Tag: Writers Resources

National Novel Writing Month

2013-Participant-Twitter-Header[1]

Four years ago, a teacher I worked with sent me an announcement for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). His message: “You sound like you might have a novel in you.”

His observation came on the heels of our first ever Open Microphone event in the middle school library. The librarian wanted to encourage students to write, so she offered a forum where they could read aloud a piece of personal writing.

As with everything you hope to see young students do effectively, creative writing and baring your soul to others should be modeled. She asked staff members to voluntarily read some of their writing. In response, I read the opening pages of a story that kept popping into my mind.

I fully intended to write that story. It was going to be the first in a series of a Middle School Mayhem series that would make me famous.

In my defense, I do have two chapters completed and saved in a Scrivener folder. Like so many other writing projects, life got in the way.

If you’ve been following me long, you know that I spent three years completing my bachelor’s degree while working full-time. The idea of writing something creative in addition to all the research papers and term papers made random, fleeting appearances in my mind. Obligations drowned them.

After I was assigned a blog for my nonfiction writing workshop, I decided to attempt to write a thousand words per week to post online. No one would read most of this stuff, but I would get back in the habit of writing, even if it was creative nonfiction.

Fast forward to present day: college degree completed. Now it’s time to pursue my real dream: writing.

I’ve always imagined myself as a novelist. My imagination has taken me to the top of Mt. Everest, to Mars and to realms beyond this reality. I wanted to invite young readers into the alternate universe between the covers of the book.

An admirer of C.S. Lewis (whose Chronicles of Narnia rescued me from the ugliness of domestic abuse and divorce), I didn’t want to just entertain. I wanted my fiction to include a deeper truth. Allegory seemed like the way to accomplish this goal.

Thus, my idea for the Gates of Astrya emerged from my soul into my mind. With a little work and a ton of time, words on a page birthed it into actuality.

During November, my goal is to write the second book in this series (originally, I thought it would be a trilogy, but it’s taking on a life of its own and might require four books to fully resolve).  I’ve already signed up on the NaNoWriMo website.

To ensure I can keep writing to the end, I completed a beat sheet (thanks to Jami Gold) and an extensive setting sketch. I’ve done some research to authenticate the setting I’ve chosen. Major character arcs have been outlined, along with the cast of supporting characters.

Today, I write the first 3,000 words of the novel. Since I want to complete the challenge (to write 50,000 words in 30 days) by November 27, I’m setting my daily word count at this level.

I promise not to bog down my blog with updates and commentary about this event. I have worked feverishly the past two weeks to get most of my posts pre-written so content will continue here without interruption.

Are any of you taking this challenge? What other sorts of challenges have you pursued? What’s the most important advice you have to help someone stay the course when things seem overwhelming?

Self-Editing for Writers

I’ve been an editor since I learned to read, always finding errors and mentally rewording awkward sentences. (Isn’t awkward an awkward word to type? The k surrounded by ws just feels so…awkward.)

Self-editing can be a whole different ball game.

To help me stick to my guns, I purchased the book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King. With chapter titles like “show and tell” and “point of view,” it seemed like it would offer straight-forward and applicable instructions.

It does. According to chapter 11 “Sophistication,” I’m a hack. Several of the sentence variants I rely upon in my writing have been overdone and thus are considered immature by many editors (the authors of this text included).

When you’ve just completed your degree in English and Literature, this sort of insult incites the arched back of a territorial kitty. I was the outstanding graduate, so how can I be a hack? I’m still processing that information. It doesn’t take me to a happy place.

It occurs to me that the things I learn from Browne and King can be put into action when I get to Step 6 of my rewrite. You can imagine that after my reaction to chapter 11, the second one I read, by the way (who reads a book in order if it isn’t fiction?), I am less than thrilled to continue my study of this text.

I have also noted on several writing blogs I follow that hiring an editor is recommended, even for those seeking traditional publishing (which is my plan at the moment). Since story structure seems to be an area where I’m weak, I am considering having a professional check that for me – once I finish the rewrite.

Do you feel writers can edit their own work to an acceptable level if they’re going the traditional route? I can see a definite need for a professional edit (and proofread at the end) before anything is self-published.

A Writer’s Life

If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins. – Benjamin Franklin

School is out. The vacation abroad has ended. Time announces the arrival of full-time writer-hood.

The schedule says: Three hours five days per week is allotted for writing. I’ve factored in other times for blog hopping and updating social media.

There’s a plan. *sighs*

I finished Plot and Structure, James Scott Bell’s masterpiece, and use it to guide my goal-setting and schedule for rewriting the novel.

