Unnamed by Anonymous

What if my words, designed to fly gracefully on the page, jeweled butterflies are instead dark, shiny and black, tiny beetles that slowly chew through the pages, now brittle, crumbling

No rehearsals here, just a long paralysis, no failure as terrible as the imagined

What is perfection?

The unwritten book with gleaming pages,

The pure raw colours unmixed

The world at dawn of time with no people to slice and mix, to dig, to satirize

 

Page 80 (aka Writer’s Block)

Pages 1-79 are sheer bliss. I’m in love with my story, I’m in love with my writing, the characters are singing, the words are flowing and everything is as it should be.

Then I hit page 80.

At page 80, everything starts to unravel. I question the meaning of the story, the authenticity of my characters, my own abilities as a writer. Everything about the story is flawed, I’m not the writer I thought I was. I should quit this nonsense and go get a real job. 

But if getting a real job doesn’t appeal to you, these are some strategies I’ve employed in the past. 

1. Put it away. The longer the better. This is always hard for me because I tend to work obsessively on my projects and if I’m not actively shaping it, I feel as though I’ve abandoned it. But sometimes distance is necessary to be able to think critically and objectively.  

2. Give it to a friend, someone who is a constructive and critical thinker. Maybe they can tell you where they think you think it’s going, or tell you why it’s not working.

3. Start over. I’ve had great results with this, sometimes switching from 3rd person to 1rst, or vice versa, or telling the story from someone else’s POV. You may have thought it was one person’s story, when really it was someone else’s. Characters are tricky that way and it’s fun way to experiment (and exercise) with voice.

4. Let it go. Sometimes if you move onto a new project, the story will come back to you. 

5. Read. Reading good books is a great way to look critically at what’s wrong with your own. Study their page’s 80 and see how they got through it–did they introduce a new character? a new obstacle? a terminal disease? 

6. Let go of expectations and/or set small goals for yourself. “Today I’m going to write one killer line, today I’m going to write one great description, ect.”

7. Just keep writing. You love to write like a fish loves to swim. So write poetry, short stories, emails, blog posts, or work on editing someone else’s work. Every little bit you do makes you a stronger writer.

Got any more suggestions? I’d love to hear them. Page 80’s come around again and again.

Revising Tip: Retyping

I recently started revising a project that I’ve been working on for the past three years. This will be the fifth full revision of it and (thankfully) it has already been sold to a publisher. This revision will focus on voice and dialogue. But when I sat down to do it, I felt trapped in the manuscript, especially with that oh-so-important first chapter.

I decided to retype the story. Crazy, I know, but there is also something so liberating about starting out with all that white space and nothing beyond. Perhaps it is more psychological, but I felt free to really make it what I wanted. I was also able to determine the slow/boring parts and trim them right out (I don’t really have to type all that, do I?). Without the stress of trying to make sure A matches B and C, I could get a little more personal with the characters. I could switch backstory around as I saw fit, without worrying about being redundant. And most importantly, I was able to fall in love with the story all over again.

So far I’m on pg 28. We’ll see how it goes from here.

Happy Revising!

Writing: My Method

I’m always interested to know how other writers write–how, when, where, for how long and why (ha, ha). So, in the hopes that my compatriots will jump in with their own method, I’m going to give a quick breakdown of my process.

HOW: Before I begin a story, I visualize it in my head, not necessarily things like character names or setting, but conflict, storyline, themes. I’m big on themes. Sometimes I use other stories that I really admire as models, or pick elements from other stories that are done well and ask myself how I can incorporate that into my own. When the daydreaming is done and the writing begins, I stop reading stories that may be even remotely like mine. Because nothing shatters the confidence more than finding out your story’s already been told. Every story has already been told, but none have been told the way you would tell it. (I think I read that somewhere.)

I’m not a big outliner, which has been my unravelling in the past, but every time I try, it’s like eating overcooked pasta. Yuck. So, instead, I think of high points in tension that will serve my story. And sometimes, I don’t even do that. In fact, let’s skip this planning part altogether. Hopefully, someone else will step in here.

