Saturday, July 31, 2010

Is anyone else out there?

Knock, knock, knock...

Is anyone else out there in the blogosphere? Am I the only writer not at the SCBWI conference in Los Angeles?

I wasn't able to attend the conference. I feel like the head-gear-wearing teen who's stuck at home, while all the pretty people are at the prom. Boo hoo.

How will I handle this disappointment? I'll make excellent use of my time. I'm progressing on my wip, sending queries, and keeping up with the conference through their blog. It's not the same as being there in person, but Plan B will be quite productive.

And now for some fun: over at the Restless Writers blog, they supplied a link to "I Write Like." Simply paste a paragraph from your work and it'll analyze it for you. It said I write like Stephen King. If only!

Tell me, are you missing the conference, too?

And if you pop over to I Write Like, be sure and tell us what famous writer you write like!

photo credit: gettyimages

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Look Back...No, Don't Look Back

The first draft of my work in progress is coming along nicely. Well, that's what I'm thinking, anyway.

I won't really know until I look back. For now, I'm resisting that urge. If I look back, will it paralyze me? Maybe I'd want to change everything, edit as I go, insist that it's horrible, weak, boring.

I'm jotting down notes on characters and scene details, as well as additional plot ideas. But that's about it. With structure in mind, I'm moving forward.

Some questions for you:
  1. Do you ever look back while you're writing your first draft?
  2. If you do, at what point do you allow this?
  3. Do you show your first drafts to your critique group?
When my critique group reads this for the first time, perhaps I'll pass out barf bags. Will they kick me out of the group forever? I'll keep you posted.

photo credit:

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Emergency! First Draft Disaster

In his book Plot & Structure, James Scott Bell mentions Sol Stein's technique for revision. It's called the triage method, where you work from the big issues down to the small.

The dictionary states "Triage is used on the battlefield, at disaster sites, and in hospital emergency rooms when limited medical resources must be allocated."

I get it: first draft = disaster. This reduces the pressure to make the first draft a beautiful, perfect thing. Now that we know it will be a disaster, how do we fix it? Bell suggests tackling revisions in this order:
  1. Let it cool. Bell suggests two or three weeks.
  2. Get mentally prepared. Bell recommends thinking of revision as getting to take the test over and over again, improving our grade along the way.
  3. Read it through. This is where Bell mentions triage. Start the revision looking for overall story and structure, then read it again for small details.
  4. Brood over what you've done. Bell suggests we think about our draft for five to seven days. Jot down notes.
  5. Write the second draft.
  6. Refine. Set it aside for a week, then read through it again to ensure character, plot, scenes and theme are the way we want them.
  7. Polish. Check for hook, chapter endings, action & reaction, and grammar.
Bell quotes Ray Bradbury. "Let your characters have their way. Let your secret life be lived. Then at your leisure, in the succeeding weeks, months or years, you let the story cool off and then, instead of rewriting, you relive it."

Ahhh, relive it. I like that. Now, off to create my own disaster!

What techniques do you use when revising your manuscript?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Keep Going

I have a promising idea for a nonfiction project. Last week I checked out a stack of books from my library and dug in to the research. Once I began, I felt overwhelmed by the mass quantity of information. In frustration, I considered the unthinkable: quitting.

Sunday at church, the message included two powerful words. Keep going. I needed to hear that. I'm not afraid of hard work, but sometimes I let doubts creep in about my ability to handle certain things. I know I'm capable of this project, I just need to focus.

Yesterday I pushed through that wall. I dove in to the research with gusto. I narrowed my focus, and my vision is taking shape. How will it turn out? I don't know. But there's one thing I'm sure of: I'm not quitting.

Let's face it--some ideas are worth pursuing, and others are quit-worthy. Have you ever felt like quitting a project, but it turned out to be great? Or have you ever started a project, but decided it was quit-worthy?

photo credit: photobucket

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Thanksgiving in July

"Hem your blessings with thankfulness so they don't unravel." - Author Unknown

This may sound corny, but I keep a thankful journal. Almost every day, I jot down what I'm thankful for. Some days my hand tires from scribbling a long list. Other days I have to dig. Deep.

