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?

2011 Writing Goals

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Long ago, I ditched the resolutions bit. Could never keep them; often broken by the end of the first week of the new year. So I started setting goals. Goals are much easier to reach, especially when taken in baby steps, e.g., not a vague “lose weight” or “lose 30 pounds,” but rather, “lose 5 pounds by February 14.” Ah, sounds like a goal I could reach.

So it is with writing. Set goals you can keep, then re-evaluate and reset them in summer.

Like my friend Rose, each year I try to simplify my new year’s writing goals. My general (did you hear “vague?”) writing goals are to read, write and submit. More specific is to revise two novels, send them off, and write two more. At this moment, I have no idea what the two 2011 new novels will be about. Isn’t life exciting?

So what are your new year’s writing goals?

2010 Writing Goals Reviewed

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Each January, I set writing goals before me for the coming year. At the end of December, I look over my goals and reflect on how I have improved and/or moved forward in this bizarre career of writing.

The first goal I listed in January of 2010 was to find work at MacDonald’s, or else to quit writing entirely. I’m very happy to announce that I did neither of those things, although working at a fast food for research purposes had crossed my mind several times during the year.

I only attended one live writers conference (usually it’s more), but I participated in several on-line conferences or workshops in 2010.

I’m disappointed that I only sent out a few submissions to editors or agents. Like winning the lottery, and the fact that you must buy a ticket in order to win, so it is with writing. Write your story, revise it, have it critiqued, revise it a few more times, but then you must submit it if you want to see it published.

However, the good news is that I revised (a few times) my historical MG novel, written during the 2009 NaNoWriMo period, and I wrote and revised (a few times) my tween fantasy, as well as worked on some shorter stories. One polished novel a year isn’t too bad at all. Maybe, though, future goals would be more than one a year.

I also helped clean turtles in a river oil spill near our house. This was not a writing goal for 2010; however, I never find time-investments in new things a waste. I’m sure oil spills or turtles will show themselves in a future story.

How did your 2010 writing goals work out?

Revisions!

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I am revising one of my stories now, and came to the conclusion that I find revisions both frustrating and wonderful. Frustrating, because I must find the time or force myself to sit down and DO them. Wonderful, because, my, what a better story I’ve written afterwards.

I have come to a second conclusion, that if I’m doing a whole-novel revision, I work best on hard copy. When I sit in front of a computer screen to do revisions, I don’t have the past scribbled pages next to me to show me how much progress I’ve made. On the computer screen, it all looks good, and so I plug away one line at a time without really seeing the progress. Doing whole novel revisions is similar to weeding a garden. If you just plucked five weeds daily, you may not notice much of a difference. But if you spend a couple of hours (or full day) weeding, and next to you is this pile of weeds to be tossed, there is greater satisfaction.

Keep writing, and keep revising! If you have only a few minutes a day to revise, keep plugging away. If you can read your hard-copy scribbles, keep doing those corrections. Which is your preference, or do you do revisions entirely different from these two?

NaNoWriMo 2010 Struggle

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NaNoWriMo comes in November. So does Thanksgiving and my husband’s birthday. Last year, my first NaNo, I ended up not writing the last six days of the month because of cooking company. (Here is a good sidetrack point about grammar. With a missing comma or word, you may come to the conclusion that I am a cannibal. Not true. I meant that I was doing a lot of cooking, and better than normal cleaning, for company.) Hence, I did not “win” last year. However, I did get a completed novel out of it later, which was, in my opinion, the whole purpose of the NaNoWriMo exercise.

Although I’ve kept up with the daily word count so far this year (1,667 words/day), and have even stashed away some extra words each day, expecting not to be writing around the Thanksgiving period, I found myself sinking into a slump. I was doing well. I am doing well. And yet here I am in a writing depression. What is that about?

And then I open my NaNoWriMo email from my regional leader. She mentioned that Week Two was the hardest week of all. What? Had she come into my house? Into my head? How did she know that? I suppose I should have felt more comforted, knowing other writers were feeling, at this point, the same as I. “No!” I shout. “I am not a groupie. I am an individual writer! I will not be like everyone else. Ha. I’m not depressed any more. There.” And I’m off to write my 1,667+ words.

