November 27

Writing Withdrawal and Why I Suffer

My story is getting closer to being done. One or two more run through and I believe it’ll be ready for me to start query processes of publication. Who knows though.  I’ve said that thousands of times over the years.  I could be far from the mark. Despite feeling I’m close to having it done, I’ve decided, with some urging from friends, that I’ll take a break from Shadowed. I won’t edit anything on the novel for at least a month, perhaps longer, which, if you know me, is akin to torture.

I’ve been working on some version of this story for years. It’s really all I know, and although I’m tired of  working on Shadowed I don’t want to leave it alone until the story is finished. I have gone an entire month without working on Shadowed before. I don’t like doing it.  The moment I say I will take a break from it the ideas on how to improve the story overflow and I am forced to fight the temptation to do more than simply write the ideas down, and store them someplace safe until the month is up.  For me, going a month without working on Shadowed is like going through caffeine withdrawal.  The most painful process is getting through the first three days, and usually by the first week all my symptoms are gone or so weakened that they are easy to ignore.  By then I’ve settled into another book or project to focus on to past the time.  I believe the last time I took a break from Shadowed, I completely redesigned my website with help from friends. I don’t know what my project will be for the month yet, but I doubt it’ll be another website project.  I imagine I’ll get a TON of reading done however.

Right now, I’m going on break from Shadowed, already aware of about sixteen things that need to be changed in the story. I know how to fix some of them already.  Others I have no clue on how to fix them, but know it needs done.  I figure that by going on break now, I’ll have time to come up with solutions for all of them and see more things that need fixed when I re-look over the story a month from now.  A month usually gives me what I call ‘fresh eyes’ on a piece of writing.  I get a fresh perspective, more distant look, at my work than if I keep looking at the same thing too many times.

So, wish me luck on my writing withdrawal.

October 13

Slow Down. Breaking down and Setting Time limits

When I’m going to edit my own work, my process is usually predictable and simple.

Step one: Print the entire manuscript out.
Step two: Mark each individual chapter with post-it notes so chapters are easier to identify.
Step three: Break the book into 4ths–to the nearest chapter ending. So if the 1/4 mark is on page 60 and the chapter doesn’t end until page 63, the first quarter will contain 63 pages.
 Step four: Use paper clips to keep each fourth separated and together, except for the quarter I am working on. I do not always order the quarters in chronological order, though I am only allowed to work in one quarter at a time.
Step five: Edit an entire quarter.
Step six: Transfer notes for quarter edited onto computer.
Step seven: Start on next quarter
Step eight:  Repeat step five, six and seven until the entire manuscript is edited.
Step nine: Incorporate final notes and clean up final passages from edit.

During my first semester in Spalding’s MFA program, I’ve already seen a change in my editing processes, mainly due to needing to get my requirements throughout the semester, but the new procedure seems to have a much stronger effect on my novel than my original way of editing.  I can see and feel the changes in the novel almost instantly, whereas I may need to go through the above process three or four times before I truly noticed a consistent change in the draft, sometimes in entire chapters.

What is this new, more effective way of editing? It’s simple really.

I’ve been breaking the novel into sections for my packets. About 40 pages each–to the nearest chapter ending. So if I’m on my third pack of 40–with the packet supposed to end on page 120–but the nearest new chapter ends on page 119, I’d break it a page short. I work on the forty page section for three weeks. I am not allowed to work outside those 40 pages during those three weeks.  If I make all the major changes to the draft before my three weeks is up, I start at the beginning of the forty pages and do a deeper edit, grammar, sentence structure, smoothness, general clean up.  If their are changes I still want to make at the end of the three weeks, I make a note of it and MOVE onto the next section of forty pages.

How is what I’ve been doing, different from what I’ve started doing? Honestly if you break my novel down–at least before I started editing it, I’d have only had 5.5 sets of 40. So, I’d only be adding a section and a half to my original idea, which can’t make too much of a difference right?

