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Welcome to my contribution to The WRITING PROCESS Blog Tour.
The talented Clara Bowman-Jahn tagged me to join this intriguing Blog Tour on WRITING PROCESSES. Each week, authors post answers to four Writing Process Questions on their blogs. Then they tag friends to play along the following week. You can read Clara’s terrific post, and learn what she's working on, right here. You can also see what’s going on with Clara and her books on Facebook - right here.
Bellow, find my answers (after much head scratching) to the four set questions. At the bottom of the page you'll find the names of talented writers who’ll carry the “Writing Answers Torch”for next week - Monday the 21st of April.
What am I working on? Aha, I am getting ready to self publish a picture book that is near and dear to my heart. “Dreamtime Man” was first written many years ago – just scribbled down, and then put aside when more pressing works grabbed my attention.I would bring it out every so often and rework the rhyme, tweak the meter, and reinvent a verse or two – a rhyming story.I never forgot it - but life got in the way. This is a tale of bad deeds and tribal suffering:of how the aboriginal people of Australia were treated when the white man arrived– and after! For this story, near enough was not good enough. I wanted it perfect . . . and perfect takes longer than I imagined. Finally, I was ready for an illustrator. I found Ioana Zdraleaon Linkedin.After reading Dreamtime Man, and a few words from me, she GOT it – the outback colors, the “feel,” and a wonderful sense of what my verses needed to tell about.I am eager to see her sketches for verse #2.
How does my work differ from others of its genre? .
I grew up Down Under, in the state of Queensland.They used to grow a lot of bananas there when I was young, so I was called a Banana-lander.Aussies have a barefaced independence, a way of thumbing their noses at anything that smells of “set in stone”rules. I think my writing voice shows this.I also like to mix humor and dire trouble in my young teen books.Life is full of awful situations that are made bearable by the ability to laugh at yourself.If kids learn this early, it will make life for them easier to handle. And even though I now live in the US with my family, my Aussie upbringing still holds sway.You know the old saying, “You can take the sheila outa OZ, but you can’t take the Aussie outa the Sheila!”
Why do I write what I do?
I write what comes to me in the middle of the night, when my head hits the pillow and I should be snoring.I guess if erotic ideas chased me into the bathroom at night, begging to be jotted down, I would write best selling erotica and make a bundle!!BUMMER!Unfortunately, my brain seems to generate pictures of Aussie adventures, and assorted animals that beg to be written about .And I can’t imagine Thelma Hill (from The Revenge of Thelma Hill) doing anything even faintly “naughty.”She is modeled after my mother for goodness sake!She does sport the see through filmy gowns, but rattling bones and a musty basement are not conducive to anything vaguely erotic – unless you are REALLY kinky!
So, I’m stuck writing about ghosts, families separated by an ocean, Aussie adventures, and picture books with assorted critters, dyslexic boys, rattlesnakes, and grizzly bears.And as always, the big bucks will pour down onto those who dream up exotic doings.Sigh. . .
How does my writing process work?
Next morning I bring all those nighttime notes to my writing den and see what has real possibilities. Or, if there’s an idea that beefs up a plot or character I am working on, I slip it into place with a sigh of relief. Some books almost write themselves. Others have characters it is hard to pin down, or plots that are always wandering away on their own. Guess they caught the Aussie independence virus from me. I have to admit that Down Under Calling was a book that wrote itself. It poured from me like a river in flood. The characters are all fictional, but the tales and remembrances that Grandma Rose wrote about to her grandson, Andy, all came from my childhood or my dear mother. It was as if Mom were looking over my shoulder. A joy to write - and I do hope readers love it as much as I loved writing it.
AGY WILSON - writer/Illustrator NOTE: Agy did the cover art on two of my young teen books. I named her "Awesome Agy" for a good reason! Agy loves her family, art, environment, history, calligraphy and all things language. It's only natural for her to throw it into a huge pot and cook up her books. When she is not playing with kids or pets, Agy is usually immersing myself in her work. She is currently working on a coloring book suitable for all ages, and a few more projects - picture books, and beginning readers/chapter books, are included.
DONNA SHEPHERD:Donna Shepherd's children's books, Topsy Turvy Land, No More Gunk! & OUCH! Sunburn!,Chizzy's Topsy Tale, Dotty's Topsy Tale, Poodle and Doodle, Sully's Topsy Tale, Bradybug, and Where is Salami? feature short, playful rhymes and humorous illustrations. Be sure to look for the items hidden in each picture by the imaginative artists.
Her newest book for children, Ava's Secret Tea Party, is her first 'girly' book with an old-fashioned fairy tale, hidden teacups and cookies, and recipes and crafts. Available in both paperback and hardcover. Donna is founder of Greater Harvest Workshops and Middletown Area Christian Writers, and in demand as a Bible teacher, conference speaker, and singer with over thirty years of experience. For writing tips, useful links, and updates about Donna's books, visit her Fan Page: http://www.facebook.com/donnajshepherd
Books for Kids - Manuscript Critiques FREE Skype Author Visits to Schools
Lately, I’ve noticed how some writers are getting more and
more discouraged because they aren’t able to place their manuscripts with their
long-time publishers or agents.
After many years of writing and publishing, they are becoming
pessimistic about the future of their work. Editors don’t respond to their submissions,
agents no longer call or else tell them that their work isn't current,
As I may have mentioned once or twice I have a new book, Razorhurst, set on the seedy streets of Sydney in 1932 and packed with deliciously dangerous dames and brutal, bloodthirsty blokes. It’ll be published in Australia and New Zealand by Allen and Unwin in July and in the USA by Soho Teen in March 2015.1
The good people at Allen and Unwin made this vid in which I answer some questions about the book:
Very happy to answer any other questions you might have about it. Yes, it will be available as an ebook. No, I don’t use product to get my hair to do that.
Indiana Writers’ Consortium (IWC) is pleased to announce the extension of its annual networking dinner to include an intimate, high quality, and affordable half-day writers’ conference on October 11, 2014. The conference, which will take place at the Hilton Garden Inn, in Merrillville, Indiana, will include multiple afternoon breakout sessions and be followed by a dinner and keynote address by Barbara Shoup, author of seven novels, executive director of Indiana Writers Center, associate editor of OV Books, and an associate faculty member at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis.
IWC seeks proposals from individuals and groups who are at different stages in their writing careers that will represent a broad range of perspectives and experiences. Presentations may include topics such as:
· Writing and craft · Business of publishing · Creative writing pedagogy · Academic and community program development · Genre trends
Interactive individual presentation, four-to-five person panels, creative writing workshops, and round table discussions are welcome.
Deadline: May 1, 2014
Submit: A 250-word abstract that includes the session title, description, format, and presenter names. Each presenter should include a 50-word bio and .jpg photo.
indianawritersconsortiumATgmail.com (Change AT to @ and DOT to . )
Please indicate “IWC Half-day Conference Proposal” in the subject line.
Indiana Writers' Consortium inspires and builds a community of creative writers. We are dedicated to educating writers through speakers, seminars, and children's programs. IWC provides educational and networking opportunities for writers in all stages of their careers. We are a nonprofit organization incorporated in Indiana in 2008 and a public charity under section 501(c)(3) of the United States Internal Revenue Code.
