Archive for the ‘Writing Bits’ Category

More drafts, more workshops

Friday, August 18th, 2017

from the Revere Beach International Sand Sculpting Festival. There's metaphor in here somewhere.

Summer is tilting to a close, winding down into the cooler days with a spike of heat. It’s been nuts, juggling kids and writing and marketing and family and the world as it currently stands and all manner of things but still, here we are, hanging on by our claws.

I finished Draft #3.5 y’all. Somehow. <a cacophony of horns>

It’s been three years — two years really, adjusted for baby-having — of working on this Novel about ghosts and identity and prejudice and grief and steampunk-iness and birds. The story itself saw its very first incarnation (the first half of a short story) way way back in 2009. It was a little over 3 pages, single-spaced, and just shy of 2000 words.

Draft #3.5 is 95,736 words, aka 307 manuscript pages.

For those keeping track at home, word counts for the drafts, as compiled:

Draft #3.5: 95, 736; 307 pages (~8 months)
Draft #2.5: 92, 038 words; 295 pages (~5 months)
Draft #1: 96, 089; 327 pages (~ 1 year)

I’ve been working on the third draft since January. So roughly eight months — six adjusted for child sick-time and extended vacations. I haven’t been tracking my revisions with this draft you guys because they have been so extensive. I hacked up Part I and rearranged so much that even I forgot the changes I made when I went back to do my ½ draft this past month. I literally had folders labeled “Rearranging” for each Part so I could move scenes out of order without losing them. I hit two major snags — Chapters 13/14 and Chapters 23/24 — that stalled me for weeks each time.  I feel like I’ve taken this draft as far as I can go.

So what now? It’s with beta (gamma?) readers again.

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More readers? When do I get to read it??

Patience, young padwan, and thank you for your vote of confidence. It’s on my ten year plan to be published before I’m 40, so there’s that?

The truth is it needs more eyes but right now it needs a finite number of eyes and the right kind. What I mean to say is I’ve identified several of the problem areas and potential problem areas. I need other writers to look at the manuscript and help me work through those sections. Those who can give me constructive, actionable feedback. I want you to read it —I do!— I can’t wait for that glorious day. But for now I’m still keeping it close because I want it to be as perfect as I can make it when you do get to read it. I want it to flow and make sense and sear you right down to the inner chambers of your heart.

What’s the most interesting thing you learned during this draft?

This will sound silly, but I changed my chapter length. In the last draft, my chapters were usually around 5000 words, give or take a thousand. I cut that down so now they’re more like 3000 on average. That isn’t to say I cut words. Au contraire. Instead I changed where my chapters ended to increase momentum. So now I have more, shorter chapters. I heard a podcast about chapter length on Writing Excuses and it changed my whole outlook. I think it’s made the book stronger, even as it made some transitions much more difficult.

So what’s next?

I’ll be reading some books and some other folks’ manuscripts over the next month. But mostly I am turning my attention to my nascent marketing business huzzah!

I am hosting TWO marketing events this September:

Bookseller Panel FlyerBehind the Bookshelves: A Panel on Building Relationships with Bookstores

Sept. 10, 2 – 4pm, The Writer’s Loft
I’m moderating an awesome group of bookstore folks —managers, booksellers, connected authors— and we’re going to talk about how stores can be community hubs and advocates for writers at all stages. Join us! It’s (pretty much) free!
Class Spotlight Marketing WorkshopBuild Your Own Event: A Marketing Workshop
Sept. 16, 10:30 am – 1:30 pm, Grub Street Inc.

Yup, I’m teaching my building events seminar again but this time at the illustrious, Boston-based, non-profit creative writing center Grub Street Inc. They have a lot of famous instructors y’all. Steve Almond even teaches sometimes. Anyway, I want to make a good impression so if you’ve been wanting to get a crash course in events/marketing, PLEASE SIGN UP. Or if not, SIGN YOUR FRIENDS UP. Nothing makes a good impression like a full roster.

But what about the writing?

