Breath New Life or Lay to Rest?

A Christmas-CarolI spent November away from my Dancer’s Tale novel. During that break, I thought I had an epiphany. And, in a way, I did. I actually considered welding the first and second novels together. I spent a few depressing days considering my options. But, after much deliberation, and a book that helped me considerably (See the link at the end of this post) Elizabeth Lyons showed me why that would be a particularly bad idea. (Lopsided on protagonists and split loyalties).

In the end, my true Epiphany, after talking to my editor over dinner, was that my opening chapter needs another look and some serious revisions. Whew! (Don’t tell anyone I had already started weaving the two together!) Is that all?

Well, that sounds easy, fortunately I happen to love revisions. Without a fascinating first line, paragraph, page, chapter not many people aren’t interested in turning pages. Rare is the one who wants to read an exciting book past a dull opening. And I had it in spades. Can I be honest? I didn’t like my opening at all.
Revisions are the answer. A trajectory shift. Not a 180, heck not even a 90. You might be surprised how much difference a subtle shift of one degree would make.
It isn’t necessary to shuffle the bones of the book, just a few tweaks. It will take time, like dieting takes time, but, I was glad for this little reference gem: Manuscript Makeover by Elizabeth Lyon.
If you haven’t begun a reference book stash, this is not a bad first book to snag for your shelf. If you’re serious about writing, it won’t take you long to accumulate a dozen or so titles. Over the course of the next few months, I will share the ones I have found most helpful. I hope you will share yours with me too!

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Setting Obtainable Goals

Winner-2014-Web-Banner

Last week, there were days that I just sat in front of my computer willing the words (any words) to appear on the screen. I tried squeezing coherence from my brain, pressing letterized thought through my fingertips and… I was choking on mid-story sag.

During those times, I felt like the kid who can’t leave the table until they eat their peas. Go sit at your desk and when you get 1,666 words, you can come out and socialize. Some days the whole experience took hours. Mind you, I have a day job, I have responsibilities. Some people in my house wanted to eat. (Not now! I’m NaNo-ing!)

Writing can be hard. Your little editor might be screaming about how worthless the story is, or you don’t feel anything in the direction you’ve chosen to go. In those moments, I usually back up to where I felt passionate and look for other possible directions.
I wanted to crank out two thousand words a day for several personal reasons, to be finished early (someone has to cook Thanksgiving dinner!) and because giving myself an insane cushion of time (working 4 days ahead of schedule) I start to believe I can actually finish this thing. Not just finish, I can WIN.

In my NaNoWriMo project, I’m pulling from a lifetime of experiences, what I’ve heard and read and been told from many other individuals. It gets a little dicey.
But, the NaNoWriMo first draft doesn’t have to be perfect—it’s a first draft. I could excise huge sections of this after I hit my 50k. So why do I balk? Even though running days ahead of schedule –and it’s a comfy little cushion– I can almost hear the barking dogs of failure coming for my heels. I must press on!

Maybe you need to crank out 1900 more words today. Where will they come from? Maybe you’ll grab some mood music. Something a little dreamy, a little tech-y and a little cutting edge. (Maybe a prompt book…)
My character grapples with standing on her own, walking away from a toxic relationship and a destructive past and still looks uncertainly over her shoulder—would the relationship ever recover?
Finally, after consistently showing up to the page, the muse relents.
I finally have a first draft.
I have the voice of the story.
The bones reveal themselves! It’s not pretty, but it’s done.

I’ve reached just over 50 thousand words, which means I get to have Thanksgiving with my family. I get a few days to breathe before the next challenge. I have another book in my folder.
I love NaNoWriMo.

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Hanging in there for the good stuff

block

So now that National Novel Writing Month is well underway, I’ve started out like gangbusters. The idea is fresh and new and has jillions of possibilities. Anything can happen. But what happens when you hit a wall? Like, in week two?

You run out of ideas on your story, what next? Well, my personal hard and fast rule is, don’t bail! If you have another idea for a story, jot it in your idea file, but as much as possible, don’t abandon ship on your original. I find that working on a story is a lot like working on a puzzle, and just because I can’t find the missing piece doesn’t mean I give up and start a new one.

A lot of times if you can distract yourself, get a drink of water, get a snack, go exercise for 20 minutes. Or 30. Give your mind a chance to mull things over and see what comes next. You would be surprised at what breaks through, if you just stick with it.

Maybe you’ve been trying to write in a linear way, holding on to a juicy scene that’s coming later in the story. Write it today and get your word count. I have a nice little book from by Maisel & Maisel called What Would Your Character Do? It’s a great treasure trove of questions that you can ask about your character that can go into their back story. Who are your characters friends? How long have they known each other? Who are your character’s enemies? What caused that relationship? Does your character have a love interest? Just lost one?