One of my favorite parts of writing happens when I’m not writing. You know, those moments during the day when you’re thinking about, maybe even dreaming about, the story or the characters in your work in progress. I love brainstorming, whether it’s my own book or someone else’s work, because there’s a sense of play to it; you aren’t committing anything to paper yet, so it doesn’t take much work. (It also may not feel like work, so you might worry you’re just procrastinating, but trust me, it’s useful.) You can feel free to be as goofy or wild as you want–you’re just throwing things against the wall to see what sticks. And it’s cool because you’re working on your book anywhere and everywhere: in the shower, walking your dog, on line at the bank, riding the train, reading other books, watching TV, in meetings at work. A little part of my brain never stops thinking about my novel.
I can’t speak to every writer’s experience, but this is how my imagination works. The more I think about the story, the more ideas I have. Often, my subconscious mind makes connections that needed days, weeks, or months to develop. Initially, I avoided outlining because I wanted to give myself as much of that flexibility as possible to discover the story and let it develop organically, but I’ve since realized that outlining can also get you thinking about the whole thing much earlier, and there’s nothing limiting about it–it’s just one path, and you can take the story in different directions any time a better idea presents itself. I like research for the same reason; all that reading feeds me more ideas and opens up new possibilities.
So this book I’m working on… It started with a lot of brainstorming and outlining, then I started drafting it and inevitably veered off from the outline a bit. I got some great notes from my editors, and I just completed the first major revision—a few hours ago. As I tried to re-imagine the plot and characters and come up with a better ending, the whole process reminded me of something very old, something from my childhood: Choose Your Own Adventure.
You’ve probably seen a Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) book at some point, or one of the many similar series borrowing the concept. They’re basically stories that present many decisions for the reader, allowing you to have some control over the story. “If you decide to start back home, turn to page 4. If you decide to wait, turn to page 5.” There are usually only a few “good” endings and many bad, boring, or mediocre ones. When I read them as a kid, I always wanted to make sure I had taken every choice, explored every path, seen every ending. And I realized recently that all those CYOA books had been training me from early on to be a creative writer.
The way I plot out a book is really similar to how these books are set up. At each major plot point, I have to decide what the characters are going to do next, and what impact that will have on the story farther down the line. I’m constantly coming up with various scenarios and playing them out, discarding them, picking up another thread, trying something else. Working with Scrivener makes it even easier, and more fluid, because I can rewrite a scene several different ways, then revert to a previous version if none of them fit. I can move the scene or cut it entirely. I’m trying to see every path, and test every ending—all in search of the one “good” ending for the book. Of course, it’s preferable if I don’t have to actually write every alternative first.
It’s probably no wonder that I like stories about parallel universes so much. In some ways, each draft of my book is an alternate version of itself. (Sometimes I can’t even keep them straight anymore. Was that in the final draft, or did I cut it?) Fun fact: In the original ending of Fair Coin, Ephraim stops Nate from using the coin to facilitate a shooting spree at their high school. What?! Yeah. It was super dark, and very wrong for the book, and I knew it while I was writing it. (On the other hand, it was also my first novel, so.) But I often have to take some of those wrong turns and try out the “bad” endings — sometimes just to get to the end — before I can figure out what the real ending is supposed to be. Making mistakes doesn’t make you a bad writer, it just means you have to turn to a new page and try again. Revision is like getting to erase those unsuccessful outcomes and make a better decision.
Did you read Choose Your Own Adventure? Which was your favorite? And how do you plot out your endings?
E.C. Myers was assembled in the U.S. from Korean and German parts and raised by a single mother and a public library in Yonkers, New York. He is the author of the Andre Norton Award–winning young adult novel FAIR COIN and its sequel, QUANTUM COIN, as well as numerous short stories in anthologies and magazines. You can find traces of him all over the internet, but especially at his blog, Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.
In a nutshell, here’s the rule to the Great Law: If you do what other successful authors do, over and over again, nothing can stop you from eventually enjoying the same rewards that they do. But if you don’t do what successful authors do, nothing can help you.
So, success is not an accident. Sadly, failure is not an accident either. You succeed, over and over, until these behaviors become a habit. Likewise, you fail if you don’t do what successful authors do. In either case, nature is neutral. Nature does not take sides. Nature doesn’t care. What happens to you is simply a matter of law—the law of cause and effect.
In Buddhism it is simply stated: Good deeds bring good results. Bad deeds bring bad results. Your own deeds bring your own results. Easy-peasy, right? Well, not so easy for many of us wanna-be bestsellers. But, if you want to be the kind of writer you desire to be, then start by following what your ‘role model’ author does, and over time and effort, you’ll reach the same heights as he or she or they have. It’s not a quick rich scheme. It’s not even a plan for being an overnight success. It’s a hard and messy and nerve wracking journey. And it’s WORTH it, if that’s where you’re heading. I hope to see you on the road less traveled in the near future!
Who are some of your ‘role model’ authors? What are you doing that they’re doing? Cheers!
One of the things I need most as a writer is a routine. For me that’s not as much about what time of day I write, that varies, but about where I write. When I sit at my ergonomically gorgeous desk and writing set up I write because it is the place of writing.
Unlike many other writers I don’t have a specific moment that signals writing will commence. I don’t drink coffee so that’s not how I start my day. Some days I write for a bit before breakfast. Some days not till after brekkie, going to the gym, and doing various chores. I do have a broad time for writing: daylight. I almost never write at night. When the sun is down I take a break from writing. That’s when I get to socialise and to absorb other people’s narratives via conversation, TV, books etc.
I have found, however, that I can’t write every single day. I need at least one day off a week. And I can’t go months and months and months without a holiday from writing.
Getting away from my ergonomic set up and the various novels I’m writing turns out to be as important to me as my writing routine. Time off helps my brain. Who’d have thunk it? Um, other than pretty much everyone ever.
I spent the last few days in the Blue Mountains. Me and Scott finally managed to walk all the way to the Ruined Castle. We saw loads of gorgeous wildlife, especially lyrebirds. There was no one on the path but us. Oh and this freaking HUGE goanna (lace monitor). I swear it was getting on for 2 metres from end of tail to tongue:
Photo taken by me from the rock I jumped on to get out of its way.
This particular lace monitor was in quite a hurry. Given that they have mouths full of bacteria (they eat carrion) and they’re possibly venomous getting out of its way is imperative. It seemed completely oblivious of me and Scott. Which, was a very good thing.
Watching it motor past us was amazing. All the while the bellbirds sang. Right then I wasn’t thinking about anything but that goanna.
Which is why getting away is so important. Clears your mind. Helps your muscles unknot.1 Lets you realise that finishing your novel is not, in fact, a matter of life and death.
At the same time two days into the little mini-holiday I realised what the novel I’m writing is missing. The answer popped into my brain as I tromped along the forest floor past tree ferns and gum trees breathing in the clean, clean air, listening to those unmistakeable Blue Mountain sounds2:
And it was good. Really good.
TL:DR: Writing routine good; getting away from writing routine also good.
After their relieved that the goanna has gone away.
“In the depths of
winter I finally learned that there was within me an invincible summer.”