I need a little break. Maybe I’ll writing some poetry. Or revise an old short story. There’s a time travel one that’s been kicking me for a rewrite.

But really, prove to me you wrote something. C’mon.

Well, alright, if you insist. From Chapter 8:

Instead, she leans forward so her hair hangs down on either side of her face and she begins to braid it, cleanly and methodically. The braid is tight and small, right next to her face. “Here,” she says, tilting her head towards me, her dark, straight hair caressing my arm, soft as feathers. “Help me.” I want to ask my questions but I don’t. Instead I take a handful of her hair and clumsily separate it into three strands. She is already onto her second braid.

“Where I’m from, mourners wear their hair braided for a year. New braids, every day. Right after a death, you fill your hair with braids, as many as you can make. Members of a family or community will help each other. By the year’s end, you have one braid. Down the back or to the side or tight against the skull. Some people wear their hair that way for the rest of their lives. Others go back to living.” She gently shakes the bottom of the braid she has just finished, tugging on one of the strands and the whole thing unravels. She begins it again.

“Am I allowed to mourn myself?” she asks “How many braids is that?”

“I don’t know.” I try to focus on the braid, distract myself from the soft feeling of my fingers tangled in her hair. But I’m no good at braids; it’s messy, hairs straying all over the place, uneven. No mourning braids in Eidolon; we have the Order of Days and rituals that are supposed to help. Corna would say following the old ways connects us with the Living and the Dead, the wheel and the Valley. Tearing our sleeves, marking our bodies. But it is never finished is it? Just a never-ending circle of deeply etched grief. Perhaps I’m the only one who feels this way. What am I missing? When you can visit your dead face-to-face, what reason is there to grieve? I know a hundred reasons but I still don’t know how to speak them.

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Achievement Unlocked: Draft #2

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

Attention, attention, Draft #2 is complete! *horns blare*

Draft2Stats

I was struggling viciously with the final chapter, which so disappointed me the first time around, but I finally found the right angle at which to approach it. It’s still flawed and has way too much talking and I’m not quite sure I tied up all the questions properly but it’s DONE (caveat: FOR NOW).

The Numbers for DRAFT #2:

Date Started: January 12, 2016
Date Finished: May 19, 2016
# of Writing Days to Completion:  60
# of Chapters:  21 (divided into three Parts) + epilogue
Final Word Count: 92, 038
Difference from 1st draft: -4051
Number of printed pages: 295
Difference from 1st draft: -34
Number of paperback pages: ~234
# of Words I wrote but then cut or didn’t make the cut: 68,328

I tried my best to track my writing/revision word counts and progress but it’s challenging. Revision makes it hard to sort out how much is new and how much isn’t. According to the numbers as I tracked them, I averaged ~927 words/writing day. Again, this is deceptive because there were days when I would work for three hours and technically only add 80 words because I deleted three times as many.

My most successful writing day was April 27th when I spent 6 hours writing and added 3806 words. Some of that included scenes I had removed and reinserted, which is why it is such a particularly high number. See? Like I said, confusing.

If you count all the words that currently reside in this project and are retained in my Scriveners folders (the full draft, notes, outlines, deleted scenes, character sketches, research, etc.)  we’re looking at 275, 612 words . That’s a lot of creative brain juice right there.

So what’s next?

Sleep. And chocolate.

No, in all seriousness, there probably will be some sleep. There will definitely be chocolate. And the reading of books and enjoying of summer. But the next step for this manuscript is to put it in front of a few key sets of eyes: my beta readers.

Is that some kind of fish?

No, beta readers are actual people.  I’ve picked a couple writer friends who have experience reviewing Works-in-Progress (WIPs) and am sending off the manuscript to them as we speak for review sometime this summer (I hope they will forgive the fact that I constantly confuse “its” and “it’s” and use commas far too liberally). Yes, someone is going to finally get to look at this raw honeycomb of a novel. Then in the fall, once I’ve gotten their feedback and taken some space from it all, I’ll start trying to figure out what still needs to be fixed and how best to do that. Aka, DRAFT #3.

