Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday Round-Up

Whoop-ee-ti-yi-o, get along little bloggies! Here's a round-up of the best writing craft blog posts I hunted up, tripped over or got directed to this week:

Tips for First Drafting from author Natalie Whipple at Between Fact & Fiction blog.

All About Backstory from agent Rachelle Gardner's Rants & Rambles blog

Also from Rachell's blog, guest blogger Matilda McCloud (love that name!) blogged Thursday about Avoiding On-The-Nose Writing, a concept of which I was aware, but never saw addressed this directly.

Themes seem to be a theme in blogging this week. Here's two takes: Themes Schmemes, from agent Nathan Bransford, and a roundtable discussion from the writers at Novel Matters, Starting with the Basement. And then there's Nathan's follow up post to his Themes Schmemes post: The Reverse Snobbery of Low Literary Aspirations. All vewy innewesting stuff!

And last but not least, Behind The Stacks, a peek into the world of an acquisitions librarian, by guest blogger at Novel Matters, Judy Gann. Lots of good tips for getting books into public libraries, and why that is important.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

When Characters Clamor

Take five days off from writing to tend to a surgery-recovering spouse, ignore the cast of characters who had just been let loose on the page for the first time when I stopped last Wednesday, and boy do they have a lot to say. I had to run around the house this morning clutching a notepad and pen, stopping in the middle of making breakfast, riding the bike, feeding the dog, making the bed, cleaning up last night's detritus from my MIL's 83rd birthday party, to scribble story notes--snatches of dialogue and character struggles, a bit of violent stage business, Willa's unexpected ferocity and Neil's humiliation and Anni's blind spot, and the bit out of Job that I think will end the current chapter--fast, fast, fast before I lost it all.

So nice. My characters wouldn't shut up this morning, starting at 5am. It was a blessing, for which I promptly thanked the Lord (I was in the middle of praying when it started; my characters are no respecters of my privacy).

As disjointed as it made my morning from devotions onward, it is SO much better than coming to the computer as a blank slate and having to fight my way back into the writing, which is often the case for me after taking so many days off in a row.

Happy writer today!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Distractions Be Gone!

Since Monday, I made a commitment to turn off my email accounts, Facebook, and anything else that gives me visible or audio update alerts during my main work hours. In three days' time I accomplished more than I have in any one week since I started writing WILLA.

It was hard not to open my browser (can't turn that off) and I admit I did it once or twice when I came up for air and needed a mini-break, but the results have been so significant and the amount of work I managed so satisfying that I'm going to continue this rigorous trial of self-denial.

I hadn't realized just how fractured by distraction my writing time had become, with all these networking sites available (something I didn't have when I was writing the first draft of KINDRED), until I cut a few of them out.

Managing distraction. Just a fact of life these days I guess. So happy I found something that works, because I was getting quite discouraged about my lack of discipline. Out of sight out of mind seems to work for me.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Beloved Secondary Characters

My main writing time each day is 9am to noon, though I often write longer, or come back for another session after lunch and a bit of exercise. I just finished up for today, and am planning to edit through what I wrote this morning after the aforementioned repast, but wanted to make note of a particularly satisfying chunk of writing.

When I was working on KINDRED I had a very full cast, so many secondary characters to like, love, hate. My favorite out of that large group was the Camerons' neighbor, John Reynold, one of the most gracious and well-adjusted characters in the story. A man I would want my husband to be friends with, because he's good in a crisis, knows how to encourage in the Lord, gives wise counsel, and hosts a great corn husking. 

Today I introduced his counterpart in WILLA, a secondary character I've been eager to let loose on the page. And boy, she didn't disappoint me. Annaliese (Anni) Waring Keppler had me laughing and crying in the space of 500 words. I love her already. What a breath of fresh air. Not that Willa and Neil were stale, by any means. But Willa... she's been a bit dodgy up until now, and Neil hasn't been feeling his best, and so hasn't pressed her. But Anni is a force of nature, and there's no keeping secrets from her. At least not for long.

Next up: introducing Richard, my antagonist. He's also Anni's brother. This will get awkward, even dismaying, but very interesting....

Monday, October 19, 2009


I had a conversation recently with a fellow writer, who is published, about the changes that will inevitably ensue if I ever "cross over" and become a published writer too. I confessed to her that my biggest (maybe my only) worry about pursuing a publishing career is what it will cost me. Will I have to throw over the rest of my life (friends, family, food, sleep), lock myself in a tower with my computer and bookshelves, and devote my all to writing in order to produce a novel in a year's time (something I've never yet accomplished), along with all the research involved, and only come out for quick trips to the library?

Despite that worry I'm still taking steps in that direction and trusting the Lord to know my limits better than I do, and slam shut any doors that will lead to my hurt.

But not all hurt is a bad thing. There is such a thing as growing pains.

Those who have read this blog for any length of time might know how much I enjoy Josh Groban's music. There are two lines from one of his songs that come to mind when I ponder these issues. It has to do with finding the courage to follow a dream, despite the risks. It's from Let Me Fall.

Someone I am is waiting for my courage
The one I want, the one I will become, will catch me

The song leaves God out of the equation, but there's a truth embodied in those lines nonetheless. You may have heard the saying, God didn't save us to keep us as we are. I want to grow, to stretch, to "enlarge the place of my (soul's) habitation," as it were. I want to become the person who can handle the reasonable demands of a writing career, and do so with grace and excellence. How else to become that person but to press forward--stumble or soar--trusting God to lead, direct, correct and provide?

A pretty big leap of faith. As if simply writing a novel wasn't a big enough leap, eh?