There are a lot of ways to get 50 thousand words. Sometimes I get writing prompts and use them for the story, or the antagonist. Everyone loves a good enemy. I decided to take a break and write this post to let you know that everyday won’t be easy writing. Today is one of my harder days. I get up walk around, do laundry, go to the store and come back to the page. I write a little more, look at a question or two and try find out more about them. If I don’t get anywhere, I go for a walk or exercise. Getting your blood moving really helps your thinking.

Another thing I have tried is writing a letter to your character, or writing a letter to someone as your character. Well, I cleared my head and feel ready to get back to the page. If you are doing NaNo, please feel free to look me up!

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How To Get it Down

A co-worker stopped me in the aisle today.The Editor
“Hey you write books, so I bet you know the answer. How do you go from story teller to writing it down? When I sit down in front of paper, I just know it’s not going to be perfect when I write it, so I can’t even start.”

Her question wasn’t the first time I’d heard about the Internal Editor. “The Editor” starts giving people a hard time right out of the gate, at the very first thought of writing. The Editor is that voice that attempts to defeat you before you jot the first tittle. The one that says, You better get this perfect the first time or it will not be worth doing. (Really?) The one that says, You don’t belong in the league with the writers; who do you think you are? The voice can be so pervasive, so loud, that many people, like my friend at work, won’t even try.

My advice, Don’t fall for it! Your writing doesn’t have to be perfect. That’s what revisions are for. My favorite quote of all time–the one that lets me slide under the wire and join the league of writers–is from James Thurber: “Don’t get it right, just get it down.”

When you revise, you’ll tweak dialog, explain the story a little more clearly, paint in a few more details, extract what fails to move the story forward, polish and refine. It’s okay if you don’t get it right the first time. No one will know or have to know (or probably care to know) what it took to get your piece to the point where you were happy with your writing.

Whether it’s a book, article, a poem or a play, I encourage you to give yourself permission to write a crappy first draft. Let yourself off the hook. Perfection is not a requisite to start, but! you don’t have to show it to anyone until it’s exactly where you want it, either.

If you’re a story teller, like my friend, maybe you could gather your little audience (hers were children) and record the story while you tell it. Then it can easily be transcribed and (kids remarks edited out) adding in the critical details, or adding what may have been left out, or deleting what may have been repeated when you are alone.

So, what’s keeping you from putting your pen to paper?

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Duly Warned

nanowrimo-poster
Well, I’m warning you well in advance. National Novel Writing Month begins November 1st!

If you’re a writer, you probably have one or a dozen stories cooking on your big 14 burner stove. So what if 7 of them are on the back burners and another three stay simmering on super low? The point would be that our heads are always wondering how some set of circumstances will play out. Right?

Last year, I stuck my fingers in my ears on November 1st and willed myself not to participate. I didn’t have a story, didn’t want to get sucked up in the crazy NaNo vortex trying to figure out how I was going to come up with 50,000 words.

On day four of (and incidentally, my daughter’s birthday) while minding my own business, and doing my pay me dance at the 925, (okay, really, I was chopping tomatoes) and one of my coworkers says, “The planet would be a much better place if everyone over 50 was dead.”

What? How would that even be possible? And just like that, my mind started running down all the despicable ways that a wicked world government might possibly annihilate an entire 2.5 generations. My mind took off, like the dogs seeing the rabbit at the racetrack. I couldn’t write fast enough. I even developed a book cover I loved to further inspire me. I hit 50k a full 5 days ahead of the 30th.

Wonder how I made such good time? There is no prewriting, and I hold fast to that rule, but aside from that, I’m not a purist. When it comes to first drafts, anything goes, and all words count toward the 50k word count. If I want to spend 1000 words defining a character, I do. Sometimes it turns into a scene, or a conversation, which is even better. Dialog is fantastic for brainstorming. You never know what a character will say (Especially an angry character) and it often takes the story in a different direction. Sometimes I’ll have only vignettes, what a character is thinking. How do they dress? What’s in their pockets or purse? Who is their enemy? Who else is in the story? What are your character’s motives? What are their goals and dreams? How many characters do you have?

Once I start down a path, I don’t throw it over and start a new story. I stick with one story. Always.

A writer friend, who later became my husband, once told me, if you don’t have a linear story, write the parts you do know. Then later, you can find ways to string them together. (This has worked amazingly well for both of us.) On more than one occasion, I wrote a part later that needed to happen earlier. It’s wonderful how the mind works to build a story. Writing challenges ought to prick the brain. I love to challenge myself and 50 thousand words in 30 days is perfect.  NaNoWriMo is the perfect venue to write with reckless abandon. Just rack up words. You can sort it out later! One of my favorite quotes of all time is from James Thurber. “Don’t get it right, just get it down.” Words I live by. More words to live by: Butt in Chair, Fingers on Keys.

And if you are lucky enough to write a linear, polished story by the end of the month, you will find many opportunities to preserve your diamond in print! So, who’s with me? Just go look around, think about it. Preregister. It makes life easier. But if you take the plunge, look me up. JuliOcean. Let’s be writing buddies!  I’ll encourage you!