Then… I don’t know! More beta reading? More revising? Or finally on to querying? I would love to start querying sometime next year, but we’ll have to see how it all goes down.

But how do you FEEL about it?

Good, actually, thanks for asking! I feel much better about this draft than the first. It’s so much less of a rambling mess. Interestingly enough, in the first draft I felt as if the beginning was strongest, as it’s where I did the most writing/development and the ending was bare bones. With the revision I had to slash and rearrange so much of the beginning that now I have no idea if it’s any good. But the ending feels much more earned and secure.

When can I read it?

Eventually? But because you asked so nicely, here’s a little excerpt from Chapter 1:

I leave the shelter of the woods and head up the long, steep hill in front of me to the overlook. The grass is tall and golden and dampens the legs of my pants as I climb through it. On this side, the hill is pockmarked by mounds, some fresher towards the bottom and older as I reach the top.

The hill rolls down to a fog-laced field of flowers, pale as moths. The daffodils grow all the way up to the rocky edge of the mountainous cliffs surrounding the Mouth of the Valley. The mountains are massive; they glint grey, silver, and gold in the morning sun and they break in two places: to my right, past town, where they hit the ocean and bend away from sight, curving out to the sea; and straight ahead where the deep v-cut cut of the Mouth yawns before us. To the left the cliffs ripple and spike their way into the haze of distance.

In daytime it’s hard to see the lit torches, but they’re there: small licks of flame casting molten shadows on the rust-colored earth at the base of the Mouth, no matter the time of day or night. On the other side bleeds the field of poppies like a red lake, the flowers turning their ruddy faces to the sun. And beyond that, strangely normal pastures and houses of the Valley. A funnel of birds wends it’s way out, rippling against the pale blue sky above the cliffs, before passing over my head.

Looking out over the landscape, the muscles in my shoulders begin to relax. The sun is finally warm against my back. I imagine I can feel the thrumming of the ghost roads around me, pouring down into the Valley, pointing spirits toward the next plane. I don’t let my eyes settle long on the Mouth itself, but instead wrap myself in the heady scent of daffodils, the fresh green of their unfurling leaves. The beginning of daffodil season always feels like some kind of dangerous invitation to closed spaces.

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Rebooting your writing, Part 2:
By Example

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

By Frank Kovalchek from Anchorage, Alaska, USA [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

source: Frank Kovalchek [CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons]

 

Last week in my post Rebooting your writing, Part 1: Tips & Tricks I mentioned a story from my undergraduate senior thesis collection. The story is over eight years old. I know it has potential. I also know it has flaws, large glaring flaws. Flaws that weren’t necessarily flaws when I wrote the story but, with hindsight, don’t fit the writer I am now.

I took it to my critique partner and she came back to me with a very brief but potent critique. The story had good structure and characters, but the writing was mostly cringe-worthy. “You’ve grown as a writer since you wrote this,” she said, which I appreciate. I also appreciate that, where as ten years ago I would have bristled at the thought that a story I was once proud of didn’t hold up to the test of time, now I simply nodded. She advised, well, rewriting the whole thing. It’s frightening advice, but immensely valuable. I know as I progress in my career, I’ll need to be more and more open to rewriting and revisiting and revising.

Give it time… and space: Isn’t it interesting that a story that seems impressive when written by a twenty-year-old can seem cloying at thirty? Perfect fodder for a reboot. So I thought I would present you with the original opening and then walk you through my beginning attempts at a rewrite.

(more…)

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Readers Report: Fantasy Land – The Rumpus.net

Friday, August 8th, 2014

Exciting news! You can read a bit of flash fiction by yours truly on The Rumpus. Enjoy!

Readers Report: Fantasy Land – The Rumpus.net.

