Storytelling and Writing/ Repetition and Revision

Last week I had the privilege to spend a few days with my grandkids, one-month-old twins and a three-year-old. I’d taken my laptop along to write in my spare time–there’s always so much to be working on–but oh, hahahaha, I found that the only spare time was when I slept. (I really don’t know how young mothers find time to write. Really.)

Last January, I’d tell my smart-as-a-whip three-year-old Nursery Rhymes. If she liked it she’d say, “Again.” By the fourth time through, the kid was reciting the rhyme with me. This last visit, because there was often a babe in my arms, I told her folk tales instead.

Once when I asked if she wanted to hear about the Three Little Pigs, she said, “NO!” So I turned to her baby brother in my arms and asked him if he wanted to hear the story. He stared at me, flailing his arms and kicking, anxious for me to get on with it. I told the boy the story of the pigs with his older sister kneeling beside me on the couch, facing me, but not saying a word. It became one of her two favorite “tell it again” stories this visit. Interestingly enough (but not really), I found that each time I told it, I tweeked it a bit, I stumbled over my wording less, until it was storytelling perfection, until at last my telling had come to a point where there wasn’t a word I wanted to change. The three-year-old and I would do a Reader’s Theatre (without us reading, of course), and switch roles of who said the lines of the Big Bad Wolf and who spoke the lines of the Three Little Pigs. I was always the narrator.

Naturally, most of what I do, even if not writing, I can relate back to writing. The retelling over and over of the Three Little Pigs until there wasn’t any word to change reminded me of revisions of my own tales. Every time I read something I’ve written, there’s always some phrase I can rewrite better, always unnecessary words I can cut out, always points where I can add more feeeeeelings.

My writing challenge to you: Keep rewriting until there isn’t a single word you would want to change.

Art and Art Lessons Learned — Watercoloring and Writing

Last night I attended a watercoloring demo with Ken Dey at the Battle Creek Art Center. I’ve taken watercolor classes before, but this style of demo was new to my experience. (And thank you, all my illustrator friends, for your cheers and encouragement at my untalented-but-willing painting-for-fun efforts.)

I do like to dabble with both sketches and paints, but I’ve never felt I was very good. That said, I know from my writing experience the more practice and more I study about the craft, the better I become. But any craft takes time to learn in order to get it…acceptable for others’ eyes. Time is a huge factor in pursuits. At least for me.

With most of my adult life focused on writing (v.s. illustrating), it wasn’t much of a surprise to find my mind last night translating what Ken was teaching into writing. So here are the things I parallel-learned from last night’s demo:

1)  Study and practice your craft under someone who is more experienced than you, someone who also answers even the most basic questions. (For writers, these can be conferences, workshops, webinars, writing craft book clubs, etc.)

2) Good equipment and materials make the act of doing your craft more seamless. (For illustrators, a workspace, paper, paint, and brushes; for writers, a workspace, working computer (or paper and pen), related computer programs.)

3) Have a plan. (Illustrators–sketches; Writers–theme, plot outline, and character sheets)

4) Start with general placement. (Watercolorers–wet on wet, section by section; Writers–rough draft, or what I call Raw Writing, loosely following the Three Act plan until your story is “done.”)

5) Take time to let it set. (Painters–wait till the next day, or use a hair dryer; Writers–time is your hairdryer. There’s no rushing the set time for us. Put your story aside a few days or months and come back to it with fresh eyes.)

6) Go back to fill in details. (For artists this would mean tree branches, grass blades, shadows, removing gumm, etc. For writers this is what we call “revisions,” like making clearer motivations for each action, working on language to make your words count, making sure your readers can use their five senses which you’ve planted in your scenes, etc.)

7) Say thank you to your friend who invited you to the demo (or whatever), and make sure to invite others to things you care about as well. (It’s a lot about connections and networking, people.)

Throwing Away Your Loved Ones

Last fall I got poison ivy…again. I was put on steroids…again. Today I looked over my 2014 writing goals and started thinking about my 2015 ones. (Can these two thoughts possibly have anything in common, or have anything at all to do with throwing away your loved ones? Yes, indeed.)

Steroids gives me a perk. This past fall I started digging through some boxes buried in an unused room. One box had notes and papers from writers conferences I’d attended, some nearly twenty years old. I loved attending each and every one. The faces of dear old writer friends popped into my head. The laughter from those times rang faintly in my ear. There was the excellent food and simply a break from the day-to-day life reality. I loved those times and those people–many of whom I am still in contact with. I was glad for the remembering, but I didn’t need a box of outdated files. That large box of past conferences narrowed down to one small file on writing craft gleaned from all those conferences. The rest of those loved ones, which I’d clung to for decades, I threw away.

I do the same with my writing, but never while on steroids! I appreciate the umph the medicine gives me to do things I know I should but don’t necessarily want to do. But when I revise or even rewrite, deciding if an entire chapter or even a character must be thrown away is not a decision I trust while on meds.

Even though I accomplished most of my 2014 writing goals, they were rather chatty. Thing is, even when writing a simple thing like a list of goals, I find myself stockpiling and hording words. Who am I to think that my words are that important that anyone wants to read so many of them, even me? So for 2015, I decided to throw away extra words. Even though it’s not 2015 yet, I’ll stop here.

