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).

Revise as you Write or Finish the WIP?

At 47K, I’m more than 3/4 of the way through my “first draft” of my WIP, War Unicorn, Book 3. I feel a bit stymied as it has now become a rather complicated story and I want to write on several places. I found that I needed to delete a character from several chapters in order to make her entrance more dramatic and essential to the plot line. I was also writing the middle, the climax and the ending all at once as new ideas and situations threw themselves into my mind. then there was the rearranging chapters and sequence of events. These are all revision techniques. But like I say, I’m only 3/4 of the way through the story.

Usually I’m a pantster – I write without any detailed outline, although I usually know the ending before I start with the beginning.

Some writer friends say to revise as you write. Others say finish the manuscript and then go back to rewrite or revise. Both methods are…okay. I guess.

At the moment I feel as though I have this delicious-looking stew which is just about done cooking, but then I decide to transfer it to another location, and I trip. The stew flies all over the floor and walls and furniture. (Well…thus ends the analogy, for I’d never scrape food off a floor to put back into a pot. Ew.)

My point is, I see the need to gather the pieces of my story to put them back together in a more logical way. But if I just would have left that pot on the stove and finished it there, then fixed it to taste better…Or perhaps it would be best to scrape it all into the trash and start over (rewrite)?

Looking over how-to-revise notes and books is NOT helpful. That actually gets me into even more trouble, adding bigger complications.

Finish the WIP first draft? Revise as you go? Revise after the first draft? Rewrite? So many options. I don’t know about your own  WIPs, but mine needs some serious attention right now, so whichever method works best for you, I suggest that’s the one to go with. (IMHO) Just keep on writing!

Write Every Day… or Take a Guilt-Free Sabbatical

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I’ve done it… for the most part… write every day. I don’t always write on my WIP, but I do write every day. Still, somehow this advice always gnawed at me. Perhaps it is my Unorganized-Organized lifestyle. I’m excellent at organization. Seriously. However, my time-attention-span limits my interest. Like cramming the night before for a college exam, I can go full steam to finish a rough draft of a novel, or revise one, or put together a talk, or send postal letters to people.  But always, I have several (writing) projects going on at various stages of completion (with some “completed” until editor or agent tells me otherwise).

So, because of various reasons, I recently found myself on a writing sabbatical. I didn’t even keep up with my blogs. (Shame on me… or not.)

Two months ago, a critique partner from long ago encouraged me to submit one of my Sitting-Till-I’m-Motivated-To-Again-Send-Out novels. I could see her wisdom of timing, and of her faith in me. I thought about it. But I still didn’t write (nor rewrite, nor revise, nor even pick the novel up for a peek). Then, last Monday another writing friend emailed me about an on-line agent contest that day — to sub the first 250 words of your finished MG or YA novel. I subbed the first page of this written-a-while-ago story. It was only after I pressed the send button that I looked at my novel’s word count — about half what is expected for a YA. Completed novel? YIKES! I figured I’d best break out of my sabbatical.

On Monday, I printed off the novel. I looked over notes from previous critiques. I dug out my research notes. I did some more research on line. I made a list of characters and their connections to each other, along with biographies. (<– Although I do that now with my stories, back then I just did research and wrote the story.)  And while I was doing all this, I realized that not only was the story actually pretty good, but I also got very excited about it. My mind was churning. Thinking. Thinking. Thinking.

On Tuesday, I wrote an additional 1,100 words, all of which brought up a very interesting plot twist. (The original story now seemed bland without this addition.)

Today, I wrote another 1,600 words, including some revisions, and it’s not even noon.

I still have some more words to write to bring up that word count, but I’m hoping to have that done by the end of this week.

My writing sabbatical is over. I’m not only interested and excited about my story, I’ve set myself manageable goals to get it done. I don’t know if Monday’s on-line agent contest will produce any interest for a contract, but in a few days this story will be hot.  Was my sabbatical worth it? You bet! I’m tackling this project with an enthusiasm I’ve lacked for a while. Plus, that enthusiasm overflows into other aspects of my life.

My advice: It is okay to take a guilt-free sabbatical. Yes, write every day. Yet, there are times when you need to step back in order to go forward.

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.

National Poetry Month Challenge

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Today starts National Poetry Month. Therefore, my April Challenge to anyone willing to accept it, is to write one poem a day all month long.

Okay, here’s my problem: I’m a horrid poet, and know it. I can’t even tell the Longfellow joke right. Sure, I own a few books of poetry and even a couple rhyming books, but, yikes! A poem a day! Who is crazy enough to accept such a challenge? Wait, wait! Aren’t couplets considered poetry? Why, yes, Sandy, they are. Even kids could write two sentences which end with a rhyme each day. What about songs? They are merely poems under another jacket cover. Okay, I’ll get my creative juices going, accept my own challenge, and see how disciplined I am to see how many poems I get written this month. Who knows? I may even be inspired to write more than just a couplet a day.

The Farmer’s Almanac let me know that April comes from the Latin word aperio, meaning “to open or bud,” because plants begin to grow this month. Perhaps… just perhaps some poet will begin to bud this month as well. Good luck to all you poet challenge accepters.

(BTW, today also starts National Humor Month, so if you wanted to swing on over to my Humor Blog ( http://sandycarl.blogspot.com ) you will find one antidote or personal story or joke every day during April. Somehow, that seems so much easier to do than a poem a day. Who thought of this, anyway? A poem a day. Yeesh.)

March’s Challege Results

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At the beginning of March, I sent out a personal challenge (and included any others to join me) of writing 20,000 raw words (new words) during the month. How did you all do? Sadly, I didn’t reach my goal. I only made about 1/3 of the way through. If only an editor or agent were on my back pushing me… NO EXCUSES! I didn’t meet my goal. Too bad. Those are 4,000 words I didn’t have before, plus I have a full day ahead of me to write more. (If only the sun would stop shining so I wouldn’t be tempted to go outside and do some yard work.)

Tomorrow’s a new month. I’ll have a new writing challenge to set before you to get those creative juices flowing. For me, it will be a scary challenge. Oh, this challenge is on top of my revision of an entire novel during April. Hello, Spring!

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).