First Week, New Year

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Getting started over this coffee at Drip, one year ago

Just before Christmas, Caroline and I got together at our usual spot (thank you, Drip Coffee in Five Points for existing!).

How did we think our year of submission had gone?
Great.

Did we want to keep going?
Heck yeah.

Caroline and I have met for years to write together. But when we decided to push each other along, to ask what we could submit and why we weren’t submitting it, we changed the way we worked. We took more chances. We became bolder, braver, tougher. We looked for help from new places. Things started to happen.

A lot more still needs to happen–one of the best reasons to keep this going. And of course, committing to another year of submission means there’s also hope we’ll get a few more notifications like the one you see below. img_7528

Posting updates here is one way we’ve pushed ourselves to do what needs to be done. This blog is an odd little way we hold ourselves accountable. So if you’re reading this, we appreciate your help in that department. And when we get a comment, that keep us accountable, too–so thanks for those!

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Big Sur Writing Workshop Notes

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Trudging up the path to the conference center at Big Sur Lodge

It’s been ten days since I walked (okay, drove) out of the woods at the Big Sur Writing Workshop, and I’ve had a lot to think about–and work on. I got good feedback on two projects and left with a clear idea of which one to work on first and what to do with it.

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Andrea Brown organizes these workshops. Here she’s introducing writer Eric Adams, who gave a great talk on theme, plot, and character.

That, I believe, is called progress!

Here’s what I liked about this workshop:

  1. Critique groups were small and you got specific feedback on your work that you could use for an immediate rewrite.
  2. Because one of my group leaders was an agent (with good, sharp insights, btw), I also got to see how an agent thinks about submissions–what seems marketable and what is off-putting.
  3. Because my other group leader was an author and screenwriter, I got another kind of feedback that was every bit as helpful in a different way.
  4. I heard other works in progress that I really liked, and that made me value the writer-to-writer feedback I got even more.
  5. The faculty was smart and accessible, eager to talk to you even when you might have felt a little shy about imposing on them.
  6. Everyone attending was friendly–and I didn’t meet a single person who felt the need to show off.
  7. I left challenged to improve my novels and encouraged that they have a future.
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Nice people attending, including Nadine (front, right) who wound up sitting with me maybe more than she might have liked.

Despite years of attending work events and mingling with people, I still find that activity exhausting. One of the nice things about the Big Sur group is that lots of other people seemed to feel the same way, so people were sociable but not too. There was enough down time to write and regroup. Maybe not enough time to sleep. But I caught up on that later.

I emailed Caroline after it was over, letting her know it had been good for me to attend. Here’s what she wrote back: “That is so exciting about the coach’s feedback. Think of how far we’ve come since you got us started last January!”

That really made me smile. With just a couple of weeks left in this year, I can see we are getting somewhere, both of us, because we’re making a focused effort to do it, helping each other keep going, and being just a little more aggressive.

The workshop, in case you want to know more, is organized by the Andrea Brown Literary Agency and The Henry Miller Library. It lasts for one weekend. The focus is children’s literature. You can find more details here.

Blogging When I Should Be Packing

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My well-used Kami Kinard handouts, in their special orange file folder

In a few hours, I’ll be dashing off to the airport, so that I can attend the Big Sur Writing Workshop this weekend. Writing a blog post is the last thing I should be doing right now, but I had a couple of thoughts to jot out before I go.

First of all, wow, the impact that one 90-minute workshop can have on your writing life. Back in May of 2014, I registered for a little session led by writer Kami Kinard at the S.C. Book Festival. I still have the simple handouts, and they’ve made so many things possible. Because of Kami, I applied to and was accepted for the Rutgers One-on-One Conference, a great experience that gave me a huge boost in confidence. I also joined SCWBI and went to one of their conferences.

I’m going to the Big Sur workshop because of Kami’s class, as well. If it provides even half the help that Kami delivered, it will be fantastic. And it’s in Big Sur, so how can it not be, really?

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Caroline at The Gourmet Shop, where the table is much less cluttered than mine

Also on my mind is the help Caroline gave me as I stood at my dining room table this afternoon, wired on espresso, trying to settle on what pages to pack for my two critique sessions. I had ideas, but it helps so much to have her thoughtful take on things. As I’ve said so many times, the deliberate approach she takes to work is such a great counter to my many-things-at-once style. (BTW, she’s working on finalizing her novel, chapter by chapter, but I’ll let her write the update on that.)

So, here I go, hoping to move two middle grade novels a little closer to published status. One is a story I’ve been working on for a long time. The other is a draft I’ve just finished. And of course, there are others. But it looks as if they’ll have to stay at home this time and wait their turn.

When Writing Gets In the Way of Submitting

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Jenny reflecting on this strange state of things, with a little selfie taken at Chicago’s bean.

Well, I didn’t see this coming.