NaNoWriMo.org

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Why do you write?

office

A panoramic of my little office

Recently, I reconnected with a blogger friend of mine. We were talking about jobs and she asked if mine was fun or a bread and butter job. I knew what she meant. I call it the 925 even though it’s part time. Definitely b&b but it is also fun. It’s really even more than that, it’s a well of characters, a wealth of characters. New people always coming in, New names arriving daily. It keeps me moving and I don’t really have time to be bored there. In the lulls between various daily rushes, I think about my book(s).
The other day one of my coworkers came into my department and told me she thought I had a glamourous job.
“Here?” I asked. Certainly, bread and butter jobs have their advantages. But glamour is hardly among them.
“No, your writing job. I think it would be glamorous to be a writer.”
Okay, of all my writer friends, I wonder does a single one of you view your own writing life as glamorous?
“Really, you think so?” I ask.
“Why, don’t you?” she was walking away with a cup of water in one hand, looking over her shoulder. Maybe as opposed to data entry, or a call center, or collections or…?
“No, I guess I don’t. It’s a solitary job and I’m stuck in a closet most of the time tapping keys.” I figured she’d keep heading off to her department. She didn’t. She came back.
“Well, I guess it’ll all be worth it for the glitz and glam of the book signings, then, huh?”
“I’ll let you know.” I smiled. That’s still something in the future for me.
It caused me to ask myself why do I write? What are my reasons for writing? I’ve been one of those people who wrote all the time since I can remember. It never really occurred to me that I was a writer because of that. I would find it difficult to stop.
Maybe you’re new to the writing game. I encourage you to write down measurable goals and your dreams for writing. Do you want to be published? How do you want to be published? Only a publishing house? Self publish? After you get published, what then?
Maybe you like essays or article writing. Maybe you write amazing poetry. Maybe you write so you can record spoken word to share with friends and family. If you’re writing a book, do you think you have another book inside you? A series? Do you like telling stories?
How far do you want to go with your writing?
I will confess, that it would be a mind blowing trip to make the NYT best seller list. And, I would like (another) one of my stories to become a film. Actually, a full length feature movie. I was thrilled when my niece decided to turn my prize winning essay, Ghost of Christmas Past into a short film for her senior college project. (I had a different name then as you will see if you watch the flick. If you want to see it, check the link at the end of this post.)
But what are your dreams for your writing? I encourage you to write them down. Check your goals often, update them and create new ones. Whatever you do, never give up. Pursue the dream. You never know, you could end up with a glamorous writing life.

If you wondered about the short flick by Lindsey Leanne here it is. If it asks for a password, it is: whowillremember

This was her vision of a true story that happened to me many years ago. Maybe one day, I will republish it.

Who Will Remember?

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An adventure in research

I’m currently working on my next full length novel. Some people will tell you that  writing gets easier with each book. The  writing aspect does, I have a better command of the language, it’s easier to hit my writing goal (which at one time was a mere 300 words or a short page a day). I know if I get side barred that I will sit down at the page again the next day. I trust myself, if I’m tired take a nap and go back to the page. I keep track of my word counts every day on a calendar.

What isn’t always easier is staying on track when doing research.

For example, when I do research it’s easy to follow a trail and squander huge blocks of time. I can look up reference material for dead zones for cell phones in the mountains and find myself searching for a new phone.

I find it necessary to write a list of what I need to check or research go to it and then get offline! Do not pass Face Book in or out which means no playing Candy Crush saga… (sorry to my friends who need lives and extra moves.)

Research is a critical part of your book. It can be as simple as finding out the name of a high school in another city, or checking out the lay of the land by Google Earth. If you want your book to be credible, research is nearly impossible to avoid. After all, you want your story to ring true to the reader.

I once read a story in which the writer failed to do her homework. After the first three chapters, I was angry and frustrated. A short way into the book, my editor hat was on and I was looking for mistakes. Not a good reading experience. (I sent along the revisions to them and that is another story altogether.)

People spend good money on books, and it’s our job as writers to educate and/or entertain. It isn’t supposed to be about them finding mistakes that need corrected or being irked by flawed information.

The very word research conjures up all sorts of dry, dusty images, doesn’t it? Really, it’s more of a learning adventure. For my first novel, it was important that one of my characters learn to properly handle a gun. Research for that: I took a class that trained me in gun mechanics, how to load, properly handle and shoot, and the most important thing: knowing when to shoot. They also covered the legal ramifications should it become necessary to pull the trigger and hit or kill someone with bullets.

It added an amazing amount of credence to the story and added to my credibility as a writer. And, it turns out, I’m a pretty good shot. Not all research is time intensive; you may need to know the miles between cities, or how long it takes to travel from one point to another.

Your book may or may not hit the mainstream market, but if you write about a shootout and it lands in front of someone who knows, say, about guns, you want them nodding along in agreement with what you’ve put down on paper, not writing you a nasty letter about how you need to do your homework.

How can you make research an adventure?

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