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Rebooting your writing, Part 1:
Tips & Tricks

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

RebootImg

I had an important critique session with my writing buddy last week, where we looked at a story I had written over eight years ago, while I was in college. It got me thinking about the challenge of revisiting old works, when it’s worth working on them and when to let them exist as moments in a learning trajectory. So this is a two (possibly more) part blog post where I’d like to talk about “rebooting” old stories and pieces for the writer you’ve become.

My senior year of college, I was frantically trying to write stories to fill my senior honors thesis. I brought one to my thesis advisor who read it and said “Nope, sorry, you have to re-write the entire thing.” At the time, I panicked and opted to bury the story rather than tackle a rewrite. And I thought: How would I even go about rewriting a story I’ve already written?

Since that time, I have gone back and reworked a number of old stories, both on my own and in workshops. This is challenging for me because I was so proud of these pieces at the time I wrote them. I worry that I’m breaking something by revisiting old works. But that is a fallacy. If one breaks anything in the process of revision, it’s a breaking open, finding the story’s molten, malleable heart, and turning it into something stronger. In some ways I feel I owe it to my younger self to make her stories the best they can be. There are things I can do in my writing now that I couldn’t before; really zero in on voice, vocabulary, silence, the arc of a story. I’ve read, written, and listened more. I have more to bring to the writing desk today than I did when I was twenty-one.

Here are some lessons I’ve learned about rebooting writing – from writing workshops, talking with authors, and from my own experience. Any of these points speak to you? Anything you might add?

You know a story is worth a reboot if years later…

… you are still thinking about the characters/setting/style.
… the ending/beginning/middle still bothers you.
… you are kicking yourself for inaccuracies that you could now address, now that you know better.
… a reader keeps asking “whatever happened to that thing you wrote about…”
… the topic is still relevant/newly relevant.
… you always wondered what happened next. (Or before. Or to that other character.)

Starting the writing reboot:

Give yourself time… and space

The most successfully rebooted stories are ones that have been languishing for awhile. It gives you the space to have some emotional distance from the original circumstances under which you wrote the story. It also lets you read your own work within the context of everything you’ve read/written since you wrote it. It is much easier to immediately identify problem areas.

Identify the problem areas

What feels the weakest about your story? What makes you cringe, skim, or causes your “cliché” alarm go off? Start there. In my case, I felt the structure was mostly sound, it’s the language that needed improvement. So I started cutting, re-writing, and polishing all the middle bits.

If you have trouble identifying these issues yourself, have a trusted reader take a look at it for you. You don’t have to listen to everything they say, but it’s nice to get a different perspective. Especially if you don’t have the luxury of time/space yourself, they’ll be able to approach it with more emotional detachment.

Attack!

Save the story with a new name… StoryReboot.doc. Open a separate blank document as well. Then go to town. Copy out sentences you love. Jot down little notes (does the timeline make sense? what year did things happen? why does she have green eyes at the beginning and dark eyes at the end?) and start taking a machete to your story (or a scalpel, depending on the kind of work it needs. It’s okay, it’s still there, safely ensconced under it’s original filename on your hard drive. This is a fresh start.

Some reboot techniques:

  • Try a fresh point of view. First person can feel restrictive; third person can be broad; second person can feel intimate. What does the story really need? Perhaps a secondary character can offer a different perspective.
  • Cut the first paragraph. Or page. Or three pages. Read carefully and figure out where the story really starts to take off. Have your story start there.
  • Add tension and conflict. What is the main source of tension in the story? Is there one? This is something I struggle with. Sometimes you need to add an extra layer of pressure on your characters to really see them shine. Sometimes this can come in the form of another character (competition, bullying, guilt) or in the form of a situation (impending deadline, a critical choice). If your characters are forced to make choices, you as the writer will be forced to make choices.
  • Change the choices. Related to above – add a different tension by having your character make a different choice. Start with the big choice of the story and see if a change takes you some place stronger. No big choices? Why not? What are the small choices they make and what does that say? What would it say if they were different?
  • Language refresher. I once wrote a story where I tried to describe everything in as much detail as possible. It was a good exercise, but didn’t make for a strong story. So I went through and literally cut every other sentence. Not surprisingly, very little true content was lost. It may feel like you can’t cut anything, but I promise you can. Copy the sentences you love into that other document if you’re worried about losing them. And then take out all those extra adjectives.
  • Sensory details. Think about the sensory experience of your story and try to put us there. What does it smell like? Feel like? What are your characters experiencing? And equally important, what are they not experiencing? Tread carefully here, as it’s easy to go overboard with sensory detail. Go ahead and write as much as you want… just be prepared to come back with the scalpel and carve it down to the best, most necessary words if the story gets away from you.
  • Research. Does the story feel weak because a character or situation is unconvincing? Immerse yourself in the circumstances through research (library, internet, interviews or best, all three). This is another rabbit hole so dig enough that you feel inspired and confident, but not so deep that your fictional story turns into a dissertation. Unless you decide you’d like to write that dissertation. Or that your story need be structured like a fictional dissertation…