I think the difference is the forced three weeks to work on the section. By setting that time limit, I force myself to slow down, to really look at my writing, no matter how much I may want to be done with the round of editing. Without the time limit set, I would push through the entire novel at my pace.  I’d make notes to make major changes, however I missed a lot of the changes that were also needed in that same section because I wasn’t looking closely enough.  This also works to keep me motivated, focused on working on my story, so that I can make sure all the changes that need to happen can be made, instead of delayed for another draft.

If you’re needing a new method of editing, this one may be worth trying.

September 7

Researching for Books

Even with all the advances in technology and all the material out there, researching a particular subject can be difficult.  Their are simply some things that don’t translate well on the page, which makes learning the material difficult and not everyone can afford a trip or a class on the subject they are researching. I do a lot of research online.  I ask random people if they know anything, sometimes they’ll surprise you. and have answers you never considered.

For example, I wanted my next scene set in France.  Not Paris.  I posted on Facebook asking for suggestions.  And I got a great one.  Reims, France. With that lead, I started a basic search, history, pictures.  I liked what I saw so I dug deeper.  Maps, both virtual and real, books, websites.  This was all made difficult by the fact a lot of the websites were in French. And their are some things you either have to guess at or be really lucky about finding. For example, what does Reims smell like?  Grapes? Champaign? Chocolate? Perfume? River?  Something else?  What does it sound like?  Chatter in French and English? Trains rolling by? Tolling bells? Really I can only guess.

Figuring out what to have my characters specifically do there, while the non-location related event happens has been a challenged.  What would be interesting for readers to see?  What is unusual but potentially new?  I kept returning to tour barges in Reims. Because touring old buildings I haven’t been too didn’t seem right, and since Arabella is basking in the sunlight sending her into a Champaign Cave seemed cruel.  But those are the things that are most advertised as happening in Reims.

I looked deeper into the barge idea. Where would the boat take passengers?  Where could and would it stop?  What would passengers see from the barge?  How big are these things? How expensive?

Wait, what’s this? While searching for “What’s outside of Reims?” I find Hot Air Ballooning? Really?  Hmmm. My search starts anew.  What does Hot Air Ballooning involve?  How many people can fit in a basket at a time? I found the option of going Hot Air Ballooning in Boise and experiencing it for myself.  But for the price I’d be required to pay…well, lets say that under my current circumstances I’m more likely to see Satan Ice Skating in the South Pacific before I can afford that experience. It sounds marvelous though.

Research reveals that normally the pilot will take no more than three people up with him or her at a time.  I’ve only seen prices offering to take two people up.  So I’m wandering if their is a reason why a single person can’t go up with just the pilot or if that is such a rare occurrence they didn’t bother listing it as a price on the website. If their is a reason why more than one person needs to go up with the pilot, then the idea of making Remy a pilot is thrown to bits and I’ll probably need to find another form of privacy and entertainment in one that’s non-traditional.

Again, I was stuck wandering, where would my characters land if they went up in a hot air balloon?  Could it be somewhere in the mountains, in the woods?  And what would they realistically find there? Considering my characters abilities I’m not too worried about them finding their way home.

Research takes a lot of time to do properly.  I’ve emailed both a hot air balloon company about the information I need. And asked for the tourism department of Reims for help.  If I’m lucky, I’ll have answers in a few days. Until I get the responses I’ll work on finding them all online. Hopefully, I’ll have some hair left by the time I finish this scene.

What do you do for research on things you can’t experience? Or learn on your own? Do you know much about Reims France or Hot Air Ballooning?

June 25

Retreat Update: It was a blast

I got home from retreat today and I am sad I am home.  I wish the retreat was still going on and I did not have work tomorrow.  I learned a lot at retreat both about writing and non-writing topics. I tried foods that were new to me, drank a single glass of some sort of alcohol every night. I had great conversations with writers, about writing, helping them through their story and about books we’ve read.

