The Writer’s Journey – Baby Steps

The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler is a terrific craft book for writers on characters and plot. My own Writer’s Journey is made up of more mundane baby steps.

I am presently in revision mode. It’s not that I’ve finished this third book in the series yet, which is what (finishing your rough draft) is highly recommended, but it’s been a while since I’ve worked on it.

So I reread what I wrote. Then I naturally revise or rewrite what I wrote. This process takes me about an hour per chapter, and were I to go back over it for another look, I’d still find ways to improve the writing. I’m certain I could revise much faster if I were going through it one point at a time, e.g., finding any missed passive voices, or reading through for plot inconsistencies only. But I need to finish the entire story first.

So today’s baby step in writing is revising chapter by chapter until the words start to blur.

I force a few real life steps at the conclusion of each chapter – stretch those ole legs every hour, rip out a few weeds while I walk around the yard, grab a fresh cup of tea, then dive back in.

I want to scream, “UGH! This is so hard!” But my tea’s ready, so I must return.

Baby steps. One step at a time. One chapter or scene at a time.

Simple Writing Rules

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Rule #1: Writing is not simple.

Rule #2: Write; Finish what you write; Revise; Have it critiqued; Revise a few more times; Let it sit.

Rule #3: Read. Read. Read — read EVERYTHING you can get your hands on: books in your field/genre; NF research; books for pleasure; books so out of whack from your own writing genre that it would make your fellow writers blink to see you reading them; etc., etc..

Rule #4: Take another look at your story; Revise again.

Rule #5: Research agents and/or editors; submit it.

Rule #6:  Start writing another story.

Rule #7: Go out and play. (More grown-up authors might rephrase that to “Go out and live.”)

Well?

Pre-writing, Raw Writing, Revisions

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I’m working on a new story, started a couple months ago. It takes up a lot of my thought time. I’m rather anti-social right now, even when it comes to posting on my writing blog. It’s as though all these other things in life are merely interfering with what I am passionate about, and what I can’t stop thinking about. I’ve done pre-writing, outlining, know where the story is going. I’ve done some raw writing — love doing this rambling, care-free part of writing. And, because I have been submitting chapters to my critique group, I have also had to work on revisions. Sometimes I find that all three of these writing stages (pre-writing, raw writing, and revisions) go on interchangeably, like a wild writing dance. I just hang on to my partner (the story line); sometimes I lead, and sometimes the manuscript leads.

So now I’m at about 35,000 words, with some chapters merely book-marked with a paragraph telling what goes on there. If I were a more disciplined writer, or a writer without a critique group to hold me accountable each month, I think I’d write out the entire story in one shot. But then, perhaps I’m not that disciplined writer. So I pre-write, raw-write, then revise and re-write until the story is finished. Dry to talk about, but exciting to do. Off to write.

Poor Ole Secondary Characters

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As I was writing on my story this week, suddenly one of the secondary characters died.

Wait one minute! That wasn’t in the outline! Who was typing when that happened?

But then I thought to myself: total twist in the plot element. Cool. So I’m keeping him dead, poor guy. I just must take some think-time now to rework a few things, well, like the rest of the story, basically. Still, very cool.

Before this, I have intentionally gotten rid of characters, even main characters who didn’t serve any purpose except to give company to the main character. A parrot would have been more interesting. For me, taking out one of the major players was simply boring revision junk, to get rid of any sign the person existed.

Writing Challenge: Is each one of your characters essential to the plot? To the MC? Might a couple of them be combined, and still accomplish the same thing?

Poor ole secondary characters. Every last one of mine are now shaking in their paper boots.

Time, Priorities and Discipline for Writers

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I missed the last day of the WriteOnCon. Out of town. Out of internet availability. I have had nearly a week to catch up. I listened to some of the talks, but now that I have them just sitting there, waiting for me, I have allowed myself to get distracted by other things in my life – big things, like cleaning turtles from our very own river oil spill, to the more mundane, like mowing the lawn, doing laundry, or meal prep. Each of those things are important in their own rights. (Oh, yeah. I forgot to mention making and canning the salsa today before the tomatoes overripe.)