“To write is to turn this inward gaze into words, to study the world
into which that person passes when he retires into himself, and to do so with
patience, obstinacy, and joy.” – Orhan Pamuk
So often if we want to write stories, we are told to look
and listen for them as if they are “
The #WritingProcess Blog Tour connects authors all over the world with the intent to share blogs and the writing life. I was tapped to contribute to the blog tour by Natalia Sarkassian, who writes fiction and nonfiction. Her short fiction has received several awards, and her nonfiction depicts an up-close and deeply personal understanding of foreign and exotic cultures. I've had the pleasure of reading portions of Natalia's novel-in-progress, Mrs. May in Egypt, a book that captures the current troubled climate in that country. Do check out Natalia's blog, Post Cards from Italy, where you'll find her photographs to be as enchanting as her writing.
I must confess that I feel a bit uncomfortable talking about myself on this blog, but since I have no other blog available, I decided to use this resource as an opportunity to introduce you to me and to some of my fellow authors. As you explore the #TheWritingProcess Blog Tour, be sure to click on the links from previous contributors. I can assure you that you are in for a real treat. All of these authors are immensely talented folks, and I'm delighted to be included in their midst.
The #WritingProcess Blog Tour asks the participants to answer four questions, so let us begin:
1) What are you working on?
For the past few months, I've been working almost exclusively on the revisions of my novel, Blood of a Stone, forthcoming from Tuscany Press in June 2014. This is a historical literary novel set in first century Palestine. The story follows the adventures of a slave who murders his master, sets out to silence those who could reveal the truth about his past, and eventually finds redemption for his crimes.
Prior to beginning the revisions of Blood of a Stone, I was finishing a draft of my second novel, The Double Sun. Set in the mid-20th century, the story is narrated from four distinct points of view and spans thirty years. The Double Sun is about a family of downwinders, people who have suffered the adverse affects of radioactive fallout from the atomic bomb tests in Nevada during the 1950s and 1960s. Many of these downwinders have been afflicted with cancer and other serious illnesses.
2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?
This is a tough question to answer because I'm not sure how it does differ. However, I can tell you what my readers and critiquers say: My writing tends toward the dark side in that I often write about unlikeable or troubled characters, people who may have good intentions but who make terrible choices. I have also been told that I have a sparse, direct voice--nothing too flowery. Much of my fiction is historical in nature or requires a fair amount of research to add verisimilitude. My first novel, for example, takes place 2000 years ago. My second novel begins in the mid-1950s and ends in the 1990s. Many of my short stories also have a historical setting. Perhaps that speaks to my passion for history and my love of research.
3) Why do you write what you do?
I've always been fascinated by difficult, unstable, or unhappy people. What makes them do the things they do? Why do we love them even when they hurt us? And there is that ever important question: What if? What if Character A does X to Character B, what will happen? Delving deep into my characters, exploring their flaws, foibles, actions, and desires, helps me better understand the human condition.
4) What is your writing process?
Diane Lefer, also a participant in the #WritingProcess Blog Tour (visit her blog, Nobody Wakes Up Pretty), once told me: "You are a careful writer." At the time, I wondered if being a careful writer was a good thing or a bad thing, but Diane, who was also my advisor at Vermont College of Fine Arts, explained to me that she wanted me to take more risks, throw away my cautious nature and see what happens. She sent me off to read Kate Braverman's Squandering the Blue, and I've never been the same since. Risk is now my middle name.
That said, I tend to be an organized writer when it comes to managing my time and my projects. I work on a regular schedule--usually in the morning--and set deadlines for myself. I begin every day filling out a planner, and the highest priority item is the writing. A few years ago, I began thinking of myself as a working writer. In other words, writing is my job. It may be a job that I love, but it's still a job that requires commitment, meeting deadlines, planning, and punctuality. I know that sounds rigid to some people, but when I used to rely on inspiration, I spent a lot of time rolling out unfinished drafts, submitting little, and publishing almost nothing. The change in my mindset has resulted in a higher level of productivity and what I believe to be higher quality writing.
My short stories are often formed around a single image or snippet of dialogue that sends me off on a quest to know more. My novels begin with the ending. I imagine a character at his final destination and begin to sort out the journey that brought him or her there. Years ago, an early mentor taught me the technique of story-boarding a novel. I still use this method for drafting a book and for the revisions because it allows me to see the big picture. In both instances, I block out the novel on a giant bulletin board where I write a one-sentence description of each major scene on an index card. Those cards are then arranged under the appropriate chapter headings on the bulletin board. This makes it easy for me to see where I need more scenes, where I have repetition, where the pace lags, etc. I've shared pictures of my story board for The Double Sun and my revision board for Blood of a Stonebelow.
My story/inspiration board for The Double Sun:
You'll notice that I have headings for years as well as chapters because the story spans three decades. The chapters all have titles, and the scene cards are arranged below the chapters they appear in. On the right side of the board, I've posted my inspirations for the book, including photographs of various settings in the novel.
My revision board for Blood of a Stone:
Colored index cards! Since the story is essentially mapped out and is in the process of being revamped or remapped, I've used color-coded index cards to indicate what revision stage the scene is in. Green cards are still waiting my final revisions. Yellow cards are "good to go." The chapters for this book are numbered with no titles. Earlier versions of this book had different colored cards. It may be all an illusion, but the changes in color give me a sense of progress.
Be sure to tune in next week to read the words of Jennifer (Jenna) McGuiggan. Jenna and I first met in a writing workshop at Vermont College of Fine Arts where I earned my MFA in Writing. I remember that particular workshop as one infused with enthusiasm and excitement. My fellow workshop participants, including Jenna, were incredibly supportive, and we spent a lot of time engaged in stimulating discussions about craft. Jenna is also involved in roller derby, something that scaresthe stuffing out of me. Her bio and a link to her blog:
Jennifer (Jenna) McGuiggan is a writer, editor, and teacher based in southwestern Pennsylvania. Her articles and essays have appeared in a variety of publications, including Numéro Cinq Magazine, Connotation Press, Extract(s), and Mingle. She previously served as an assistant editor for the journal Hunger Mountain. In 2009, she curated and published Lanterns: A Gathering of Stories, a collection of prose, poetry, and photography by seven women writers and artists. Jenna received her MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2011 and is currently working on several prose manuscripts. Visit Jenna online in The Word Cellar, where she writes about everything from navigating the writing life to venturing into the world of roller derby.
I was wandering around last week's IndieReCon (I still haven't finished browsing the offerings there), when I came upon what was called on the schedule How to Write Fast: 2k to 10k, 2 Years Later by Rachel Aaron. (It's called something different when you follow the link.) Write fast! I thought. If I could do that, wouldn't it have a big, big impact on how I spend my time?
I also recalled hearing about other writers who do use word count to help them manage time. They set themselves a word limit that they must do each day and don't stop working until they've met it. Word count for time management isn't something we've discussed here, so I checked out this IndieReCon offering.
I am not going to address quality and the issue of whether more is less or less is more. Is it better to write a few brilliant passages or crank out some serious volume of whatever quality that you can at least edit in the future? I'm going to try to stick to word count with no value judgement.
Know what you're going to write before you get started. This means doing some planning at the beginning of each writing session. Serious plotters/outliners may say they've already done this. Organic writers, such as myself, might want to create a daily pre-writing planning routine. I'm still revising right now, so it will be a while before I can try it.