Here I am, so eager to write new chapters for a new book that I don’t want to stop and make time to submit. No forcing myself to put butt in seat. No beating myself up because I skipped out on my commitment to write for a couple of hours. I’m doing it.  Just plugging away, cheerfully, eager to see what the next 2,000 words may hold.

Am I on a creative roll? Have I finally grown up as a writer?

Or have I taken submission procrastination to a whole new level? Am I so desperate to avoid submitting that–shock–I’ll even write to get out of doing it.

Maybe it’s both. Even with more confidence, the ease of using Submittable, and my improved ability to shrug off rejection, I find submitting to be hard hard work.

I’ve let weeks go by without submitting a thing. Not part of the Year of Submission plan! I’m determined to send something, anything, out this week. Of course, I was determined to do that last week, too.

Meanwhile, I can honestly report that I #amwriting. (I believe that calls for a rousing “believe me.”) How about that?

First Draft Freedom

img_2323Whoop! My first draft is almost done. It’s messy, choppy, filled with dialogue and sparse on description, but that’s ok, because I’ve made it all the way through.

The plot is in place, and my characters are coming to life, and I know what happens from the beginning to the end.

For me, the hardest part is over.

No more struggling to answer, “What happens next?” “Would Teddy say this?” “Would Helen do that?” I don’t have to pace around closing my eyes trying to visualize scene after scene. They are all there on the pages.

I’m now actually excited to go back to the beginning.

But before I head into the revision, I first need to back away from the novel. I need to take a week or so off to gain some distance from what I wrote in order to later see it with fresh eyes.

Once I feel ready, I’ll print out a fresh copy. I’ll do a read-through in several sittings. I won’t stop to make changes. I’ll just pretend to be reading it for the first time.

I could then do all this but I might be too exhausted by the end!

So instead, I’ll next go through and analyze the manuscript. This time making marks, jotting down ideas, thoughts…I’ll ponder…

Does my story make sense?

Is the plot compelling? Any plot holes?

Does the story flow?

Do my lead characters come to life?

Are the stakes high enough?

Are there any unbelievable leaps of logic?

Is the pacing. Too fast? Too slow?

Then I’ll start making the actual editing changes. And once to the end (maybe two months from now) time for the next revision! I’ll have to do another post about that one when the time comes.

 

The Sagging Middle

IMG_1218I’ve reached the middle section of my YA novel.  As a writer, I’m a pantser, meaning I write by the seat of my pants. I love writing this way. Never knowing what will happen next and then being delighted when I find out.

That worked fine for the first section, because beginnings are exciting and new and fresh.

But a novel is for the long haul, and the middle section is the biggest part, and it was starting to feel arduous and unending.  So I went to the internet for help. Here’s what I found out.

I need to think more about structure and pacing and plot lines, because without some set guidelines, I’ll run in circles and never get to the end.

Instead of a novel in thirds. Split the middle section into two parts and have a four part novel. I like this idea. It makes the middle seem more manageable. I found this idea at Terrible Minds.  The writer somehow ties faking an orgasm to fiction writing. Worth a read just for that.

Stories are about problems that need to be solved. In the middle part, the hero must face some tests. He might even need to face his greatest fear.

Every scene should keep the story moving forward. Every chapter should start with a compelling inciting incident. A problem arises. Something throws the main character for a loop. Keeps him constantly thrown off kilter. This article has more good info on inciting incidents.

Look for places where the protagonist is forced to abandon his original plan and move in a new direction to meet an added challenge.

I could bring in a new character. That always adds spice and variety.

In certain parts, I could ramp up the action and force the pace to quicken.

It’s always nice to add some comic relief here and there to allow a break in the action and low points.

And lastly, when I get stuck. I can do some character prompting. I’ll put the character’s full name at the top of the page. Then start a dialogue.  I’ll ask Teddy about the situation he’s in. What does he feel about it? Ask him how he thinks he’ll solve his current problem? And hope that he gives me some really good answers!

(The above photo is Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge in Nashville where a major scene in my novel takes place.)

Also: writing update. I got my first rejection on a short story. I’ll just send it out again for the year of submission!!

Getting the Work Done

“When I feel difficulty coming on, I switch to another book I’m writing. When I get back to the problem, my unconscious has solved it.”

IMG_6375 (2)If you asked Caroline, she’d tell you that’s the sort of harebrained approach she’d expect me to take. And when you look at my projects spread across a table, it’s hard to deny.

But it just so happens that those words belong to Isaac Asimov, not me.

It’s one of many quotes you’ll find in the book The Write Type. I can’t remember what inspired me to request it from the library.

The premise is this: There’s no one correct way to get your writing done, despite what people tell you. The best thing you can do, this book says, is figure out your natural inclinations and make the most of them.