 

What is Writing – Publishing Success?

A writing friend recently called me successful. Her comment gave me pause. What is writing and/or publishing success?

I see author success in steps.

Step one: Write a good book. This involves taking classes, reading books on craft, attending conferences, webinars, workshops, joining critique groups – all to improve your writing. Every year you should be a better writer than the year before. If you’ve got a well-written story, you are successful.

Step two: Submit to and have agents and editors give you positive feedback about your work, even if they reject you as client or for a manuscript. When your story makes it through the initial reader, through the editor, through the editorial group, and to the acquisitions group, this all indicates that people in the publishing industry verify that you have been successful with step one. If traditionally accepted, follow that route, and I’d strongly recommend it.

If wanting to pursue self-pub, follow the next steps.

Step three: Partner with an awesome cover illustrator. Sales rank has proven that fresh covers make a difference even when there is no text change. You can judge a book by its cover. Traditional presses can pay $1,000 – $5,000 for a single cover illustration. That’s out of my price range. But if you know an illustrator whose work you admire, negotiate for a reasonable fee. Never accept an offer for a free cover. There could be legal and relational repercussions in the future. Finding a good illustrator match is success.

Step four: Learn how to self-publish. There are entire books on this subject. I could list a few hundred tips here, but it would be like a flood gate opening. Read as much as you can about how to self-publish. If this is the route for you, then do it. Having an ebook, or holding a physical copy of your book in your hands with your name on the cover, this, too is success.

Step five: Book sales indicate success. If only friends and relatives are buying your books, your success is limited to who you know. To me, when one stranger buys my book or does a review, this is success. To sell books, learn about marketing and promotion. Again, many books on this subject. Read. Read. Read. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Repeat what works and embrace your failures. I spent $92 on gas alone for a far-away book signing and sold a mere three copies of my book during the signing. I didn’t get paid for those books, not until, according to their contract, all their inventory of my books had sold, which they never did because they went out of business and donated my other 17 copies someplace. I can only hope that “someplace” wasn’t the dump. What is marketing success to me? Marketing success is when I sell books.

Step six: Write another book. If you make millions of dollars from your first and only book, good for you, but that’s not truly literary success. Being able to be creative enough to write more and more good stories – this is success.

Step seven: Having the strength and endurance to repeat these steps with each book, and to convince your friends and family that you really do have a job which takes up your time – this is success.

 

(Success to the successful thistle sifter.)

Your Writing Process – Revisions and/or Rewrites

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This morning I stared of out my work window at leaves sparkling in the sunshine in a light breeze. Then reality struck as I realized these are last fall’s brown oak leaves, clutching onto branches overhanging snow mounds, not-not-not giving way until the new leaves force them off next month. It made me think of my present WIP.

The story has been done for months. Then, as it sat while I was involved in other projects, I began to see ways to improve WIP Story, even wanting to delete it all and begin from page one on a blank screen.

This morning, it struck me that the old dried brown oak leaf represented my WIP Story. Then I went out and took a picture of the shivering old things. Realizing no one could see the shivering in a still photo (although I’ve inserted the shot), I took a video and panned up the tree. In my mindset, I was horrified to see ALL my WIPs fluttering before me. At least hundreds of my old ideas. Thousands.

Oh, spring, come quickly! I welcome fresh green ideas and stories.

(P.S. My original intent of this post was to ask what’s YOUR writing process – if you revise as you write, if you do multiple revisions, or if you go back to the beginning and rewrite?)

Reason # 6 for Self-Publishing — Acceptance in the Literary Community

Reason # 6 I have for deciding to self-publish is that there is more acceptance in the literary community today for self-publishing v.s. even two years ago. This change may have come about by best-selling authors stretching out their publishing muscles and self-publishing. Although I do know some best-selling authors who seriously need an editor (e.g., an editor friend informed me when her author decided to publish without her input and how bad it was written without her).

Then there are still the horrid writers and topics at which I cringe with self-published books, or have no story in their stories. But that is them. I am me. I strive to be the best author I can be, constantly learning and growing and changing and becoming better each year. Will you find errors or typos in my books. Absolutely not… well, maybe. But without a copy editor, I’m working on there being nothing which needs to be changed for my story to be a good story.

Would I go with a traditional editor/publisher? In a heartbeat. Well, in a heartbeat after making sure we are good fits for each other. I certainly would not jump at the first editor who mentioned the C word (contract), and know it would take another 2-4 years before I’d see the book in print. But to have my stories combed through by someone who does that for a living, yes, that would be lovely. It would be awesome to focus merely on writing and revisions instead of the other twelve jobs associated with self-publishing.

In the meantime, I’m thankful for the growing acceptance in the literary community for well-written self-published books.