If all else fails…

Extraction. Take those bits you loved and copied out (a setting, a character, a line) and use them to start a new story. Make that sentence you love your first line. Keep the setting and change the circumstances. Visit your favorite character ten years later.

 

Next up… Rebooting your Writing Part 2: By Example
a post in which I put some of my own advice into practice and show you what I’m rebooting

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Word Count: 832

Monday, March 4th, 2013

That is when he saw it, as if in a dream. It blinked in and out of existence as it cut through the waves of thick, hot air. A mast, a snapping sail. A boat, a boat here. I must be dreaming, Charon thought. Or maybe… maybe this entire journey had been a dream and this boat, this boat on the water was real. Maybe I’m home. He looked around himself, wildly. Where was Miranda? Where was the town of Lartukai and his people? Everywhere about him was a hot, white emptiness. Had Miranda’s future already come to pass? There was nothing but the false shimmer of the sand and the haunting image of a boat coming nearer and nearer across it.

“Here,” he croaked, lifting one arm. He could feel himself slipping from the back of the beast. “Here!” he called louder. The boat seemed to grow ever so slowly, the sail billowing out in a taut crescent. I’m hallucinating, he realized, This is it, this is the end. He looked up once more at the high city before him, the home of his ancestors, still out of reach.

The boat was almost upon him, he could see the two people manning it. Who are they, he wondered, whose ghosts? Who would be here to take him to the ocean beyond the sky?

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Writing Exercises

Monday, May 30th, 2011

Did anyone else have the drawing software program/game KidPix growing up? You know the interactive, kids version of Paint? I remember having this awesome edition of it where the different brushes and stamps made noises when you used them; the Tree brush to grow your own tree that made musical chime sounds as the branches divided and multiplied or the Ink brush made blooping sounds as it “dripped” color across the page.

One of the fun things about that program was it had this feature where it could give you an artistic prompt, that it would read to you in funny voices: “Draw a purple… alien… who lives in an… ice cream truck… and likes to… eat bananas.” I’m sure I have some amazing alien portraits from that time and there was something so freeing and exciting about seeing the blank space below the prompt and thinking “this is something I can make.”

Writing exercises held that same potential… it was like permission to write, to be creative, to step in and make something once the difficult work of starting the piece was already done for you. It also meant usually, in grade school, that we were getting to do some kind of creative writing project, which didn’t happen very often. Writing a short story was vastly more interesting to me than keeping caterpillars alive or successfully completing math worksheets.

I feel like writing prompts sometimes get a bad rap… like they’re part plagiarism or copying or a cheat. I’ll admit even I feel that way sometimes. But I think they can spur creativity… and that once you really take a prompt and run with it, the result is something you own. For a while in high school, my friend B and I would exchange some of those “orphaned” story starts I’ve talked about. Sometimes it’s so much easier to look at someone else’s first paragraph or sentence and see where you would go next.