NaNoWriMo Begins — Permission to Write Drek

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Today is day one of NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. I participated last year, and will do so this year as well. Although what I produce during NaNoWriMo is not readable at the end of the month, and perhaps not even finished, I get inspired by short-term writing goals, and end up putting down lots of words to work with. I did not make my 50,000 word goal last year, but came close. Most of what I wrote ended up as stream of consciousness, but all related to the story. I ended up deleting about 9/10 of what I wrote. But that 10% was well worth it, and made for a solid foundation of a novel, which I did end up finishing last spring.

NaNoWriMo seems a sloppy way to write, yet is very productive. The end product is trash can material, with a few pages and ideas and scenes rescued. Yet to me, NaNoWriMo is a means to an end. It inspires me to make writing a priority. Deletions (lots) and revisions (tons) follow.

Novel Revision Workshop Teacher, Darcy Pattison, suggests to get a story down first. Then, you can make it readable. (My paraphrase; apologies to Darcy.)

I will get my story down this month – or at least a good chunk of my thinking-writing time will be spent doing this. I actually look forward to the January to spring revisions.

I am reminded of my friend Ross, who told me last summer that he has a splendid story idea, and that if I wanted to write it out, I could have the idea for free. Ideas are easy. Writing is hard. Perhaps I should introduce Ross to NaNoWriMo, even though he doesn’t own a computer and still uses a land-line rotary dial phone. (Who needs to make up fictional characters?)

Good luck to all NaNoWriMo participants, and to all other writers who continue to plug away without this sprint.

NaNoWriMo Starts Next Week/ Next Month

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I know several people who will be participating this year in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writers Month). It is a great writing challenge and discipline. I’ve known about this group since its second year, and now this will be my second year participating. (My user name there is SandyCarl, if anyone wants to buddy me. Don’t forget to send me your UN as well, because it doesn’t automatically reciprocate.)

Last year I was more prepared for it, doing lots of research ahead of time. However, this year, particularly this month, I was working on finishing up a WIP before NaNoWriMo started, so my writing focus has been on that project. I’m afraid my head is still there in those revisions. I hope I can compartmentalize enough to work on two projects at once. I used to do this freely — work on two or more writing projects at once. I would switch when I got bored, or hit a plot block, etc. Lately, though, I’ve been focusing on getting one story ready to completion for submission before working on another.

Does anyone else work on more than one project at a time? Do you find it helpful or distracting? I’ve done it both ways. I’m sure either is a better way. Just keep on writing (and revising and submitting).

Good luck to all NaNoWriMo-ers! On your marks… Get set…

SCBWI-MI Fall 2010 Writing Conference, Pt 3

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At the writers conference a week ago, I was honored to get into Darcy Pattison’s workshop, “Using the Hero’s Journey to Enhance Your Novel.” Darcy is amazing, and so spot-on in her craft of writing suggestions. I highly recommend her books, CDs, or attending her novel revision workshop (which I sincerely hope to do someday).

Darcy based her talk (tweeked to that which only Darcy can do) on THE WRITER’S JOURNEY, by Chistopher Vogler. At the conference, I bought two copies — one for me and one as a gift. This post is paraphrased from Darcy’s talk. Formulas are meant just guides.

The big picture (of your story) is in three Acts: Act One (approx 8 chapters) is the set up; Act Two (approx 16 chapters) is the twists and turns; and Act Three (approx 8 chapters) is the resolution.

Act One Objectives: show the hero in his/her ordinary world, call to adventure, refusal, crossing the threshold.

Act Two Objectives: tests, enemies, allies, approach to inmost cave, supreme ordeal, reward.

Act Three Objectives: the road back, resurrection, and return with elixir.

Darcy used BRIDGE TO TERABITHA for her example throughout the workshop, with some mention of the original STAR WARS. Some of my own  favorite fantasy stories which also follow this “formula” are THE HOBBIT, LOTR, and THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE. The formula works!

On to work on my own writing. <deep and heavy sigh> Writing is such hard work.

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!