Analyze how you're using your writing time. Over a period of a couple of months, keep track of your word count and determine what time of the day it is highest. Then try to make sure that you're able to work then.
Try to find something to excite you about every scene you have to write. Word count goes up when you're writing the fun scenes. (Sometimes known as candy bar scenes.)
Aaron says in her IndieReCon piece that after two years she isn't writing at the 10,000 word rate she'd first hit when she came up with her system. That would produce 5 to 6 books a year. She's writing at a rate that produces 3 to 4. That's still fast writing.
I don't know how well relying heavily on word count for managing time will work, given the situational problems writers often find themselves dealing with. Word count for a WIP goes out the window if you have to plan a presentation or revise for an editor. Plus Aaron is a self-published writer. Being able to write multiple books a year is important to many self-pubs, particularly the more entrepreneurial ones who are truly trying to make a living with just writing. Other types of writers who have income sources through teaching and making appearances or just a regular day job won't feel a need to produce as much that quickly. But given all the demands on writers' time, doesn't being able to write more quickly sound very attractive?
It’s one of those days when I spend more time thinking about
what I’m writing than actually writing.
I think about how I want to proceed, and where I think the story
is going, and where the story is actually going.
These days devoted to thinking are becoming almost as
important as the days that I spend writing.
One of my teachers, Norma Fox Mazer, once told me that the hardest
From the moment you open Inside These Walls by Rebecca Coleman, you're transported to the world of a women’s prison and introduced to Clara Mattingly who is serving a life sentence for murder. Rebecca’s writing is superb, and Clara is instantly a likeable and sympathetic character, whom you will cheer for, even though she’s also a cold-blooded killer.
Rebecca isn’t tricking the reader into liking Clara. It’s obvious that there’s more to the story than just murder—that Clara has the proverbial skeletons in her closet. After twenty-five years behind bars, she’s choosing to forget the past and stay focused on her present, which in prison means keeping her head down and staying out of trouble.
The problem is Clara’s famous, and so other inmates love to pick on her, which often results in serious injuries. Her crime, along with her boyfriend Ricky, was made into a movie. Hollywood turned their story into an almost Charles Manson type of drama, where Ricky led Clara and his other friends into a 24-hour crime spree that resulted in several murders.
Clara lives her prison life helping her blind cellmate and working on Braille textbooks, while remembering her life as an artist and her love for ballet before the night that changed her life forever. You'll keep turning pages because of the author’s set-up, trying to discover how did this bright, young, talented girl follow her boyfriend and murder people?
Rebecca reveals the true story once an unexpected visitor appears to see Clara in prison, and her heart immediately yearns for love and freedom. At the same time, a reporter writing a book about Ricky asks Clara for information, even though she has never before granted an interview. Because of the visitor, Clara decides it’s time to reveal the truth; and as the book progresses to the end, you discover the circumstances leading up to the crime.
Themes in this book include religion—Clara is Catholic and does follow her faith in prison, including going to confession and taking communion; forgiveness; self-preservation; abuse; independence and freedom; friendship; loyalty; love; truth and more.This is the perfect book club choice, as readers will debate Clara’s crimes, her confessions, her circumstances and even the ending. On Rebecca’s website (http://www.rebeccacoleman.net), book clubs can sign up for a possible Skype or phone visit from the author.
Inside These Walls is one of those novels that will keep you up past your bedtime because you want to discover the secrets Clara has kept and what landed her in one of the worst places imaginable—prison. Here are a few words straight from Rebecca about her novel and writing career:
WOW: What made you want to write about a woman in prison--and then in a high-profile case?
Rebecca:Once the story started taking shape, it became more interesting to make it a high-profile case because it would make sense why someone would want to interview Clara for a book. But as to why I wrote it in the first place--the only truthful answer is. . .because it's the story that showed up in my head! I never start out with a specific topic in mind--I want to write about an emotion, and then I find a story that gives a structure and a progressive arc to that emotion. With Inside These Walls, it was about the feeling of being given a second chance at something very, very important and how far a person would go not to squander that chance. And what could challenge that more than being in prison?
WOW:Thanks for explaining how the story took shape. It's always interesting to hear from successful authors how their brain works. How did you get your agent, Stephany Evans (in other words--meet at conference, slush pile, etc)?
Rebecca: I sent her a query letter by e-mail, but it was an unusually nervy move for me. Normally I'd go to an agency's website, look to see who the newest agents were, and query them, thinking they were still building their lists and would be more open to a new, untested writer. I'd gotten stacks and stacks of rejections. Then my first book, The Kingdom of Childhood, became a semifinalist in Amazon's ABNA contest, and that gave me the courage to query higher up the food chain. I have to say, Stephany is the perfect agent for me. She is conscientious and tenacious and attentive. I ended up feeling glad for all the rejection because in the end it gave me the opportunity to work with Stephany.
WOW: The advice we all hear is that finding the perfect agent should fit like finding the perfect spouse or mate. We're so happy that has happened for you. What's up next?
Rebecca:Thanks for asking! I'm working on a new story that features a character my readers have seen before--that's all I can say.
WOW: Now, that's a teaser. I can't wait to find out about that! How do you balance writing and marketing?
Rebecca: It's a serious challenge! You have to schedule the business part, so the creative aspect doesn't eat all your time. It's easiest for me to spend the first hour of a work day dealing with Twitter and e-mail, then set myself free to write for the rest of the day. It's tough because writing asks you to lock yourself in a room with your imaginary friends, and marketing requires you to go out there and take risks with real people. A lot of writers write specifically because they don't want to do that.
WOW: Very true! What's one piece of advice you would give to new writers?
Rebecca: Don't be a diva. To succeed in this business, you need to be able to take criticism, be enjoyable to work with, be flexible, and make many more friends than enemies. If you can do all that and be true to yourself as a writer, then nothing can hold you back.
WOW: Thank you for that wonderful advice. Please keep WOW! readers informed on your next book. We'd love to hear about it.
Readers, don't forget, you can enter to win a copy of this wonderful book, Inside These Walls, by entering the Rafflecopter form below! Good luck!
I'm in the midst of a big revision right now, and I'm doing things a little differently. I had two influences.
The Plot Whisperer
In The Plot Whisperer Martha Alderson writes about making sure that scenes include dramatic action, character development, and thematic significance. I'm working with a chart to keep track of those three elements in each chapter. What about material that doesn't relate to any of those things?
Some Disappointing Reading
For several years, one of my sons and I have been slowly making our way through a beloved fantasy series. I gave him the next volume last year for Christmas. He passed it on to me earlier this year with the comment, "It's not very good."
I finally started reading it a few weeks ago, and I have to agree with my offspring's assessment. Right away I could tell what was bothering me about the book. There was lots of clever, even amusing, material that didn't relate to any story. It didn't deal with the dramatic action and character development Alderson wrote about, and that early into the story I had no way of knowing if it had anything to do with thematic significance. This somewhat random wordiness made the book slow reading. It was difficult to tell just what the narrative line was, so I had little desire to follow it. In fact, I've put the book aside.
What Does This Mean For My Project?
Taking the two influences together--Alderson's contention that dramatic action, character development, and thematic significance be included in every scene and my reading of a book with scenes that included a lot of material that didn't relate to any of those things--led me to become hyperaware of material in my manuscript that had nothing to do with action, character, or theme. What I'm finding is that a lot of that material no longer seems necessary. It drags down my reading. So it's being cut.