Yes, rewriting. I doubt I will start anew, but I believe that a new document where I can cut and paste the sections I’m going to keep will work for me. Does this work in Scrivener? I guess I can make a new folder for the 2nd draft.

The book helped me generate plenty of questions that will need to be answered in my work in progress if it will ever become a completed novel.

No, I will finish the first draft by the deadline – August 24 – and I will begin the rewrite. This should take approximately eight weeks according to chapter 11 in Bell’s bible.

If I stay on schedule, I should be polishing the second draft in November. I hope this means I will be ready to take it to my classroom of 7th grade beta readers by January. At this point, that’s my plan.

During my cooling off period, I intend to work on building my social media platform (using the guidance of Kristen Lamb’s new book Rise of the Machines) and study Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King.

Bell has given me some other plotting homework that I intend to complete during my self-imposed exile to sit in the sunshine. For the next two months, this time is scheduled in for two hours every weekday afternoon. (You can be sure I’ll make time for the loving the sun – maybe meeting my word count for the day should be a prerequisite.)

What sort of schedule do you have for your writing life? Do you have a daily word count goal?

I’d love to hear any and all advice from my fellow writers – or other self-employed people.

                                       Weekly   Schedule

Time Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
6AM Workout Workout Workout Workout Workout
7AM QT/BF QT/BF QT/BF QT/BF QT/BF BF
8AM Shower Shower Shower Shower Shower Shower
9AM Bathrooms Blogs Floors Ladies Social   Med Laundry
10AM Chore Meeting
11AM Writing List Writing Writing
Noon Lunch Lunch Lunch Lunch Lunch Lunch
1PM Writing Writing Writing Writing Writing
2PM Outdoors Outdoors Outdoors Outdoors Outdoors Family
3PM Outdoors Outdoors Outdoors Outdoors Outdoors
4PM Writing Writing Social   Med Writing Writing
5PM Dinner   Prep Dinner   Prep Dinner   Prep Dinner   Prep Dinner   Prep Dinner   Prep
6PM Family
7PM Time Writing
8PM Family

Analyzing Literature

circling sharks

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve read a prize-winning novel, and now I have to analyze it for my Seminar in American Literature. My analysis should run six to eight pages in length.

What is making this paper so difficult to write? I have two answers for this question:

  • I didn’t like the book – I did like the writing and I was amazed by Egan’s ability to break so many rules and still win a Pulitzer. There was no struggle to keep reading because I kept thinking, “This is all going to make sense in the end.” Wrong! This is what I didn’t like about it. Sure, that made it gritty and realistic, but I expect more from a book. I can get all the bad news I want from the newspaper – or my classroom. A writer needs to deliver closure in some form, even if it isn’t a happy ending.
  • Focusing in on loss of innocence is depressing – It sure hasn’t added any happy moments to the past five weeks. Even without writing about the “failed” characters in my paper, I couldn’t offer much hope or cheer. Since my thesis states that every bad choice is redeemable and no dream is unreachable, I forced myself to narrow my view to those characters that were able to turn it around. Still, it’s not a happy picture.

Actually, I think my difficulty might be because there is no way to support my analysis. Since the book is so new, there aren’t any journal articles published that deal with it. I can find book reviews, but that’s not the same sort of analytical thinking that comprises those peer-reviewed journals.

I feel like I’m in the middle of the ocean, fully dependent upon an orange life jacket. Swallowing the sun, the horizon stretches for eternity. Somewhere below me, I’m sure the sharks are gathering.

In this scenario of sink or swim, it feels like swimming will zap all my energy, and the end result will be the same. Shark bait Slipping beneath the salty waves to sleep forever.

Wow, a paper that makes death look restful.

Crushing Critique

“Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it,” Clint Eastwood’s character says in Heartbreak Ridge.

A few weeks ago, I was flattered and honored when a writer (and editor) whose work I deeply admire and respect offered to read five pages after I commented on her blog that getting worthwhile critiques seemed impossible.

I really wanted to send her the first five pages of my work in progress. After I spend five days scrubbing the vomit into a semblance of writing I would be willing to claim, I still didn’t feel it was ready for an editor’s eyes.

Instead, I sent her a short story (previously published here) that I submitted to the literary journal at SNHU. Of course, it had been rejected, but the reviews and comments were so contradictory that I had no idea what was really wrong with it.

Aside from giving me her brutal and honest critique (for which I’m grateful), Kristen also used my story for the basis of one of her blogs. Read what she had to say here.

