think this move is close to losing your "freaking" mind...yay!

Next, "Search your feelings, Luke." Find the path of least resistance as your write. Get into the stuff that is exciting. Here is the feeling that you need to seek: "I feel this is too easy. This work is easy-peasy. I can see this book like a movie in my head." It's counter-intuitive but our best writing is like slicing butter, it comes out smooth and spreads easy. If things are easy, you are on the right track.

Here is a task for you. Search for a picture of your main character. Wherever. Look on the Web. Search you drawers, your books, the library...find that picture. If you are an artist, draw it yourself. Keep the picture close at hand as you write. You will thank me.

Sorry, still no doodles. China is far away.

Well, this week's playlist is fab fab fab. Nickelback singing "If Today Were Your Last Day." This song is like the whole theme of this blog.

Quote for the week comes from our playlist hit:
Against the grain
Should be a way of life
What's worth the prize
Is always worth the fight
Chad Kroeger

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Novel Writing: Celebration, Revision, and First Drafts

Hey, folks, welcome!

I'm going to do triple duty this week. I'm going to CELEBRATE!, give some revision tips for the SUMMER REVISION SMACKDOWN with Holly Cupala and Jolie Stekly, and add something about First Drafts (Vijaya Bodach, I hope you are humming along.)

First up, a big shout out for my author friend Conrad Wessehoeft. Congrats to him and yay! for his fab agent Erin Murphy. Conrad and I have been in the same critique group for 11 years (yes), and this is a book you will will want to watch for. Persistence is everything, folks. Really.

Here's the announcement: World rights to Conrad Wesselhoeft's YA debut ADIOS, NIRVANA, about a teenaged poet-musician who survives the first anniversary of his twin brother's death with the help of a dying blind man, the best group of thicks a guy could have, a demanding school principal who wants him to play the "pussiest song in the world" at graduation, and one very special guitar, for publication in fall 2010, to Kate O'Sullivan at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children's, at auction.

Here is my wonderful group:

From left to right. Back row: Louise Spiegler, me, Conrad Wesselhoeft. Front row: Susan Greenway, Cathy Benson, Megan Bilder.
(Note: this is not my only wonderful group. I'm blessed beyond measure when it comes to the writing journey.)
Now for all the Smackdown folks. You never finish books. You only abandon them. I always feel like a worn-out, wrung-out dishrag when I'm finished with a revision draft.
As promised, here are some tips to handle flaw types.
Typos- It's a good idea to keep a list of your most likely typos so that you can keep an eye out for them.
Stuff that doesn't make sense: You are working too fast. Slow down and give yourself extra time to think as you move forward.
Deleted stuff: Never really delete anything. I keep an extra file called the dump. Any time I delete, that bit goes into the dump and occasionally I do go dumpster diving.
Stuff I've got to move is orange. I use symbols to make moves, like "o, p. 22" and on page 22 you will find the 'o'. That is the destination.
Stuff that is awkward or needs better wording is yellow. It's called a thesaurus, folks. Use it and often.
Stuff that I need to add to is green. If it is short, I just write the addition on the manuscript. If it is longer, I often keep some lined paper nearby and freehand a needed paragraph and staple it to the page.
I hope one of these tips helps you.
Now for the first drafters, what happens when you are stuck? Yes, sometimes a draft grinds to a halt. This is the most disheartening thing ever. I've found a few things that can help this. You can try rereading the manuscript from the beginning. Print it all out and don't take a pen. Just read. This can jump start you. Another thing to try is to skip ahead. Jump to a section where you are sure what to do and get to writing. Here's another thing to try. Pull out the Hero's Journey checklist and start marking off your story points. Is something missing? The last one is stick the manuscript in a drawer for a month. Let you unconscious mind work the problem out. It will sometimes. Hope this get you out of any miry patches.
This week's playlist hit: Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey singing "When You Believe". I hope it inspires you to keep going forward whatever stage you are at.

No doodles this week, hopefully my computer will come back someday and my tech stuff will be set right.
So here is your quote for the week. Have faith, folks.
Faith is like radar that sees through the fog. Corrie Ten Boom

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Summer Revision Smackdown

I'm interrupting first draft for revision this week. Let's join Cuppa Jolie from Jolie Stekly or Brimstone Soup by Holly Cupala and do a bit of revision.

Oh, my blog is so reflecting the writing life. If only writing would flow forward like a smooth river to the sea. For me, writing is a lock system on a canal. Think Panama, Suez, or my local favorite, the "Lake Washington Ship Canal." To move the boat forward you have to wait for water to fill compartments. It's a battle to a high place from a low place. You start at the sea of ideas and back track to the source, the eternal spring of highly original work.

The first draft is that sea of ideas. The canal back to your original work has certain steps. Here are some steps that I've learned to trust on my writing journey to my well-spring.

1. A rough draft must rest for at least one month before you start digging into it.
2. Read your novel from cover to cover and mark the major problems. Understand that you are going to journey by here again and again. Don't worry if you can't fix everything on your first pass. Open your soul to the current changes.
3. Try some chapters in a different person. Is there anything cool or interesting about that? Consider flipping the book if you are intrigued by what is happening.
4. Ask your book to speak to you. This may seem strange, but sometimes your book will speak to and it might have something very useful to say. I usually ask every day for a few weeks. And then one day, I wake up and it has things to say.
5. Always change the font when you make a new draft. This is going to help you read with fresh eyes. I also single space most drafts and sometimes I print them out paperback size because I want to see if it reads like a real book.
6. Try rewriting the end of your book. Just toss the last 5 chapters and give it another go. Does anything interesting happen?
7. Give those side characters some love. Often on first chapters I don't give the side characters any life or verve. I often draft for secondary characters and focus on who they are what they want.
8. Pull out the loose threads. Hey, we all wander. You need to cut out every chapter that doesn't really move your story forward. Lose the unnecessary characters too. Believe me your manuscript will thank me.
9. Go all crazy about the words. Yes, I do a draft that scrubs out any repetitive words, boring words, lazy words, awkward words. Make the language sing!
10. Print the manuscript out teeny-tiny. Put like 20 pages on each page. You can really get your mind around the pacing of your novel this way. Do you have an errant 20 page chapter that needs to be chopped in two? Are all your chapters the exact same length? Highlight the climax, the turning point, the call to action, the tent pole middle, the denouement, introduction of each character, the points of complexity, etc. Is this a well-crafted novel or a mess?

Well, that should keep you thinking for a few weeks. I wish you the best on your journey to a super-polished gem. I will be back next week with more first draft wisdom. I hope to see you here. I had a sign this week, and it has left me jazzed, more to come...

Here is a doodle from one of sketchbooks. I call it, "Fishing."

My playlist hit of the week is "Apples and Pairs" from Slow Club.

Last, the quote of the week:
When the world says, "Give up," hope whispers, "Try it one more time. ~Author Unknown.