I’m in the final pages of revision note making on my current middle grade novel WIP, and I’m finding all those things that make me roll my eyes when I see them in submissions. Ideally, I’m able to take off my writer hat, put on my self-editing hat, and catch those mistakes before my work goes to any agent or editor.
Many of these craft concerns are just part of drafting and in some cases are a writer’s own shorthand or red flag to rework a section. My personal red flags include the words: then, and then, feel, smile, see, and hear. To me, they signal that I’m about to tell, or lose a chance to be in scene showing emotion or moving the plot forward with action.
This manuscript is particularly difficult because the narrator is rather intrusive and actually has an important part to play in telling the story. What I’m finding is that I tell AND ALSO show. It’s as if I don’t really trust the characters to have their own voices or actions, nor do I trust the reader to get what I’m trying to say. Instead of just showing and letting the scene stand on its own, I write a little telling intro that goes nowhere before their scene. Like this:
My job now is to rework these scenes. Instead of summing up crucial off-stage moments after the fact or before I also show, I want to make sure that the action is happening on stage and in order. Back to the revision cave.
Kvetching and moaning confessional ahead. You’ve been warned.
Let me start by saying motivation has been low on this side of the keyboard. After working for a couple of years on a project, I hit a major road block. The new piece I started in January and was super excited about seems to have stalled as I’ve reached the muddy middle. My knee has been aching (an injury from a couple of years ago come back to haunt me), and I’ve used that as an excuse not to work out even though working out is one of the main ways I control stress and mood. The job (read income) situation has been spotty at best. Eighteen months out from the finalization of my divorce and the journey of grief seems to be never ending.
And don’t even get me started on the weather. It’s 60 degrees and sunny then it’s 18 and snowing. Right now there is some kind of mixed rainy, freezey, ooblecky* crap coming from the sky and I have on wrist warmers while I write. The only thing that has brightened my spirits has been the large number of hits my post about college visits got this week. I have had enough. If I was rich I’d hop a plane to somewhere with palm trees and turquoise waters. Instead, I watched the first three seasons of House of Cards (not a feel good show that one) interspersed with The British Baking Show (much lighter) and surfed the internet for inspiration.
I suppose I could find something on the internet to validate any mood but this week a few things have fallen into my cyber lap and I thought I’d share them with you.
All of these articles reinforce the idea that sometimes writers need to take time off, that the universe provides, that we are where we are for a reason, that we need to be kind to ourselves. I tend not to buy this line of thinking. If you’ve read Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and rewards) of Artmaking by Bales & Orland, you’ve seen their argument that artists will do almost anything rather than do their art. They call this “resistance” in the book and I seem to have it in spades. My suspicion of self-care is probably rooted in my early indoctrination as a rower. “There is no I in team,” “we don’t say can’t,” “row hard or go home.” As you can see, there’s not a lot of forgiveness or kindness in this philosophy. At this point though, I’ve should-haved and guilted and scolded myself enough and the only thing I feel is that it’s time for a hot bath…
3 cups of tea, 0 words. Not a good day at the office #writerslife
As a middle school educator I taught the writing process as a series of steps that separated “revision” from “editing.” Revision, I told my students had to do with answering the big questions that a reader had about your work. It was the writer’s chance to go deeper, be more specific, cut what didn’t work, be clear. Editing on the other hand was about the conventions: spelling, grammar, etc. (By the way if you teach writing I highly recommend Kate Messner’s, REAL REVISION)
At some point in the journey of my writing career, someone at some conference or workshop or lecture pointed out the obvious that the word revision is re-vision or “to see again in a new way.” I took on this definition as my mantra and thus, each revision has turned into a massive undertaking where I basically re-write a manuscript.
It doesn’t start that way. It usually starts with finding a better beginning. Beginnings are hard and many writers talk about a necessary writing to the end in order to fine tune a beginning again (and again). Of course, my fine tuning sets off a ripple effect throughout the entire manuscript. When faced with a section of manuscript that doesn’t work, I pinpoint the problem, I brainstorm solutions then I try it. (“Try it”–is another good piece of advice that can be an entrance to a revision blackhole.) How about a whole new character, Anna? And what if you add an epistolary element? What if, what if, what if…?