Discipline and priorities involve decisions in our every-day lives. We only have twenty-four hours in a day, and we do need to eat and sleep and get a bit of exercise; besides that, most people need day jobs in order to eat and sleep with a roof overhead.

How serious are you when it comes to writing? Are raw writing (first drek-drafts), or revising, or learning more about the craft and the market, priorities for you? Or do you say you’ll get to it “someday soon, as soon as xx is over”? (In my opinion, the only “xx” excuse to keep yourself from discipline, is family, especially your children. They grow up way too fast to ignore them.) So… be disciplined. Write!

Rejection Before Even Submitting

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     A member of my critique group sent me a message two weeks ago about a small press which seemed perfect for one of my completed MG novels. I checked out their website, and agreed. They would indeed be perfect, IF I cut some words. So.. I’ve been snatching moments of company time — company which can be very distracting to a writer — to revise and cut 2,500 words in order to fit within their press specifications.
     Since this small press only does quarterly reviews, I decided to call to find out when their next review was, so I wouldn’t be waiting two and 3/4 months before they even take a look at it. The result: The guy said they are no longer accepting manuscripts because of the economy.
     The down side of this? I’ve got a story without a home  — yet.
     Double down side? A rejection is a rejection, even when I didn’t submit it. I.e., For a few days I’m sinking into W.R.F. — Writer’s Rejection Funk — until I can poof-up some writer’s courage back into me. (And, yes, I made up that acronym, too. Although, it sounds an awfully lot like a wrestling acronym, which may also be appropriate in this business.)
     BUT… The up side of this adventure? It’s actually a stronger story.

How To Write When There Are Others Around, Part III — Some More Solutions

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One very important thing I failed to mention concerning writing when there are others around, was/is personal discipline.

Besides my husband working in the den of our house for much of his work, we have company at our house now — for about 10 days. I’ll have a 3-day break at the end of next week before we get in a different set of company (family — hurrah!) for two weeks. I’ll have company in our house 24-7 for most of this month. It’s a might distracting for the writer.

It’s now 7 days into the month. How much writing have I gotten done so far this month? Confession: very little. Excuse: entertaining guests and traveling to touristy places. However, I have done some writing, and I’ll share the reflections of my experiences.

How to write when there are others around? Unfortunately, I’m not rude enough to shut myself up behind a closed door. Besides, when I do that, I inevitably get distracted by laughter from the next room — which I’m SURE was some great writing fodder story which I’ve lost out on. So…

1) Sneak away for a five-minute writing break. It feels glorious. You may feel sneaky and somewhat guilty, but glorious all the same. I know this. I am a writer. I need to write each and every day. If I end up not writing, I make Oscar the Grouch look as singing-sweet as Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.

2) When you do get the chance to sneak away, do not — I repeat, DO NOT — spend your glorious writing minutes with checking your email, catching up on FaceBook, LinkedIn, favorite blogs, how far the Gulf Coast tar balls have drifted, etc..

3) Enjoy your company. Relish in visits from family. Love them to pieces. And learn to delegate. (e.g., “Oh, say… how ’bout if you folks clear the table and wash the dishes?” Then go sneak in your cherished writing minutes.)

4) Microize your normal writing goals. (I sure hope I made that word up instead of used some swear word or laser weapon. No time to research it now. Remember? I’ve got company in the next room.) Instead of giving yourself 3 hours to spend in revisions, limit yourself to one chapter a day. Microize your normal writing goals.

5) When company leaves, and there are sheets to wash, floors to mop, toilets to scrub, mountains of laundry to do, etc., don’t forget to work back up to your normal daily writing schedule. W.E.D: Write Every Day.  (Rats! Another made up word.  I sure hope that isn’t some acronym for a porno site. No time to look it up.)