My long-suffering Facebook Friends heard me go on at length yesterday about the 120 plus or minus cupcakes I had to ice and box up. During a roughly 6-hour period I also made an additional two-dozen cupcakes that didn't need icing as well as some mini-meatloaves and asparagus for dinner.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, Gail. But did you do any writing?
I did some yesterday morning. And that led to something happening yesterday during my cupcake binge.
While I was revising a chapter yesterday morning, I realized that a lot of what I was reading was similar to what I'd read in the chapter before. I felt that the new chapter was necessary because it dealt with the protagonist's parents' response to what he was doing. But this is a mystery, and the details being discussed had all appeared in the chapter before. If I couldn't come up with a new significant step in the story, I might need to eliminate a section. If I eliminated a section, I might be left with a hole in the plot that would need to be filled.
While I was working on cupcakes, the significant step I needed came to me. I had a breakout experience. With breakout experiences it's easy to focus on the breakout, because that idea/thought is so important. But the breakout can't come without some input first. You take in information, work to a point at which nothing more is happening for you, then let your brain relax with a totally different activity. Like icing and fancying up cupcakes.
So the work/input is important, maybe the most important part of the process.The more you work, the more opportunities you have for breakout experiences. Conversely, the less you work, the fewer opportunities you'll have for those breakouts. Writing every day won't insure a daily breakout experience, but it increases your opportunities for having them at some point.
In fact, writing every day helps make it possible for you to keep working when you're not, technically, working because you're relaxed brain is doing something with the material you provided it with earlier in the day.
Things went a lot better this past Thanksgiving weekend. This year I used a smaller unit of time to keep me at work--a twenty minute sprint. With that I was able to squeeze in a little writing every day except Thanksgiving, itself.
Why Was I Able To Work More On Thanksgiving Weekend This Year?
I think sprinting worked for a number of reasons:
Yes, twenty minutes is less time than the forty-five minute blocks I usually work in, so it's easier to find that short a chunk of time and stick with it.
I'd been sprinting once a day on workdays for a month or two in addition to my other work, so I had some practice with it.
I'd been trying to sprint on weekends for a month or two, so I had some practice with it.
I use a laptop now, which means I'm not tied to one spot in the house for work. My laptop is often wandering around the house with me, so grabbing it for a twenty-minute sprint on the couch or at the dining room table or even the kitchen counter is incredibly easy. There is no thinking about when I can force myself to the office.
What A Twenty-Minute Sprint Does For An Organic Writer
I am not wracking up a big word count with sprints, especially since I'm revising right now. But what sprinting during periods when you wouldn't normally work at all does is keep writers in their projects. For organic writers, that's a huge benefit. We can't plan out an entire book or even portions of it. Instead, writing generates more writing for us. Working on an idea generates the next idea. We depend on continuing to "work" with break-out experiences when we're not actually hammering out words to a greater extent than plotting writers probably do. Working for twenty minutes early Friday evening could mean that an hour or so later some ideas will suddenly spring into mind, ideas that will become part of our writing at some point, if not the very next day.
But without working on an idea, we're unlikely to generate the next one. The longer we go without working on the work in progress, the less likely it is new material will just break out of our minds relating to it. The longer we go without working on a project, the more difficult it is to get started on working again when we finally can.
Yesterday was the Monday after a holiday weekend. Getting back into work was incredibly easy. I suspect I can thank the sprinting I did on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for that.
I have made two attempts at writing a picture book. The first time, the editor I submitted it to said the humor was more appropriate for middle grade students, suggested I rewrite and resubmit it. That became my first book, My Life Among the Aliens. When I tried again, a writing group partner suggested that effort would work better as a chapter book. My editor agreed with her. That evolved into A Girl, a Boy, and a Monster Cat.
My take away from these two experiences is that not every idea is appropriate for a picture book. Unfortunately, I've got nothing on what exactly is a workable picture book idea.
I have another take away on picture books from a teacher's conference I attended in 1999. Cecilia Yung explained that the pictures in picture books don't just illustrate text. They actually carry part of the story themselves. Things like setting, characters' emotions, some action don't appear in the text. They appear in the illustration. A reader takes in the whole story at once through text and image. The illustrations in a picture book can even have their own storyline.
This was kind of mind boggling to me. It's one thing for author/illustrators to create a picture because they can work both aspects of the story at the same time. But how do writers working on their own create a story that doesn't include large amounts of the information that goes into the illustrations but isn't so bare bones that agents and editors don't find it uninteresting?
I love to read writers' autobiographies, for many reasons: the differences between their lives and their books, the experiences they've had, the descriptions of their writing processes. But I don't think I've ever picked up any advice that I followed until Diana Wynne Jones's Reflections -- not an autobiography, but a collection of essays and talks and interviews.
These are the things that helped or inspired me or just really interested me.
She thinks about her books for a long time before she writes them, but doesn't plan them out. Usually when she begins she knows only the beginning, the end, and something in the middle -- until she can see this scene in vivid detail, she doesn't start writing. Part of the fun of writing is learning how the characters got from the beginning to the middle.
She knows ALL her characters -- even the minor ones -- really well before she starts. She says that if you do, you'll rarely get stuck: when you need a character to be somewhere doing something you will remember that someone else, say, owns a grocery store and...You don't tell the reader NEARLY everything you know -- she, for example, knows exactly what all her characters look like, but rarely describes them: if you know, she says, their looks will come through to the reader.
She writes her first drafts in what she describes as a "white heat" -- just pours them out. Then in the second draft she gets very analytical and critical.
This was especially helpful to me -- I often get bogged down in being critical, and it really hampers the flow of ideas. The more the two processes can be separated, the better.
She advises modeling villians on people we know; there is no need to worry that they will recognize themselves, she says, because few people think of themselves as bad...unfortunately I was unable to do this -- none of the people I wanted to use were quite right for the things they had to do -- but it's a good idea.
Last Thursday, September 5 marked two important anniversaries: it was the two-year anniversary of Rookie Magazine, which I've had the honor of writing for since the beginning (in case you want to revisit it, here's my excited post about Rookie's launch) and the two-month anniversary of my arrival in Seattle.
Actually scratch that. It marked three important anniversaries. It was also the two-day anniversary of me feeling that happiest I've been since 2009.
I haven't been wholly and completely miserable since 2009. Some really wonderful things have happened. Like this:
And even this:
But that last thing was kind of where the trouble began. About three weeks before Ballads was to be released, during a horrible week when I'm guessing but can't be bothered to check that Mercury was in retrograde because we were having the kind of killer heat wave that made me hate Chicago, my air conditioner was broken, and I was having so many problems with my home internet that I'm surprised I didn't bomb Comcast, my then-agent called to tell me to STOP EVERYTHING and promote Ballads because the publisher wasn't really doing anything for it and the print run and sell-through numbers were half of what they'd been for I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone. Since they are sorta like children, I don't think you are supposed to love one book more than another, but I did love Ballads more. It was the book I felt like I was born to write--or that I'd survived my teenage years to write. I'd poured so much of myself into it that the ulcer problems that I'd had at sixteen resurfaced and were worse than they'd ever been.