I’m pleased to say that I’ve been making steady progress in the revision cave for the last two weeks! My word count each day has hovered around 1000 as I reorder, rewrite, and rediscover the story I am trying to tell. I am going deeper, being more specific, cutting what didn’t work, being clear. Here are a few other things that I’m working on that you might notice in your work:
Where Does the Scene End:
I often end a scene where it will make a good chapter ending–one that doesn’t let the arc of that scene come to resolution, one that keeps the reader a little on their toes. This is a good thing unless, I haven’t given the reader everything they need. When I haven’t, I seem to start the next scene with a quick summation of what the reader missed. Sometimes this info is crucial to the emotional arc of the character. It should have happened “in-scene.” I am looking for these places in the work and rewriting to show the emotions instead.
Tension Makes Me Tense:
I am a pantser by nature but recent workshops with David Macinnis Gill and re-readings of Vogler’s,THE WRITER’S JOURNEY, and McKee’s, STORY have reminded me that plotting and outlining helps. I struggle to make the tension rise throughout a story and sometimes fall into and episodic (good fodder for another post) form of story telling. In this revision, I’ve listed the steps of the hero’s journey and jotted down the scenes that will happen at each of these crucial points. This organizing tool has been incredibly helpful. I’ve also written out what I see as my MC’s controlling belief (an idea I gleaned from Kathi Appelt and Franny Billingsley ) and I’ve added to that a question that describes her emotional arc. I make sure that each scene addresses in someway my MC’s belief and question (and desire but that’s also another post). This forces me to stay on track in the plotting.
Controlling belief: My mother left because she thought I was ugly and useless.
Question: Am I worthy of people’s love?
I guess these are similar but it has helped me.
Who Hates You Baby:
As students we learned the different types of conflict: man v. man, man v. self, man v. society, man v. nature, man v. machine. (Man! We’ll assume that is short for human.)
I was convinced that my book was MC v. self but part of the lack of tension in my manuscript came from the lack of a clear antagonist. I struggled with this idea, but in this revision I’ve chosen to clarify the antagonist and amp up the adversarial nature of their relationship.
I’ll be back in the revision cave come Monday but for now… out of the cave and into the mountains!
Hello wonderful followers. I know I’ve been MIA from my blog but there’s nothing like a deadline to make us produce. This week, it was my deadline for my group blog. I’ve posted over at Sporty Girl Books about my recent colorful, tactile revision technique using a plot chart. If you are a plotter or a pantser, this could be useful for you either as you revise or as you plan the initial draft. Please take the time to click, read, comment and follow over there. Hopefully, when I’m done with this revision, I’ll be back on a weekly blog schedule. See you then!
Since my last post there have been a lot of changes in my personal life. Changes that I’m not going to go into here. Suffice it to say they have taken up a lot of my brain and heart space and so blogging has been low on the priority list.
What came in high on the priority list this week was my workshop preparation for the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. That presentation, “Desire in the Middle Grade and Young Adult Novel,” went very well (if I do say so myself). I was honored to spend the day with seven aspiring writers who braved five hours with me at the Patten Free Library in Bath, ME. Together we explored model texts including Julie Berry’s; All The Truth That’s In Me, Linda Urban’s, A Crooked Kind of Perfect; Ingrid Law’s, Savvy; and Alan Cumyn’s, Tilt.
We asked questions, challenged ideas, reviewed manuscripts, wrote, revised, and even meditated. The day was a success!
Now I’m looking forward to my next presentation. May 2nd, I’ll be at the NESCBWI Annual Spring Conference presenting a workshop called, “Active Mind, Active Body.” We’ll be exploring the connection between physical activity and creativity, developing physical and creative goals, and crafting plans to achieve our goals. Finally, we’ll be doing some gentle physical activity (stretching, dance, yoga) to jump start fun writing activities. Register today!