WHEN: I don’t have a lot of free time. Everyone says that, but in my case, it’s true, really, I swear. So, when I’m not writing, I’m thinking about what I’m going to write when I get the chance. I’m running lines between characters in my head, thinking of their motivations, their emotional reactions to plot happenings, good and bad choices as well as snappy one-liners and lots of soap opera cliffhangers. I love a good cliffhanger. I do this so that when I actually sit down to write, the hard part is done, mostly. There are still moments when I don’t want to actually do it (the daydreaming is so much more fun), but in those moments, I treat writing like a really crummy job, and I’ve had a few. When faced with a dirty, smelly, gross toilet, do you shut the lid and walk away? No, you roll up your sleeves, get your noxious toilet bowl cleaner and scrub the sugar out of it.

I also think about my story every day. If I know I won’t have time to write that day, I scan it over quickly so that it’s still with me. And when I do write, I plow through it, with plenty of __________ all over the page. Usually after I finish a chapter, I go back and fact check, fill in the names and try to make the dialogue smoother, give the scenes more color and movement, work on transitions and make sure that I’m including my themes, overall conflict, motivations, oh and grammar too!

WHERE: I’m not too fussy about where I write. I don’t need absolute silence or solitude or mood music or a special keyboard. I often keep my story on a flash drive and plug it into any old computer I come across. I can sometimes carry on a conversation while writing. It’s not preferred, but I’ve learned that if you wait for ideal circumstances to write, you’ll be waiting a long time. And if I’m not inventing the story, I’m improving sentence flow, adding poetic phrases when possible, fixing stilted dialogue or asking myself, overall, why does this scene suck so bad?

HOW LONG: As long as I can.

WHY: I love writing, even more than the actual writing, I love stories–reading them, watching them, inventing them. I also love communicating thoughts and ideas that are hard to articulate in conversation. I didn’t always love sharing my writing with others, but my writer friends will say I have made great strides in overcoming my shyness. I also think that after spending so much time in self-imposed isolation, I am eager to get feedback and fairly good at emotionally distancing myself from my writing. Being able to give and receive good criticism is, I think, nearly as important as being able to write.

But that is the subject of another post.

So there you have it, my method, laid bare. What’s yours?

Writing Groups: When solitary creatures meet

1 is the loneliest number that you’ll ever know and it is especially true in writing. 

I wrote for five years in solitude. Then I finally broke down and joined a writers’ group. I met my mentor (Heather) and grew as a writer exponentially. She taught me things like conflict, plot, protagonist (seriously) and also pointed me to some really good books on writing, which laid out all those tricky devices that I had been experimenting with, but had never mastered.

And this is why I am a cheerleader for a CONSTRUCTIVE critique group. Good groups are made, not necessarily found. Being apart of various groups over the years–from college classes where the writers are amateur and the criticism is biting, to a mish-mash of writers all writing in different genres– I have learned a few things about how to create a good group. Here are just a few…

Genre: While it may not be necessary for you all to be writing in the same genre, it certainly can’t hurt. For instance, if you are a Middle Grade writer in the midst of adult writers (any genre), there are things they will not get. For instance, why it may be necessary to get to the conflict within the first chapter, why age and description of the protagonist is important, why slang is acceptable, and on and on. Likewise, I write YA. If a children’s book author came looking for me to critique their manuscript, I wouldn’t know much past punctuation. Of course there are elements that translate across the board, but there are so many nuances of genre that make crossing over slightly more difficult.

Respect: I cannot stress this one enough. Constructive criticism is always respectful and never one-sentence long. If you are going to tell a writer that their protagonist is unlikable, make sure you have examples of how and why. Because saying you don’t like something just isn’t as good as telling why. We all want to make our writing better and criticism paired with suggestions on how to improve is so much more valuable than “in my opinion, this sucks.”

Consistency: Our writer’s group meets one evening a week. I look forward to our meetings all week-long. Sometimes we critique each others’ work, sometimes we write, sometimes we talk about publishing, marketing and the various facets of the biz. We often trade good reads and talk about why a certain book was good or bad. We are also in contact throughout the week via email, forwarding articles and blog posts, etc. And also, luckily for us, we are friends. And being friends allows us to have a rapport that is both playful and serious. It allows us to be FOR REAL and to know that when we say things that we may not want to hear, it is coming from a place of trust and compassion.

Praise: This one is sometimes forgotten. Never forget to mention to someone when they do something well. Writers are delicate creatures with fragile egos, or else they are fearsome giants with steel armor, sometimes both. But it’s important to let someone know when they are getting it right. Because who hasn’t been in the throes of revision, wondering what should be cut and what should be saved. Knowing what IS working is just as important as knowing what needs fixing.

That’s all I have for now. Please share your experiences on the Do’s and Don’ts of critique groups.