And with the way my agent was talking it sounded like that book had failed before it even hit stores because my publisher had already written it off. I don't know how much of that is true and how much of that was my emotional response. What I do know is that I did everything I could. I was actually already doing everything I could. I mean, if high school had majors, mine would have been "Punk Rock D.I.Y." I'd taken everything I knew to support both of my books. With Ballads, I'd even hired a publicist.
But, to this day, it's sold only a third of what I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone sold. I don't know why. It's the better book. Up until I finished The Grief Book in May, I was pretty sure it was always going to be the best thing I'd ever written. I think that it is always harder for second books, even when the publisher is giving them a big a push, and when the publisher isn't, well... But I don't want to play any sort of blame game. I still have nothing but love for my editor and the people I worked with at MTV Books. I honestly don't really know what happened. All I do know is this:
It was out of my control.
But it has taken me four long years to come to grips with that.
I'm a perfectionist. An overachiever. Even when I was a stoner fuck-up, I was a straight-A student (aside from gym which doesn't count toward your G.P.A., so um, it doesn't count). I couldn't shake the idea that I had failed somehow. I had this big dream of "making it" as a writer, but instead I was (barely) supporting myself on bartending income, which was not at all where I envisioned myself with my fancy MFA degree at the age of 30. I beat myself up for months, for years thinking I wasn't good enough, my writing wasn't good enough.
My writing suffered as a result. There was the whole saga of The Bartender Book. I spent two years on that book, going through paralyzing periods of writer's block, ignoring so many people's gentle advice to just let it go--advice that maybe I should have taken because it hasn't sold--because I felt like I needed to prove that I could finish a book. I thought things would get easier after that, but then there was The Modern Myth YA that I couldn't finished and my biggest crisis of faith about my writing, which came in the middle of writing The Grief Book.
Other Hard Things were happening too. I had friends who were going through Terrible Awful Things. I was still reeling from the death of my friend Marcel in 2008. My house kept flooding because the weather in Chicago was pretty much constantly wretched. My beloved cat, Sid, who'd been my best friend and companion since my awful junior year of high school got really sick and then last November, he passed away.
Out of his death came the decision to move, though. I felt like he was setting me free. Like he knew I wouldn't go anywhere with him sick because it was too risky to be away from our trusted caregivers. But when we were saying goodbye, I felt like he was telling me to make myself happy.
My therapist definitely was. I went back to therapy in July of last year because I knew my depression was the worst it had been in fifteen years. I was thinking about cutting. I was even sometimes thinking about suicide. I felt very much like I had at sixteen, but I knew more. I knew I didn't want to hurt the people I loved and that I didn't want to keep hurting. I knew that I could help myself. So I did.
In therapy I quickly had a bunch of revelations, especially about control--what I could control, what I couldn't and why I was so obsessed with it (the still-lingering effects of the controlling/abusive relationship I was in as a teenager).
There are many things about my writing career that I can't control, namely who buys my books, meaning both publishers and then how many people buy them after they come out. I can only write the very best book I can, promote it in the ways I know how, and hope for the best. I can't base my happiness on this. So I needed to be proactive and do the things I knew would make me happy. That thing was moving to Seattle and starting fresh in a city that I love.
It was absolutely petrifying because it meant relinquishing a lot of control, which I wrote about in part two of my series on making the move for Ms. Fit Magazine here. I came out here without a job aside from the work I do for Rookie and Ms. Fit and an online teaching gig, which all together would pay maybe a month's worth of bills. I had savings and a credit card with a high limit. I have a very supportive mother. I had to trust that this would be enough and that finding my own happiness would be worth the gamble.
My friend Marcel wrote his Instructions for Life on a paper towel and after his death, another friend had them printed on paper towels for a bunch of us. I keep mine in a shadow box above my desk. This is his first instruction:
"Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk." My friend, the one who had the paper towels printed for us, reminded me of this before I set off. I insisted that the shadow box with the paper towel accompany us in the car, that it be the first thing in my new home because I believed that knowing me as well as he did, Marcel would know that for me, a person who has struggled with depression for most of her life, a greater achievement than publishing a book would be learning how to make myself happy. In fact, I'm sure if I'd been able to call or write him during my struggles in the past four years, he would have said something like that. I know that he would have been proud that I finally figured it out on my own.
My third piece for Ms. Fit, which I hope will be published soon, was written a month after we arrived in Seattle. When I was mostly happy because,um, well, I live in a place where I regularly see views like these:
But I was also freaked because I still hadn't found a job and/or sold a book, which I thought would click right into place if this whole moving thing was meant to be.
Deep breaths. Great Risk. It'll be worth it. You can do it. Job hunting is a slow process, especially in this economy. But much like when my husband and I found the right apartment, when I found the right job, everything sped up and it happened fast. I started last Tuesday as the administrative assistant in the English Department of a local university, one that is only a 15 minute bus ride or a a half an hour walk from my house. It's a gorgeous campus in one of my favorite parts of the city. Yes, it's office work. Yes it's full-time. Yes, this is a huge change from the past four years or so of my life. But it is an English Department and the people I've met so far are inspiring and amazing. For the first time in a long time, I feel stable, secure, hopeful, happy. I know there will still be challenges, the biggest being how to fit writing into my life. I know for sure that I will keep writing for Rookie because that is writing that has brought me nothing but joy for the past two years. I've always written fiction, but I've been writing essays and rants and zines since high school and I take just as much pleasure from that. Also, the Rookie staff has become my best support network. Even though it is an online publication and we work from all over the world, we take good care of each other. It really is one of the best parts of my life.
Of the two projects I mentioned in my last blog, I'll probably focus on the essay collection/zine thing because Rookie has given me the most joy as of late and because it will be the easiest to piece together while I'm learning to juggle writing and a full-time job. However, The Grief Book is the best thing I've written. It's better than Ballads. It's what I survived my teens and twenties and early thirties to write. I believe in it with all of my heart and soul. I'm finally ready to set free all of the old guilt and pain and stress I've felt about my writing career for the past four years and I hope that will unlock the universe somehow and the right editor will read it and want it and you all will get to read it soon. That would definitely take my happiness to the next level, but right now I'm just happy being here, in my heart city with the love of my life, the support of incredible friends all over the place, and knowing that I've done some damn fine work for the coolest magazine on the planet and I've written books both published and unpublished that I'm very proud of.
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I am excited to introduce you to Shermie Rayne, who won second place in the Spring 2013 Flash Fiction contest with her haunting, vivid, and amazing story, "Revolution." This is one of my favorite flash fiction pieces I've ever read--first because I love the genre, historical fiction, and don't read it much in flash fiction. But most of all, Shermie was able to take a terrifying event and show us less than 750 words how it affected the rest of the main character's life, as well as share the character's emotions and fears. If you haven't read "Revolution" yet, please take the time to do so now right here.
Shermie, a native of Kentucky, currently resides in Virginia with her husband and four children. Other than a futile attempt at penning a True Confessions inspired story at the age of eleven, she is a recent newcomer to the wondrous world of writing. A graduate of Bellarmine University, and a former registered nurse, when Rayne was confronted with the angst of middle age, she decided to try her hand at writing, instead of returning to hospital scrubs.