One of the authors we brought to the store this past fall said that all stories are basically “What if’s”. What if… you found a secret world through your wardrobe? Again, maybe it’s just me, but something the potential of a question (and having the answer!) can be really exciting. I don’t think they have to be this amazing, life-altering questions, just ones that start our engines.
My thesis advisor used to force us to ask this hard question about our own stories (and each others): what do you think this story is really about? Prompts are a good way to begin, but you have to end the tale yourself. Sometimes the story you start isn’t the same as the story you finish.

So lets share some writing exercises! Leave any ideas you have, first sentences, orphaned story starts, questions, in the comments. Here’s a few from me, some old ones I’ve wrestled with and some new ones:

  • “Ellis Parker came forward when he was thirteen, although he wasn’t Ellis Parker back then.”
  • “There were five of us that went in and only four came back out. I’m the one who stayed behind.”
  • A man and a woman wake up in bed together and neither can remember how they got there.
  • A girl finds a strange plant growing in her grandmother’s garden that seems to have magical properties.
  • What if… a single man finds an abandoned engagement ring on the sidewalk?
  • What if… there was a purple alien that lived in an ice cream truck and liked to eat bananas? (ok, he doesn’t have to actually LIVE in the ice cream truck… maybe he’s the ice cream man and he’s secretly an alien? And bananas have a special enzyme that allow him to maintain his human disguise?)

 

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Word Count: 688

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

Switched gears to a different story that has been tugging at my brain for many moons now. Tentatively titled “Drought,” it’s a sort of futuristic, climate-gone-to-hell, story that has some interesting implications. Told in the first person, which is also different for this kind of story. Is it fantasy? I don’t know yet. I don’t think so, but it could be in some respects

Or when he told us how, to melt ice in winters, he and his parents would sprinkle salt on the roads and paths around their home. That they did that all throughout Lartuka.
“More salt?” Ivon said, enraged, “You melted ice with salt?”
“I’ve never seen ice,” I said, “What is it like?”
“Like glass, but clear and cold,” my grandfather said.
“And made of fresh water,” said Ivon, throwing down his materials and storming out of the tent.
“Not always,” our grandfather said quietly, “When the storms came, some winters got so cold and long that there would be sheets of ice slamming against the shore.” He turned to me with sad eyes, “I’m sorry Garreth, for the legacy we have left you with. There was no way we could know.”
I wanted to blame him for the salt, for the water disappearing into the earth, for not knowing the taste of ice. But his sun-worn face and his eyes, the color of the inside of mussel shells, look so tired that I can’t help but forgive him. Who knows what actions I take now that I will regret if I live to be as old as he? Who knows how the world will look then?

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Word Count: 487

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

Revising/rewriting my story “Heat Wave,” originally part of my senior thesis. I was inspired to come back to this by a talk one of our author’s gave about his new book. The subject? Blackouts. He said ‘You know, there’s very little Literature centered around blackouts.’ I almost wanted to raise my hand and mention that I had written a short story that took place during a blackout, but I didn’t.

My big struggle with this story is combining the feel of it, which I love, this kind of otherworldly sensation, with a strong narrative voice and a penetrating loneliness. The author’s talk made me think of another direction this story could take. Though I’m still in love with the final scene… we’ll have to see if it makes it back there. Anyway, I’ve begun re-writing from scratch, which I haven’t really done before. We’ll see where it goes! The opening lines:

This morning the power went out. It’s this heat, this heat that has wrapped itself around the city and is choking it. This heat that has paralyzed everything.

The temperature has been rising all week. Every day, a record breaking high; every night, a brownout. The power dips to a dull buzz, the fans turn languidly, the lights dim so that the filaments are exposed in bright, hot coils. Too many people struggling to stay cool. Sometime the grid sags for ten minutes, sometimes for two hours. But early this morning the power dipped and hummed and then flickered out entirely. Not just in this building, but half the nation’s capitol is in muggy darkness. I know because the silence woke me and it was darker than I have ever seen it this side of the Rockies. For a brief gasping moment I thought I was back home, back in Arizona. Then the humidity settled on me like a thick, hot blanket and I knew that I was still here and still alone.

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