If you were in my workshop today, share your learning, a new epiphany, or something that went well in the comments below.
If you are coming to NESCBWI New England introduce yourself in the comments and get your own badge here.
My Maine Writer’s and Publishers Workshop, Desire in Middle Grade and young Adult Novels, has a new date and time. Instead of two three hour sessions we are compacting it into a single five hour session on March first at the Patten Free Library in Bath, Maine. Click the picture or text link above for more information and registration. I can promise you a kick-ass lecture with examples from wonderful books, and one on one attention. If you know a someone in or around Maine who might be interested, please send them the link to this blogpost. Retweets and Facebook postings are encouraged!
When I was about eight years old, I used to sit on the landing and listen to the adult conversations that went on at dinner parties my parents would hold. I’m sure my parents thought I was asleep, and sometimes I would indeed fall asleep on the landing and they’d have to carry me to bed. The point is, that I didn’t want to miss anything. Sometimes Twitter and social media reminds me of this. With the incessant stream of tweets and updates I’m bound to miss out on something crucial.
The fact is, there is so much information out on the web that you can’t, and shouldn’t, try to keep up with it. I thought I’d post a few great links from my week and would love to see your favorite links, and a few sentences about them, in the comments.
First off, Ingrid Sundberg. Ingrid Sundberg is a fellow VCFA alum. She recently posted a fabulous series taken from her thesis on story architecture. If you only saw bits, or missed the whole thing, bookmark this page which includes the links for the entire series. Organic Architecture: Links to the Whole Series
If you are a parent or an educator, and haven’t found PragmaticMom.com, you should take a look. In addition to crafts, education, and parenting tips, she is an avid children’s lit reader with wonderful book lists. Her Multicultural Books for Children: 40+ Book Lists are an amazing collection of books broken into various helpful categories.
Lee Wind and the amazing SCBWI blog team were super busy last weekend at the LA Conference. Sadly, I wasn’t able to attend this year (I’m planning to go in 2014), but I was able to get the juicy tidbits on the Official SCBWI Conference Blog. If you are searching for an agent, you may want to read the many agent profiles. Illustrators will want to check out the winning portfolio images, and writers will be inspired by the encapsulated keynote speeches.
Again, I’d love to see your favorite links of the week– interesting industry news, and craft discussions that you retweeted, reblogged, tumbled or pinned that my readers might have missed. I’ll be watching the comments.
Last night I spoke at the annual awards ceremony and author’s reception for the Oak Hill Young Writers’ Club in Sabattus, Maine. I knew that the event would give me a chance to brush up on my public speaking skills before my award reception Sunday evening. I knew that the event would give me a chance to see what my Creative Bookings clients were experiencing. I knew the event would be my chance to inspire a group of kids who were interested in the thing that I love most.
What I didn’t realize is how much they would inspire me.
The Oak Hill Young Writers’ Club started with a handful of children at a single school and have since grown to one hundred children throughout the the school district. The teachers and volunteers leading the charge are passionate about children and passionate about writing. They see cuts in school budgets year after year and have “band[ed] together to become a foundation of support for [the] children.” Through business and community donations, volunteers, and the kindness of local authors, they have focussed their energy on making writing appealing and cool for students through club meetings, writing contests, and scholarships.
After the speakers, I was honored to watch the attending young authors receive their t-shirts and certificates of participation for the year. The contest winners received their prizes. Their smiles, and the pride on their parent’s faces, lit up the room. In that moment, I was reminded of the pure joy of writing without the expectation of publication or money or awards.
“[E]xperience has taught me that you cannot value dreams according to the odds of their coming true. Their real value is in stirring within us the will to aspire. That will, wherever it finally leads, does at least move you forward. And after a time you may recognize that the proper measure of success is not how much you’ve closed the distance to some far-off goal but the quality of what you’ve done today.”