There was no internet access at the cabin, which meant when we were on the computer we could only write. We had to leave notes in areas where we would otherwise immediately start doing research and distracting us for several hours from our writing.  I got some good feedback on my work, good sound-boarding was accomplished and some general editing.  I went there intending to edit my novels, which I did, not to create new pages, so I can’t say exactly how much writing I got done.  But one of the attendees there hit 20,000 words. It’s amazing what no internet and several “Power Hours” can accomplish.

A Power Hour, for those who don’t know, is basically an hour of writing.  You don’t worry about grammar, whether the scene makes sense, or anything other than getting words on the page. It can all be edited later. And some make it a mild competition.  Who can get the most words on a page in an hour? I was editing, so I didn’t get as many words written as I otherwise might have when I participated in two of the power hours.  I hit about a thousand words.

This was my first writer’s retreat, my first retreat. I wasn’t sure exactly what to bring with me to this one so I took the basics and a few other…”I may needs.”  Now I have a better idea of what I’ll need to take with me for retreat next year.  Here’s an example of a few things:

  • A Throw

I think I would have been a little more comfortable if I’d had a small blanket to throw over my legs or shoulders at different parts of the day. It got chilly in McCall.

  • A small pillow

I would have been more comfortable with a small pillow to sit on.  The chairs I sat on–the kitchen table chairs–were hard and would grow uncomfortable after a while. The pillow would also give me a little support when I was trying to go to bed for the night.

  • A Hard copy of my novel(s)

I may not feel the need for a hardcopy at a later time. But since I do everything better on paper–editing, writing, reading, critiquing–I probably should have brought a hard copy with me to help me with my editing.  If I’m focusing on writing, instead of editing, next year I should be fine with just paper and pen.

These are only a few examples but they are what I would put on the top of the list of wants/needs.

Thanks to everyone who made the retreat a great experience for me. I look forward to next year’s retreat.

May 15

On The Road…Again

And I can’t wait to get on the road again. On the road again -Like a band of gypsies we go down the highway. We’re the best of friends. Insisting that the world keep turning our way. And our way is on the road again. Just can’t wait to get on the road again. –Willie Nelson

Today is the day. I’m leaving for a few days to participate in Spalding Universities Residency program. Residency marks the beginning of a semester and I’m looking forward to getting started on the MFA program.  It sounds like it’ll be a lot like a writer’s conference, with different workshops, lectures, conversations and events. Is there anything in particular you want me to take extra careful notes on or ask about? No promises, but I’ll try.

Anyways, as soon as my shift ends at work, I’ll be heading to Indiana.  According to MAPQUEST the 1874.52 mile drive should only take 27 hrs 22 mins.  I’ve made this trip enough times to know MAPQUEST lies.  Unless you don’t have a bladder or need to stretch, it takes longer.  Fortunately, I know how to prepare for it and I’ve given myself enough wiggle room where, even if the weather is nasty or we end up trapped in a traffic jam for 4 hours, I should still make it in town in time for opening ceremonies.

No little ones with me, unless you count my grandmother and she’s taller than me, so that saves me a lot of time and space. I’m a writer, so I’m easily entertained with things that can easily work/fit in a car.  On road trips like this I always have multiple notebooks and a ton of pens.  You can never have too many pens.  I have books to read–some of them for class. Of course, since we’ll be driving at night, I have book lights and extra batteries so the darkness won’t be an impediment or dangerous as my grandmother drives.

I take an MP3 player with me.  I don’t care what they say. There is always somewhere out there that doesn’t have a single working radio station and you need music, for those long hours on the road. Usually that’s all I need to entertain myself, but I also have my latest draft of my manuscript printed out so I can look through that and a few other things.

To cheapen the expense of driving cross-country we’re bringing snacks.  We bought those goldfish cheez-its, some fiber and protein bars, butter crackers and chips.  We’ve made our own chip dip and a handful of other things.  The idea is we’ll snack the entire trip down. If we need to stop for something, fine, but we’ll try not to. That way gas is the only expense.

What do you do for long trips?