If someone scanned my journal, they'd notice it reads like a Thanksgiving version of Groundhog Day. Repeat visitors to my journal are: a loving and supportive family, good health, and passion for the written word. Sometimes I'm just thankful for being thankful.

And now I'm also thankful for the blogging and writing community. The support and encouragement that's spread around blows me away. Plus, I'm amazed by what I learn from all of you. Thanks!

Tell me, what are you thankful for today?

photo credit:

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

No Pay & Low Pay - Your Opinion?

While some writers are firmly against this, I have no problem submitting and publishing with no pay or low pay markets.

My reasons are: 1) It's fun to write for them; 2) It boosts my confidence; and, 3) It sharpens my skills. The biggest reward? Reaching readers, which is one of my writing goals.

Until I read this by Nancy I. Sanders, I hadn't considered submitting to low pay and no pay markets. Now, I embrace them and appreciate the opportunities they provide.

What's your opinion?

And while we're on the subject, I'm happy to report two recent publications. If you're interested, you can check these out:
  • My article "Ready to Ride!" won first place in Imagination Cafe's nonfiction contest.
  • Susie Magazine published my article about the health benefits of laughter. You can view "A Spoonful of Laughter" here.
Both articles were fun to write, so viewing them on a site is the hot fudge on a scoop of vanilla bean. And the whipped cream on top? Reading the girls' lively comments below my article on Susie Magazine. They made my day.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

High Bar vs. Low Bar

"Achievement is largely the product of steadily raising one's levels of aspiration and expectation." - Jack Nicklaus

I play silly games with myself. When a new e-mail arrives regarding a submission, I'm equal parts terrified and excited. Before opening it, I tell myself it's a rejection. If I'm wrong, then I'll be super excited. If I'm right, then I can remind myself how smart I am. See? So silly.

It's a matter of expectations. Some people say it's important to set the bar high for ourselves. Others feel it's best to set a series of ascending bars, ones we can more easily reach.

I don't know if I've set the bar too high or too low. All I know is that I'm plugging along, satisfied with my successes--even if they're small. It seems to me that writers, like gymnasts, sometimes need the low bars to propel us to the high bars.

What do you think? What guided you in deciding how high to set your bar?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Tools in the Writer's Toolbox

My husband is the ultimate handyman. Seriously, this man can fix anything. He strolls in with his handy little toolbox, fixes the problem, then moves on. It's one of the many things I love about him.

With writing, I'm grateful for all the tools at our disposal. How-to books, writer and agent blogs, Twitter, search engines. Austen and Hemingway were not quite as lucky. These tools help me a great deal, and I'm grateful for them.

I recently finished reading Hunger Games. I know, I know, everyone's read it but me. It was an amazing book, and when I finished, I felt so...inadequate. Then I remembered that great novels are one more tool in my toolbox. I paid attention to what worked. Why did I care so much about the main character? How did Suzanne Collins get someone like me, who never reads this genre, to love her book? Simply put, it's great writing.

By paying attention and absorbing all the greatness out there, we writers can be our own handymen. We can spot weaknesses and fix them. We can toss aside tools that don't work for us, and move on to the tools that are a perfect fit.

What tools do you use with your writing? And do you ever feel horribly inadequate after reading a great book?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

ARM yourself (and your characters) for confrontation!

I can't tell you how much I'm learning from James Scott Bell's book, Plot & Structure. I wish I had read it years ago!

When writing the middle of our novels, Bell says we should "ARM yourself for confrontation." He defines ARM like this:

A = Action
R = Reaction
M = More Action

This guy knows how to teach! Bell says that in order to keep readers interested, we should not only think about ARM, but we should also stretch the tension and raise the stakes.

When stretching tension, we should remember to set it up properly. Bell writes, "Always make sure scenes of tension have something to be tense about." We can stretch the physical tension by slowing down and paying more attention to detail. For emotional tension, Bell says, "When a character is in the throes of emotional turmoil, don't make things easy on her."

When raising the stakes, we can accomplish this through plot, character, or society. Either way, Bell says, "If you can create a character worth following and a problem that must be solved--and then along the way raise the stakes even higher--you're going to have the essential elements of a page-turner."


How about you? Do you have fun shooting arrows at your characters? Or, do you like them so much you want to play nice?