Saturday night I went to church. The teacher that night spoke about God's promises in unique (to me) vernacular. He asked us (and I paraphrase) were we content to merely window shop for the promises of God, like we would for expensive clothes? Are we content to read a promise in His word and say, "Oh, how nice. Looks just my size. Wish I could own that promise." Or are we going to say to ourselves, "God means that promise for me. It's mine. I'll take it! I'm going to put it on and walk around in it."

So here's a promise I claim. Again. Psalm 138:8.

The LORD will fulfill [his purpose] for me; your love, O LORD, endures forever--do not abandon the works of your hands. NIV

The LORD will perfect that which concerneth me: thy mercy, O LORD, endureth for ever: forsake not the works of thine own hands. KJV

I hope you will claim it too, for whatever concerns your heart, even if your dreams and hopes are so big they put a scare in you. He'll fashion you into the person you need to be to see those dreams fulfilled. And if they aren't His will, he'll give you new dreams and visions to follow that will be better for you, in the end.

A win/win, no matter how I look at it.

And in case you like Josh too....

Friday, October 16, 2009

Mastering the Craft

Just sharing a writing link I came across this morning. It's author Mary Demuth, guest poster on publisher Michael Hyatt's blog, with some wise thoughts on What It Takes To Become A Master Writer.

From the post:
A study orchestrated by K. Anders Ericsson who looked at musical prodigies found the common denominator for mastery and success: 10,000 hours of practice. “The emerging picture from such studies,” says neurologist Daniel Levitin, “is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world class expert—in anything.”

It'll take five minutes to read. I hope all writers will.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A "Traditionally Built" story

I did a word count check on WILLA yesterday, my first, and was surprised to find I've already written 10,000 words. I've only written 3-4 chapters (haven't decided yet on where I'm making the break between 3 and 4, but likely I have four chapters done). Seems like after 10K words I should be deeper into the story than I am. But why am I surprised? My first few drafts are always hugely overwritten. I tried to keep things lean this time, and even so... I guess it's just how I work. But seeing so many words when I already (yes, already!) feel the straight-jacket of a 120K word count looming, there's a little panicked voice in my head saying how can I possibly squeeze a whole "traditionally built"* story into a tiny size 6 corset?

And then, thankfully, I read posts like Patti Hill's at Novel Matters, giving me permission, at least on this first draft, to play. To let my story be as traditionally built as it wants to be, to run and leap and lounge about and eat all the donuts in sight.

We can go on a diet later, yes?

*My thanks to Alexander McCall Smith, author of The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books, for coining this wonderful term.

Post Scriptum: I've changed the title of this blog to better represent my writing work in total. I'm calling it PAST PERFECT. Not that I think the past was perfect... nor my writing about it. The one I can work on, with perfecting my writing and storytelling craft always the goal. The other, well... the past isn't changing, but I can imagine what might have been. :-)

Friday, October 09, 2009

Last night I had the strangest dream...

Last night I dreamed that an agent left me a long and rambling phone-message*.... rejection.

As a fellow writer told me, "Welcome to writer anxiety dreams."

*Which, by the way, I got a good chuckle over. :)

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Getting to know you

I've had a few conversations lately with writers about the "getting to know you" stage of writing a new novel. It's the place I'm at with WILLA. Still.

Part of me wishes I could nail down these first few chapters and fly on with the story, but the way I see it, it's important that I take the time necessary to introduce my protagonists, Willa and Neil and Joseph, and their main supporting cast. Not time as in "number of pages," but time spent writing what will probably prove to be extraneous bits of conversation or introspection that I'll need to either move deeper into the story or cut altogether, because that's how I get to know my characters.

Not primarily by filling out plotting charts ahead of time, although I will admit that doing so this time around with Willa and Neil generated some good story ideas. No, it's not until I'm spending time with these characters on the page, giving them situations in which to respond and intuit and solve puzzles and misspeak themselves and misunderstand and show grace and get jealous and hurt and blessed that I really get to know them, know their insecurities, fears, hopes, and goals, and something else I think is very important--their sense of humor. And their voice. As I wrote in a recent email discussion with a friend:
But I find that I need to write a character for a while before I can really know them, or their hang ups, or their goals and motivations. I might think I know, filling out all the charts anyone wants to throw at me, but until I start writing, I can't REALLY know. Just like hearing about a person from a third party might make you think you know them, but until you meet and spend time with them face-to-face, you can't know how many misconceptions you've built up.

Not to say that thinking through this stuff ahead of time isn't important. It is. I've done it the other way and floundered around and wasted time. Not easy to find the balance. I wish I was more of a plotter, or able to simply pull it off by the seat of my pants. I fall uncomfortably somewhere in the middle, feeling straight-jacketed by too much of the one, and hopelessly adrift and befuddled with too much of the other.

So, I keep reminding myself that it's OK if the going is slow right now. It's better than rushing this process and ending up with a sprawling, unfocused mess. Been there, done that.

Friday, October 02, 2009

100 Beautiful Words

Author/editor Karen Ball posted a link to a list of the 100 Most Beautiful Words in English. Being a lover of language, and obscure words (my favorite dictionary being my nearly foot-thick 1939 Websters), I had to check it out. And post it here too.

100 Most Beautiful Words in English

My favorite brand-spanking-new-to-me word? Chatoyant: Like a cat's eye (not the shape, I discovered, after looking it up in the nearly foot-thick 1939 Websters, but changeable in hue or color, like a cat's eyes in the dark).

Here be a sampling of other lovely words:
Ebullience Bubbling enthusiasm.
Imbroglio An altercation or complicated situation.
Inglenook A cozy nook by the hearth.
Labyrinthine Twisting and turning.
Onomatopoeia A word that sounds like its meaning.
Serendipity Finding something nice while looking for something else. 
Tintinnabulation Tinkling.
I'm tempted to try and use all 100 of them in WILLA.