Although she still reads more than she writes, Rayne has completed a couple short stories and has several novels in various stages of development brewing, including her current project, Faye, a young-adult fantasy novel. If you’d like to follow Rayne along on her writing journey, please visit her blog: http://shermierayne.wordpress.com/.
WOW: Welcome, Shermie! What gave you the inspiration for "Revolution"?
Shermie: I believe the story seed for "Revolution" was planted when I became aware of certain events that occurred to some of the colonial women and girls during the Revolutionary War. Just prior to writing "Revolution," I had recently heard/read of a famous British Army quote from that time period: “The fair nymphs of this isle are in wonderful tribulation…” ~Francis, Lord Rawdon.
It bothered me, or more precisely the history behind the quote’s meaning…well, it angered me. Not because atrocities of that nature didn’t happen, or don’t still happen, but because it had occurred so ostentatiously, with such blatant disregard, here in America. I envisioned being a mother with a young daughter to protect, and from that place of desperation, "Revolution" was born.
WOW: I had never heard that quote before, and really, there are no words when you hear something like that. You responded to it like many writers would--pouring out your heart in a beautiful story. Do you write historical fiction often? Why or why not?
Shermie: While I do enjoy reading historical fiction, I’ve never written it. Because I have a tendency to be thorough and sometimes get “hung up” on the details, I have/had this conception that to write in this genre would be extremely time consuming and tedious because of the absoluteness it requires in authenticity. With that said, I’m a firm believer in the “never say never” motto. In fact, I couldn’t help myself and have a loose outline sketched and plan to continue with "Revolution" and see it through to novel length (someday).
My ultimate hope for my writing is not to be boxed into a genre or category—I want to allow the stories to define themselves and their own placement. The short story I worked on prior to "Revolution" was straight up horror. My current novel-in-progress is fantasy based, while the other stories in waiting range from dystopian to family drama.
WOW: I would love to read a novel version of "Revolution." So, was it hard to pack all that emotion & history into one less-than-750-word story? Why or why not?
Shermie: In all honesty: no, it was not hard. I believe when a writer feels emotion(s) with a piece, the reader will, too. I had an incredibly moving vision with this story and knew it was meant to be shared. I was affected by the unfairness of the circumstance and wanted to give the mother power--and her own form of revolution (which was to hide and protect her daughter). All stories need the element of hope, even in dire circumstances-- and its character(s) need the ability, or the possibility, to remain resolute.
So, I quickly scribbled what I had seen onto legal paper, and from there, added the historical details and what I call “senses layering”, followed by editing (and cutting my word count). I purposely wrote this piece in first person, present tense to accentuate that forward feel of urgency and distraught dismay.
WOW: Thank you so much for sharing your writing process with us. I bet that will help some of our writers out there! According to your bio, you switched from a career in nursing to a career in writing. What made you switch?
Shermie: I was actually in a hiatus from the nursing profession. I had spent the last decade producing and growing a nice, little crop of children. But alas, the time flew by until I had a horrific consternation of realization: my kids were not so little anymore, and they wouldn’t always be so needy. I racked my brain thinking of different avenues to pursue for myself. With my three youngest children, at that time, heading off to jr. kindergarten, third and fifth grades, respectively, I knew I still needed a super flexible schedule, and I just couldn’t see how returning to nursing could work in our busy family life. So, I considered making and selling crafts(I’m not really crafty), working at Lowe's, decluttering other people’s homes, and/or maybe picking out their next paint colors--and then painting their newly decluttered spaces. My list of crazy ideas was boundless! My then eight-year-old daughter had spent that summer continuously writing stories, really excellent and creative stuff—I was so impressed and enamored with her abilities. I became her reader and editor, cooing and gushing over her while also guiding her with pointers and corrections. And, then the big idea hit me: you could write, too! So, I did.
WOW: That is awesome--I love your list of things you could do AND how your daughter inspired you to write. Your bio also mentions you have novels in various stages. So, what's your writing process like?
Shermie: My writing process is ever evolving, But basically boils down to: imagining, writing, and editing. I have been blessed in that the material that I actually want to write comes to me quite easily (so far-- knock on wood). So naturally, this is the best part of the writing process for me, and the aspect that I love the most—there’s nothing like being sucked into a little scene that plays out in your head. So my process begins there and continues in this thinking/imagining mode until I have a loose, but solid, outline.
Inspiration often hits me at very inconvenient times (e.g., the shower or driving), so that by the time that I’m ready to start writing, I have a file folder full of a gazillion hand-written scraps of paper, napkins, Post-its, and sketchy outlines to integrate into the story. I don’t start typing until I have a decent understanding of key characters, and I’ve seen the story’s ending, beginning, and several important scenes (usually in that order). From there, it’s all about imputing the story into the computer. I’m always amazed that there are a lot of details and extra material that spontaneously adds itself to the story along the way. My least favorite aspect of writing would have to be editing (and typing)!
One new tool that I started using with my current novel-in-progress is to keep a novel journal. I read of Sue Grafton using this technique with her novels, so I gave it a try. And it has made all the difference to me. I can flip back to the earliest entries that were written well before I even considered typing, and I can really get a feel for my characters and the story’s needs and wants.
WOW: That sounds a lot like a "novel bible." It is so important to keep notes! It sounds like you are also an avid reader. Can you tell us one or two titles you've read recently that you've really enjoyed?
Shermie: I’d say I’m rather an odd reader, I suppose. Between audiobooks, my Kindle, and actual “real” books, I have to have at least five to seven different books going at once, perhaps this reminds me of my college days, but I enjoy the variety and a wide array of genres.
I was very reluctant to embrace audiobooks at first, believing that I was a visual leaner and I’d not enjoy it; I was completely wrong (thanks, Amy). Audiobooks account for roughly half of my total “reading” time, which allows me to increase the number of books that I’m exposed to. But the greatest benefit: I believe it helps me greatly in my own writing. While visually reading books, one can absorb structure and story flow (which is awesome, too); however, when listening to the cadence of the human voice through storytelling, you can gain the feel for the rhythm and rhyme of words—which definitely can help writers. I love this quote by Virginia Woolf, “Style is a very simple matter; it is all rhythm. Once you get that, you can't use the wrong words.”
I just completed my summer-reading log through my local library system. (You know, trying to set a good example for my kiddos.) From that list of twenty-four books, if I had to choose just two books, I’d say, The Color Purple by Alice Walker and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. The former not only because it’s written in epistolary-letter form (which I love), but because the voice of the story rings true; the latter book is actually a wonderfully encouraging and poignant book on writing, which I highly recommend to any writer.
WOW: I love Bird by Bird, too! Thanks for a wonderful interview, Shermie. We wish you the best of luck!
Interview by Margo L. Dill. To find out about Margo and her books, visit www.margodill.com.
I am an organic writer, as I said earlier this month, which makes it difficult for me to talk about plotting. What is an organic writer, you ask? I've seen references to us for a long time, but usually the references aren't very involved, as if many people aren't clear on what we are. ("I may not know organic writers, but I recognize one when I see one!") We are said to write by the seat of our pants. Thus you sometimes hear us referred to by the mildly vulgar term "pantsers." We are said not to plot. I once saw a blogger describe us as using our first drafts to find our stories, meaning we sit down to write before we know what our story will be.