My Writing Rejection Goal for 2010

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I just read a post on Darcy Pattison’s blog about setting a goal of 20 rejections per year. It wasn’t the rejection bit which she stressed, but she was saying that at least 20 times you’d have submitted your “baby” somewhere.

This idea was a twist to my goal of 4 subs per month — making mine 48 possible rejections (or never hearing back from), and I’d like to stress the possible part. Since I’ve been working on mostly revisions for the past couple years, my submission level has somewhat dipped; to be honest, it has very much dipped in the past two years. But my thought on that is that I am getting my story/stories stronger. Each month I feel that I learn new things about the craft of writing. This means I’m (hopefully) becoming a better writer, enough to someday stand out in the eyes of some cautious, but very supportive editor (or agent).

Thanks for the poke, Darcy. But I think I’ll pass on a Writing Rejection Goal, and go back to mere submission goals. I know the rejections (or worse yet, the ignorings) will come. I’m just more the-cup’s-half-full type of person. But 20 subs for 2010 isn’t such a bad goal to shoot for.

Postpartum Depression for Writers

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Last month my critique group did a whole novel critique on my MG historical fiction — a first for me, both writing a historial fiction novel and having a whole book critique from a group. I spent my writing time since then working on the revisions and rewrites.
 
The last week of March, I took an on-line Crash Revisions course, and although I didn’t have editor comments to which to rewrite, I did have my critique group comments. 
 
The result:   Having “finished” my tale, I think I’ve been going through postpartum depression, and now am just letting the baby sleep for a while. I did get one query letter out about it, though, but that may have been premature. Maybe… maybe not.
 
Usually, I let a finished story “set” for a few months, or even years, before I even look at it again with fresh eyes. Even though the story is good, when I do look at it again, obvious errors glare at me.
 
Yeah.  The query letter may have been premature (or not).
Yeah. I think I’m in postpartum depression.
Yeah. I think I’ll go suck on some chocolate.

Whole Novel Critiques– Rewriting and Revision Process

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I have just finished receiving my first group whole novel critique. The five others in my on-line critique group spent the past month reading and critiquing a novel they’d never seen before. This last week we’ve been discussing what everyone wrote about it.

The process: I submitted the whole novel on line, with an author-list of questions in four categories: 1) beginning and ending of book; 2) characters; 3) plot; and 4) theme. After three weeks, I received their responses, then compiled a new set of 7 or so questions stimulated from their comments. Now that I have those second responses back, I need to think how to proceed (in other words, comes the nitty-gritty bit of rewriting and revision).

In my past, I’ve had individuals read whole novels of mine. If editors or agents comment, they usually come back with just a line or two (e.g., “too quiet a story line for me”). Other writers’ comments vary in length, usually 1-2 pages of printed naration. What I found so fascinating about this group process, was that I had five different people in 4 different states and 1 other country, giving their thoughts on how to make it a better story. If one or two of them didn’t like something or was confused by some part or character, I could TOT it (take it or toss it). But if all 5 of them felt some part was needy, I would certainly see it as something needing to revise or rewrite.

One person in our critique group has revised one of her novels 17 times. She says it was a good story in the beginning, but now she really likes it. I don’t keep track of the number of times I rewrite or revise, since I often do it by chapters or scenes. I’d only do whole novel look through right before sending it out to an editor or agent. This time, I hope to do things differently before the professional submission.

I’ve compiled a list of things I need to address (e.g., the relationship between father and son). I plan on taking one of each of the things which need fixin’, and go through the entire story focusing on just that one concern. When I am done with that revision, I’ll move on to the next one and go through the entire story with only that concern in mind, and so on. THEN, I’ll do a whole book look to see how much I’ve messed things up or fixed things up.

Man! When I made up stories for my friends in junior high, it was never this hard.