Perhaps the Universe does send you gifts when you’re ready to receive them–or possibly when you don’t need them quite so much as you used to–or maybe those two are the same thing. Caroline and I spent the first six months of this year looking for better ways to get our work done. Now, it feels like we’re finding our way.

Still, this books has plenty of positive reinforcement and some ideas for taking what I’m doing and making even more of it. The author, Karen Peterson, is perhaps the perfect combo–a psychologist and a writing instructor.

Three things that stuck with me:

  1. Most of us have a conflict going between our adult side and our child side. When we try to strong arm our child side into doing something, the child rebels. That makes it  even harder to find the will to get work done. Better to appease your child and trick/coax/bribe it into doing the adult thing.
  2. There are plenty of ways to work on your writing that don’t require sitting down to a blank page and inventing scenes. Peterson provides a list of six categories of work that you can keep on your desk to remind yourself of ways to keep going.
  3. It can help to challenge some of your beliefs. Of course, if you’re going to challenge them you also have to realize you have them.  Peterson gives you a structure for doing all of that.

Now true, a lot of this I already know and practice. But as I’ve said before, even when I know how to solve problems, it helps to be reminded that I do.

Some of the things this book might help you figure out include what is your best time of day for writing, whether you’re a schedule or deadline writer,  whether you prefer one project at a time or thrive on the chaos of multiple projects, and how much solitude you need to get your work done.

When it was time to return this book to the library, I realized I’d like to keep it around. So it received my ultimate endorsement: I bought it.

Who would listen to this guy?

IMG_6072Seems like everywhere I’ve turned in recent days, I’ve not only encountered Donald Trump but also essays and articles about how we should stop listening to the mean-spirited negative voices in our heads, the ones that tell us we can’t.

One example, this Brain Pickings post that showed up on my Twitter feed. Here are a few of the opening lines:

I found myself contemplating anew this fine but firm line between critical thinking and cynical complaint. To cross it is to exile ourselves from the land of active reason and enter a limbo of resigned inaction. 

But cross it we do, perhaps nowhere more readily than in our capacity for merciless self-criticism. We tend to go far beyond the self-corrective lucidity necessary for improving our shortcomings, instead berating and belittling ourselves for our foibles with a special kind of masochism.

Writers on this topic often ask how you’d respond if your friends spoke as harshly to you as you speak to yourself. In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron suggests you give the inner critic a face.

After getting a generic rejection email this week, it first occurred to me that there was something hugely, irreparably wrong with me and my work. Yes, I recognize the silliness of my reaction, but I also felt the sting. (Maybe I hadn’t had enough coffee. Or maybe I’m just a typical human being.)

Then it occurred to me that the political season has presented the perfect orange “face” for my inner critic. Because, really, he’s great at saying nasty things. And would I give anything he said a moment’s credit?  More likely, I’d be inclined to respond with a Southern “bless your heart.” We’ll see how it works!

Interior Monologue

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Of the four novel writing components, action, dialogue, description and interior monologue, the first two—I love—the second two—not so much.

So when Matthew, the editor helping me outline my YA novel, suggested that my main character Teddy needed more inner thoughts and feelings, I did not jump with joy. I know it seems simple enough. Just get in the character’s head and allow the reader to see what my character is thinking. But for some reason I resist doing it.

I know I should show Teddy’s loves, fears and insecurities so that the reader can find moments of recognition and identify with him, but whenever I attempt it, the thoughts seem simplistic and clichéd.

So I went looking for ideas and advice.

First, I perused a few novels in search of inner monologue. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl had none as far as I could tell. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman had a little bit. I found a good amount in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer.

Such as this excerpt: “I wish I had known that I wasn’t going to see Mr. Black again when we shook hands that afternoon. I wouldn’t have let go…but I didn’t know, just like I didn’t know it was the last time Dad would ever tuck me in, because you never know.”

And finally, I hit the jackpot on internal monologue with The Fault In Our Stars by John Green. The author does a great job of interspersing the main character’s thoughts and feelings throughout the novel. Such as: “It felt like everything was rising up in me, like I was drowning in this weirdly painful joy, but I couldn’t say it back. I couldn’t say anything back.”

This article on Interior Monologue is a long one but a good one.

Another neat thing I discovered is that a character can share thoughts with the reader they’re incapable of sharing with other characters. Therefore, the reader feels an attachment to the character by witnessing his or her internal battles.

And this piece was very informative and to the point.

I think the best fit for me will be to sprinkle bits of interior monologue at the right places to add layers of depth and emotion to the story but still keep the action moving along at a clipped pace. The dialogue and action will quicken the pace. The description and interior monologue can slow it down when needed. Ah. I feel better now!

P.S. That photo has nothing to do with the topic. But I do wonder what my wild child hero Peggy Guggenheim was thinking in her bikini outside her Venetian palazzo with her dogs.  Probably, to hell with interior monologue, let’s have some fun!