Writing in Spite of Everything

There are times when outside circumstances cause me to not want to write, and I’m not talking about winter coming, John Snow. They may be priorities of a family or relational crisis, or joys, or a visit. It may be work-related times, or trees flying through our house. A death. Or a celebration. Or even when I ponder our present political oddities. It is exactly in these times when I need to write. Writing gives me focus and sanity when the world around me swirls in confusion and insanity. Whenever I think, “Why bother?” I need to center in on the bigger picture, to see beyond all the confusions and conflicts which can so easily suck me down.

Perhaps your life or thoughts aren’t as twisty as above, but you are a writer who is still not writing for all the many other reasons you can list. Well, stop it! You can always journal. When you use the highly emotional trying or joyful times to jot a few words about that moment, they can someday be used in a story. When a childhood memory is stirred up, grab it, record it, remember with all your senses.

You cannot blame circumstances for not writing. You must not blame emotional times for not writing. Those are exactly the times when you need to be writing, even if it’s “just” journaling. Writing gives us focus and clears our minds of clutter.

And then there is NaNoWriMo coming up next month. I have not finished the revisions of my one story yet, which was my plan to have done so before NaNoWriMo starts. However, as it’s not the end of the month, and I have talked myself out of all the outside circumstances, my goal has not crashed. I encourage you to do the same. Write (or revise) in spite of everything.

Revisions – The Big Picture

They say (“they” being conference speakers and authors of books on craft) that first you must get your story written before you go back to rewrite, revise, send through your critique group, revise more, and make the big picture make sense.

I thought after nearly a year of writing that I was done with my WIP story, and could look back on the big picture. Actually, I am far from it. What I thought I was finished with was the one character’s POV of the story. And then this past week I saw the big picture and realized that I had it snowing (in my story) from mid-September to the end of December. All I can give for an excuse is that while I wrote the bulk of the story last year that it must have been a long, cold winter. I mean, whatever happened to autumn?

I love the fall. It’s my favorite time of the year. And here I went and wrote a story going from summer directly into winter, totally skipping an entire season. And, yes, it was a long, cold winter last year. Still…no excuses.

The past couple of days I’ve been getting rid of winter (until the more appropriate later in the story). But another, perhaps more serious, trouble I have is that when I look back on whatever I’ve written, I have the irresistible urge to do revisions, not just seasonally related. It’s like I can make every single sentence in my 60K story better.

When I taught second graders one year and used the cute term “sloppy copy” for the rough first drafts of their stories, some of my best writers scribbled, scratched out, and wrote in both big and little letters even in the same word. I was confused until I realized they had taken me quite literally and had tried to make it sloppy.

I am not joking that my file with this WIP on it reminds me of my second graders’ sloppy copies. A couple weeks ago, I felt so good to be “done” with at least one character’s POV. I now know I am a long, long way from done. Oh, what a yucky sloppy copy. But at least I know the story, where it’s going, how it ends. Now to take care of ONE of the big picture revisions.

Keep on writing (and revising and learning).

Wordsmithing in Verse

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At first I thought this goal of writing a poem a day during National Poetry Month was just another writing challenge. Then, I thought writing them was lofty, poetic, oh so literary. Then, I panicked, because I know I’m no poet and couldn’t tell good from bad. I can’t even rhyme. I craved to give up this challenge after the first few days. After all, I didn’t even have a Poetry Month Partner to encourage me along the rocky way.

I’ve found writing poetry HARD. Writing good poetry takes talent. But if I fail in this challenge, then I fail as a writer. Why? Because if I am unable to pick my words well in short focused pieces, how can I choose my words well in larger works? Word detail is vital. Accent, tone, and each syllable is important. What an awareness! I’m thinking that every novelist needs to engage in poetry writing for a time.

My Tools of the Poetry Trade: Usually I write with keyboard beneath my fingertips. But in this month-long experiment (well, only a week so far), I’m finding myself using pencil and paper more than any other time. I write down snatches of ideas for poems. I use the eraser a lot. Revisions take on an entirely new dimension. I also use a printed Thesaurus. I haven’t done that in decades. Lately, I’ve lazily depended upon computer-generated words. Soon, though, I may come to the thinking that even using a Thesaurus is lazy.

The very interesting thing I’ve concluded now is that I’ve also found that writing poetry is FUN. There are so many venues. I’ve written sentimental pieces, silly ones from a child’s point of view, love songs, nature and gardening prose, couplets, snatches of ideas. The variety of possibilities is nearly endless, and best yet, I am not limited. I am no longer scared to try wordsmithing in verse. I’m thinking next time National Poetry Month rolls around, I may focus more, like write 30 limericks about nature. Surely, just for the sheer weight of my words, there will have to be one or two which is audience readable.