My reaction was comical. I was afraid to read her comments. Then I saw the blog and became defensive.

“I had to write the story in less than 1200 words. I didn’t have time to set the stage.”

We’re great at justification, aren’t we?

The truth: my writing lacks depth. Even though I feel like I have a handle on basic story structure, I’m not able to convey that same sense through my story.

The worst thing was the redundancy. I literally cringed each time she pointed out “you already said that.” I do the same thing on student papers. How did I miss this flaw in my own writing?

Seriously. This story had been written, critiqued, re-written, graded, revised and re-worked, but I still missed the redundant use of words. What do I mean? For example, “ineffectual thrashing” is a phrase I used. Her comment: “Most thrashing is ineffectual.” Duh. What was I doing? Think of the extra words I could have used to set up my basic situation if I hadn’t been wasting them repeating what I already said.

I didn’t agree with all of her commentary because some of the repetition was for effect (but it must not have been very effective, so what did I do wrong?)

I’m glad to know some weak areas to focus on (in the rewriting stages), and I happily ordered one of the books on story structure Kristen recommended. Do I wish she would have liked my writing? Sure. Would having her compliment me have truly been helpful? Not in the least.

Thanks, Kristen, for taking time to give me the constructive feedback I’ll need if I’m ever going to improve my writing to a publishable level.

Perspectives on Rejection

Image credit to mrsec.com

After trying to unsuccessfully integrate with an online writing group five years ago, I gave up on the idea that I could get unbiased feedback on my writing. When I took the writing workshops required for my creative writing minor at SNHU, I had high hopes that insightful critiques would be included in these classes.Overall, I have met four other people who view the critiquing process in a light similar to my own. Check out what Kristen Lamb said about this topic. You might notice I commented (along with 100 other people – if I get two comments I’m in Heaven – maybe someday I’ll have as many interested readers) about the lack of useful feedback from supposed “reviewers.”In my first creative writing class at SNHU, everyone said “I like this” or “you have such a way with words” and that was the sum of the feedback. I’m pretty sure that some of them didn’t like what I wrote, and I know there were things that could have been improved upon.

The only worthwhile feedback I got in my nonfiction workshop was from the instructor and that petered out. When I submitted my final story, he said it had “arrived” at the place he had been guiding me toward, but very little else. Again, disappointing remarks since they didn’t help me determine what worked and what needed work.

I didn’t get much in the way of helpful input in my fiction workshop. This is clearly evidenced by the rejection my “approved” story got from The Manatee, SNHU’s literary journal. One thing the instructor told me to change, one reviewer for the journal agreed upon (I still disagree, but I will do it without italics in the future).

Otherwise, reviewers said things like “show, don’t tell” and “too much description; I lost track of what was happening” and “needs more description.” All of this advice is incredibly helpful, don’t you agree?

What I got out of that is that they didn’t like the story. Other raters said “so much action, it was like I was in the river too” and “this was so realistic, I’m never going whitewater rafting.” How can an author reconcile these statements with the negative ones listed above? Not a single specific reference to lines that needed work or passages that nailed the intensity.

I must say that the thing that really steamed me was the response to my two poems. Both of the poems I submitted had survived several rounds of improvements and constructive criticism in my poetry workshop. They weren’t perfect (none of my writing is ever finished), but they had passed the critical inspection of several respected poets.

Should a poem get a poor review because it is about nature “and that’s been done to death”? What about being considered “preachy” when it’s advice about blogging? (Yes, you’ve seen this poem right here – an early
version and the one I submitted to the literary journal.)

I awoke at 3 a.m. the day after being summarily rejected by this student journal. I had read half of the competition and only found a few pieces that surpassed mine. I’m really trying to be objective here. Most of that stuff needed more polish. Anyone who can’t even spell check before submitting something for publishing doesn’t deserve a spot.

I woke up, questioning my writing ability. My heart and soul petitioned God for guidance. Have I been wrong about my calling? Am I kidding myself? Do I really have any hope of becoming a published author?

I wanted to quit. I started thinking about what sort of “real” jobs I could get when I finished my degree.

Words swelled. Now I’m pouring them on the page. I might only have 60 followers (I love ALL of you, by the way) and I might not have a single publishing credit, but ideas keep growing in my mind. As long as that continues, my fingers will pour them onto the page.

What is your experience with rejection letters? Do you have any critiquing nightmares or successes to share? Maybe you’re looking for some honest feedback and would like to join an online writing group. I’m interested if you can objectively review my writing and not just the subject matter.