How an Author Spends Editorial Time

A friend sent me a goofy picture with a confused look and asked if this is how authors feel about editorial time. I looked at it and thought: 1) I don’t feel confused, but rather, challenged. I pace in order to figure out difficult plot or character situations; and 2) Half of my editorial time is spent cleaning the house, doing yard work and laundry, reading and responding to emails and FaceBook posts. The other half of my editorial time is spent in no-blinking computer screen reading and re-reading and rewriting and revising until my legs go numb and my back feels like it’s had a rod stuck in it for days. Oh, and there’s the print-out version time when I think I’m ready for a final look-through, and end up putting editorial marks and revised words on each page until they’re nearly unreadable.

Maybe it’s not such a good idea for an author to work at home. Not this one, anyway. But since I find other locations very distracting, it’s the best I’ve got.

Lesson Plan for Organizing Your Plot Arch with a Plot Board

While working on a whole-novel revision this past week, I found I had a lot more organizing to do than when I started. I’d thought I was much farther along in the process. Even glancing over the whole, I realized my panster-vomited scenes and chapters, although with an okay beginning and an excellent ending and lots of good stuff in the middle, didn’t really have a flow or sensible plot arch. The story seemed nearly episodic, although I knew each scene was written for a reason. I’d previous cut out other chapters and scenes which were irrelevant to the overall plot, and knew there were places I needed to deeply revise, like changing the okay beginning to a can’t-wait-to-find-out-what-happens-next beginning. But for this part of revising, I needed to feel the overall flow worked.

In the back of my brain, I remembered something Friend Rose did with rearranging scenes. (Thanks, Rose.) If I remember right, she had post-it notes by chapters and scenes over her wall, and rearranged them as she thought of their logical placement. This she did with five children and all their friends running through the house. (Bless you, Rose.) So I adapted her idea into a lesson plan for organizing my middle grade plot arch on one sheet of paper. The former teacher in me continues to reign.

Materials Needed:

A first draft of a “completed” novel (digital or paper); List of main and minor plot threads; Table of Contents for your story; blank sheet of paper; pen; a second pen in case the first one runs out of ink; and thirty to fifty 1/2″ by 2″ post-it notes of yellow, green and blue. (The number of post-it notes needed will vary with each story.)

procedure:

1) Set aside your draft and list of plot threads to only use as references.

2) Lay your blank sheet of paper landscape way (or as they’d say in elementary schools, the hot dog way).

3) Write your title on the very top of your paper.

4) About 4/5 of the way down draw a line across the page. Beneath this line and writing from the left to the right, put your chronological times (e.g., if your story covers five months, write the five months across the page; if your story covers a few weeks, write the number of weeks). This is your Plot-working Board.

5) Turn small post-it’s sideways (hot-dog way) with sticky bottom on the left side down).

6) On the green post-its, write the settings or weather patterns found throughout in the story. Scatter beneath the chronological line in appropriate order in your story.

7) On the blue post-its, write each chapter title. Place titles in appropriate locations above each chronological indication.

8) On the yellow post-its, describe each scene in three or so words (e.g., Dylan tricks Kilee abt ride;  Shader confronts Mi Lin; Mom dies, etc.), and place beneath each chapter.

9) Cross your arms, sit back, stare at your pieced-together story. Are the plot threads sprinkled throughout? Should some scenes be switched? Do you see blanks in your plot? Are there Goals, Conflicts, and Disaster in each scene; and Reaction, dilemma, and Decision in each sequel?

10) During the next week, play with and rearrange your Plot Board. You may find you add new scenes to write, or crumble and throw away others. Keep rearranging until your plot makes the most sense possible.

11) Go back to your whole novel and update your Table of Contents, and reorder your scenes in your manuscript, and write any new ones.

12) Print out and do a quick read of the entire story, playing attention to plot arch and flow. If you’re satisfied, get others’ opinions (critique groups), revise again. Repeat  as often as necessary.

December 2011 Writing Challenge

Literature Blogs

My NaNoWriMo Skeleton — after deleting junk and moving things like backstory, character interviews, etc. to other files — is sadly in need of carbs. Some scenes I thought I’d written were no more than scene plots. (Picture a “Home Alone” palms to face slap.) Then, this morning, after not thinking or writing on it for three whole days, a couple more scenes came to mind: carb scenes.

I usually do word-count challenges here, but after NaNoWriMo, I’m ready for a change. My writing goal for this month is to spend ten hours each week for the rest of December working on my WIP from WriMo: 40 hours of writing or revising to the end of the month. Simple, right? (Good thing the web cam isn’t on, or you’d see me chewing down my nails. Finding time for me to write in December is like trying to milk rocks. Sigh.) So…? Any takers?

How Do You Revise?

 Literature Blogs

An interesting question popped up on Miss Snark’s blog today: (basically) How do you revise? Do you revise right away or let it sit?

It got me thinking…

I revise in various ways:

1)sometimes as I’m writing the rough draft (a very slow writing method);

2) the following day, while reading over the previous few paragraphs or chapter to get a running start on new words;

3) when I’m finished with the entire rough draft for consistencies of voice, etc;

4) after going through comments from a few beta readers or critique group; and

5) right before I click “send” for an agent/editor submission. If it’s rejected, the story can sit years before I look at it again, then — BAM — it’s like I’m my own beta reader.

So? What about you? (Or are you like a best-selling author I know who says, “Only revise when your editor tells you to”?)