Onward to engage in my poem of the day.

Voice Workshop – Introduction

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My on-line critique group has taken a break from our weekly critiquing now and then to do workshops. Since “voice” is big with agents and editors now, and we have been talking about it for the past year or more, this week our critique group is doing a Voice Workshop together, led by our own, Rose Green. Then here, smack-dab in the middle of the week, I got this brilliant idea that next week we each write a post on our blogs on Voice, as sort of a term paper summary from this week.

It will take a while to soak in all the things we’ve been learning, so I may be compartmentalizing into more than one post next week. I always tended to be a rule breaker, even when I was the one making up the rules.

What we hope to discover in our Voice Workshop is:

1) What is Voice?

2) How do you create Voice?

3) What kinds of Voice appeal to you?

See you next week.

Why Write? (part II)

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I feel like standing up and saying, “Hi. My name is Sandy. I’m a writer.”

I haven’t confessed to too many people that I actually have four blogs. I don’t post on them all regularly, but they are four very different blogs on very different subjects. For instance, I also have a humor blog where I write true funny family stories, but also stick in some good old clean jokes now and then. That blog is strictly for sharing the funny. Another blog concerns my husband’s occupation — b.o.r.i.n.g. to most people.

Why four blogs? For compartmentalizing different focuses.

I also have written nonfiction articles, as well as stories cross-genre and cross-age, from PB to adult thrillers. (The last is under a pen name, so as not to confuse my dear children readers.)

When I was a freshman in college, my advisor — a very plump woman threatening the existence of her chair, with narrow eyes which burned into your very soul — asked me what I wanted to be (when I grew up). I got all fluttery and replied, “I just don’t know. I love being outside, but I love working with kids, and I want to help people, and I want to explore places, and –” She slammed her hand to her desk to stop my babbling. I was startled because, after all, she’d asked. She waggled her finger at me and said, “Focus. Decide on one thing and do it.” Then she waved me out of her presence with the back of her hand. I was devastated. But then, I ended up in a profession which did all of the above. I was an elementary school teacher, and a girl scout leader, later becoming a wife and mom and cub scout leader. I really COULD do it all. Ha on her!

Coming back to my wide interest in writing… I feel my former advisor shaking her pudgy finger in my face with a “Focus!” Will I ever learn? Could I focus on just one series and write a bazillion stories with those characters? Not sure it’s in my varied personality. But because of my families adventuresome spirit, I don’t need to do tons of research for what it would be like in many situations. We’ve been there. OH! something I hadn’t thought about because it is far too scattered to focus into one book — a memoir!

March’s 20,000-Word Challenge

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Now you see! With thirty-one days in the month, and no scheduled holidays off from school or work, THIS makes for a much better writing challege month (v.s. November/ NaNoWriMo when it’s not only one day shorter, but has THREE holidays thrown in the mix, plus the holiday weekends often with family buzzing about).

So… simple dimple writing challenge: Write 20,000 by the month’s end. It does not have to be edited. It could simply be Raw Writing (writing without thinking with the editing coming later).

A Lesson From Song Writing

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If you read and write in only one gender, one piece of advice given by many writing conference speakers is to go listen to someone outside your box (genre). For example, if you write mysteries, you might learn a lot about characterization and relationships from a romance writer. If you are an author, you may learn a lot about visualizing from an illustrator’s session.

I like music. I’ve tried my hand at writing poetry and songs. That said, there is nothing in that category I would dare put up on a blog. Nonetheless, I took the above advice this past week and attended a Song Writing Workshop with Ken Medema. It was during a 3-day Worship Symposium at Calvin College. Most of the hour-long workshops only got 1/2 to a whole page of notes in my journal. The one presented by Ken got a full three pages in my journal. The man is amazingly talented and gifted, and funny to boot. It was fascinating to watch creation at work. I could easily sit in on a year-long course with Ken and every day learn more things about writing. From his hour-long workshop, I shall abbreviate even further.

A few things I learned from Ken about writing:

1) A Writing Exercise — find a song (or story) and write another one in that style (or voice);

2) Pick a theme to go throughout the song (or story);

3) “Tighten the fence” — an illustration meaning why put a fence around your entire yard when only the garden needs it? In other words, focus the theme. If you want the theme to be hope, pull in the fence to whom the hope is for, where the hope comes from, is it hope in the past, present or future, etc.;

4) Choose every single word with care;

5) Choose every phrase with care;

6) Another (poetry/song) writing exercise — practice speaking in pentameter to your friends, or daily writing them yourself, to make “couplets;”

7) Have fun with words.

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?

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.