Plotters, on the other hand, presumably plot out their stories before they start to write. My understanding is that they know what they're going to write, they just have to sit down and do it. I once read a plotter describe spending three months working out his plot before he started actually writing. I don't know if most plotting writers do that, or if plots spring from their heads fully formed, or how they work at all. I can only guess what they do.
Organic writers, she says, tend to think in pictures, as in "the big picture," rather than language, while plotters go the other way. They are more analytical and detail oriented. Organic writers tend to prefer writing about characters while plotters prefer dramatic action. Organic writers tend to see a story as a whole and are short on details. Plotters tend to see the story in its parts. Organic writers may concentrate on character and end up being weak on the action that drives readers to stick with a story. Plotters may concentrate on action scenes and lose readers who need human interest.
I agree with a lot of what Alderson has to say about organic writers. Our interest in the big picture tends to leave us going, Okay, how do I get to that big picture? This is why formulaic plotting plans often aren't very useful for us. They involve coming up with details. A problem to solve and roadblocks to solving said problem or, heaven help me, metaphorical doors to go through or not are more mystifying than not for us. If I have problems coming up with details, telling me to come up with details isn't going to provide me with a lot of help.
Plotters are like engineers who design every element of a project so that it can be built into a completed whole. Plotters supposedly know what's going to happen in their story after they have their plot worked out, just as engineers know how their project will turn out once they've finished their, though both may have to make some changes before the job is done. Organic writers are also like engineers, engineers who have to "fast track" a project, meaning construction begins before they've finished the design. Organic writers frequently begin writing before they even are clear on what the basic story is going to be. Their process is all about design changes.
In future posts, I'll have more to say about writing process for organic writers.
I have a book-length work-in-progress that is actually in progress. This is the first time since the eBook publication effort for Saving the Planet & Stuff. Huzzah.
I got started on this in April, prepping for May Days, a unit of time I used to plan scenes for this project. Planning scenes is like plotting but different. Perhaps it could replace plotting for those who struggle with that.
I actually got started writing sometime this summer (maybe August?), working from that scene list. I was two and a half chapters and thirty-nine pages in, when I realized I still had a ways to go to get to the big disturbance to my protagonist's world. If you've been following my plotting posts for The Weekend Writer, you know that I'm very interested in the initial disturbance that starts a story. I had a secondary disturbance in the very first sentence, but the big one was taking a while to get to.
So for a little more than two weeks, I've been revising those two and a half chapters, changing the structure of the first chapter dramatically so that readers move back and forth between the day of the big reveal and how the protagonist got there. Instead of two and a half chapters and thirty-nine pages without reaching what I wanted to reach, I now have one twenty-eight page chapter, and I'm where I want to be to get the story going. In fact, the story is going.
My May Days buddies like to make another month-long group binge-writing effort in the fall. This year I'm working with them during the month of October. The plan, once again, is to write two pages a day, and report how we're doing each Monday.
I have probably discussed the issue of whether or not two pages is all that difficult a daily task. It's not. The issue is that writing has become something writers do less of than in days of old. That bugaboo marketing, in all its many, many manifestations, takes up a lot of time, but so does teaching for many writers, workshop planning, public appearances, and submissions. Finding time for the real creative work involved with writing can be an effort, even if you don't have problems with staying on task. It's particularly difficult if you're trying to get started on a new, book-length project.
My plan for my own personal Octoberfest, as I'm calling this month's unit of time, is to:
Generate two pages of material as many days of the week as possible
Allow the two pages of new material to include new scene planning, if need be
Learn to do what I'm going to call skim writing, meaning I'm going to try not to stop to get obsessive about perfecting factual bits, names, etc. I want to leave ______ or bold placeholders, which I hope will help me move ahead generating material that will provide the solutions for those blank spaces and placeholders that I can then go back and correct. I get bogged down much, much too often with those types of things for my taste.
And, of course, I hope to be able to wring another blog post or two from this experience.
Last week, I wrote a post about author websites and decided this week that I and better take my own advice! First, I updated the theme of this blog and added a homepage and a homepage for the blog. There are other behind-the-scenes improvements, mostly improving the way the site displays on mobile devices. (If you notice any problems with the website update, I’d appreciate an email!)
Second, last week, I quoted a study that said fans come looking for certain things on an author’s website. I am working on a draft of my new story this week and that study keeps haunting me. Am I providing any of these things on a regular basis? Is there any reason for a fan of my writing to keep coming back to my website?
These thoughts are starting to change how I write. Now, I also have open a second file that is a list of things to put on the website to go with this book.
Specifically, let’s go through the list of what fans want on an author website and see how you might plan for this as you write.
Exclusive, unpublished writing. 43% of book fans surveyed said they return regularly for exclusive content. While I am writing, I am keep a radar out for writing ideas that take off on a tangent. It may be a topic that doesn’t belong in the book because it would destroy the pacing. But it might work perfectly on the website as Exclusive Content. Maybe a short vignette, a short story, an episode. Maybe it’s a letter that the character might write to another character. For my current WIP, it’s recipes. One character refuses to eat eggs of any kind, so we have eggless cakes and such.
Author Schedules. 36% of book fans surveyed want to know the author’s schedule of tours, book signings, and area appearances. I couldn’t figure out how to plan for this one while I wrote. I did, however, add a News page to my blog, where I plan to regularly post the small successes that come my way.
Author’s Literary Tastes. Readers want lists of the author’s favorite writers and recommended books. Younger fans are also more interested in knowing about their favorite authors’ book, music, and movie recommendations. This one is a bit harder, too, because it doesn’t relate directly to the current WIP. For me, it will probably take the form of a focus on Pinterest. I need to spend an evening creating a couple boards of Recommended Books, Favorite Music, Movie Recommendations. And to complement my current WIP, I need to do something related to it. Maybe eggless recipes again. Or the story has aliens, so maybe a board of Alien Pics, UFOs, etc. I’ve always liked it when authors post a playlist of music for a book. I shouldn’t be surprised when kids like this, too.
Insider Information. 36% of readers (especially men) want “insider” tidbits. This is one of the main changes I am trying to make as I write. I am trying to notice where I do research and capture the URLs of interesting websites. Later, I’ll write about the inspiration I found from these sites. For example, one setting in the current WIP is a City Hall and I needed something interesting to happen there. What could be weirder than the truth?
Freebies. 33% want downloadable extras like icons and sample chapters. I am sorta lumping this in with the exclusive, umpublished writing above. I hope to have a couple side stories and/or recipes as freebies. But I am also paying attention to ideas for free wallpapers and such. I’ll look for easy ways to add things like that. Any suggestions?
Regular contact. 33% of readers want weekly e-mail news bulletins with updates on tours, reviews, and books in progress. I already have this covered. See the signup in the sidebar to get on my mailing list.
Fans under the age of 35: these fans like contests, puzzles, and games, with prizes like autographed copies of books. Well, this is hard, too, to plan for as I write. I am keeping a radar out, though, for contest, puzzle and game ideas. And I’ll certainly offer book giveaways when it’s appropriate. But overall, I’m not sure this one really affects my writing process much.
Overall, then, it is the extra writing and the insider information that needs to run parallel to my writing process. By the time this next book is written, I’ll have plenty of material for the website. Only time will tell if the fans come.