Writing is a Good Distraction

May 5, 2020

Does anyone else feel like they’re in the midst of a post-apocalypse book or movie plot? I’m not making light of the pandemic, just acknowledging the strangeness of it. The rationale of the bad guys would be that it’s a social experiment with some unfathomable-to-us goal.

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I wish the radio and TV commercials would stop using phrases like “unprecedented”, “uncharted”, “we’re in this together”. Blech. We all know what’s going on; you don’t have to keep reminding us. The ad agencies are missing on this – they need to get rid of the qualifiers altogether. Plus, it’s not unprecedented. I’m wondering why so few people are talking about the so-called Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918. The parallels are eerie.

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Recently, I’ve read how some writers can’t get into their writing mode. For me, writing is a welcome distraction from the news. I can only handle so much reality before I need an escape. I finished my sci fi/fantasy/thriller short, I finished a piece of flash fiction, and I edited a spiritual short for which I need to find a market. Then I started working on my fantasy romance but didn’t get far. The ideas wouldn’t come.

While I was casting around for my next project, something unexpected happened. You know those things you put off? Maybe it’s calling a certain person, or doing a big project, or even cleaning out the junk drawer. You put it off and put it off until it starts nagging at you, and you know you can’t put it off any longer.

Well, my first book manuscript has been sitting on a shelf for about 5 years. That was the one I spewed out as fast as I could (per beginner advice), planning to polish it during the revision process, but then I couldn’t because it was horrible writing. There was too much to fix. That was one of the first lessons I learned in my fiction-writing journey. I need to be more thoughtful and produce a well written 1st draft that is easier to revise. (See my previous post Sketch Me a Story.) At that time, I figured I’d rewrite the story somewhere down the road.

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My instincts are telling me that time is now. I really don’t want to do it. It’s going to be difficult. I’m going to completely re-write it, only referring to the early manuscript for the research I had done back then.

I’m also kind of excited. I loved the story, just not the writing. Here’s part of one scene I’ve rewritten so far:

She scowled. He was an old man, at least 60. What did he know? It had started earlier at dinner…

With the addition of two leaves, the cherry pedestal table was stretched to its full length. Twenty place settings of cream and gray china with accompanying silverware were evenly spaced on the hand-tatted lace tablecloth. Silver serving dishes and serving utensils had been polished to a high gleam and reflected the light from the overhead chandelier. Crystal water glasses had been filled, and white wine chilled in dual silver ice buckets. The large serving platter, empty at the moment, soon would be filled to overflowing. The smells of turkey, dressing, and fresh cranberries wafted through the house.

The swinging kitchen door opened and Tessa’s mom emerged, her hands clad in red oven mitts and tendrils of hair escaping from her up-do. Perspiration dotted her forehead.

“Dinner in 5 minutes,” she announced to the family gathered in the living room playing charades.

Are you writing now? Is writing a welcome distraction? Or are you too distracted to write?

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1st two photos from Unsplash by Paulo SilvaYuliya Kosolapova

 


Sketch Me a Story

April 21, 2020

I am re-posting my second favorite post from one year ago when I first rebranded my blog. My previous post was my all-time favorite. Next time, I’ll post something new. I hope you enjoy this one.

The Message Pub

I write longhand. Yes, with a sketch pad and a rollerball pen. When I get into my zone and write thousands of words at a sitting, I get callouses from the pen rubbing on my fingers.

Typewriters were once the writing instrument of choice. Think Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, Agatha Christie, Tennessee Williams. Even today, some writers choose a typewriter rather than a computer. Think Larry McMurtry, poet Maya Angelou, Danielle Steel. (That’s not me in the picture. I think it’s Agatha Christie.)

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Although I’ve never used a typewriter for writing fiction, the idea prompts feeling of nostalgia — writers long ago, solitarily pounding out stories.

When I began delving into writing fiction a few years ago, I wrote on my laptop. The advice I googled online and found in books about the craft of writing went something like this: “Write as fast as you can, get it all out…

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The Magic of Writing

April 7, 2020

I rebranded my blog almost a year ago, in April 2019. My first post remains my favorite, so I am posting it once again. I hope you enjoy it.

* * *

Beginning today, this blog has a new theme – all things writing. As I pursue a second career writing fiction, I’ll post about my writing journey, the craft of writing, lessons learned, mistakes made, and the people who are helping and encouraging me. I’ll also post about books and authors and publishing.

I started this blog to dole out advice about marketing and promotion, strategic planning, and nonprofits, and I still work as a consultant. Check my website – www.techsavvympa.com – for more information or look at my blog archives.

Here we go.

WRITE

 

Write. A magical word. It’s the ability to conjure scenes and stories from my imagination. I can create characters of any size, color, and personality. I can have people run races or play the piano or murder someone or solve a crime. They can live at the beach or in a city or on a different planet. There can be love interests, annoying neighbors, best friends. I can create a world with monsters or aliens. I can make up my own rules.

How cool is that? It’s the best.

When I say I’m writing, what I’m actually doing is conjuring, creating, imagining.

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Photo by Mervyn Chan on Unsplash

Writing and reading are like breathing and eating for me. I have to do all those things to survive and thrive. Although reading was my first love, once I learned to write, reading took second place.

I’ve heard some writers don’t like to sit down and write. Most days, I can’t wait to get to my writing desk. I go to sleep thinking about my characters and what they’ll experience in my next day’s writing.

Many times, my characters do things that surprise me. I’m the type of writer the industry calls a “pantser”, which basically means I don’t make an outline and I don’t know everything that will happen. I rough out my main characters and a main plotline, and go from there. Sometimes I know the ending; sometimes I don’t. (More on “pantsers” and “plotters” in another post.)

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Photo by oxana v on Unsplash

To me, that’s part of the beauty of it. The characters I create take over and go their own way. They come alive in my imagination, so much so, that I can picture the setting and the people, and their gestures and expressions.

I can see the waves crashing on the shoreline as the angry, young woman throws rocks into the water and clouds roll overhead. I can see the hiker with his walking stick in the woods, seeking a bird or butterfly that’s known to nest there. I can smell the detritus of a burned-out forest. I can touch the coat of the black lap cat who comes around frequently for some love from his elderly owner. I can hear them both purring.

And, yes, I can taste that pineapple upside down cake that the mom makes for each of her six children on their birthdays. Do you see her with flour smudges on her face as she puts the cake into the oven? Can you smell it baking, the aroma filling the kitchen? Her kids can. They all run into the kitchen, one after another. “Is it done yet?” Do you see the scoop of vanilla ice cream melting next to the slice of cake? I do, and I can’t wait to pick up my fork.

Mmmm. What could be better than this?

Time to conjure.

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Revising Your Fiction, Part 2

March 24, 2020

I haven’t posted for a while because I’ve been sick. No, I don’t have the Coronavirus. I had the flu, which turned into bronchitis. Now that I’m feeling better, we can’t go anywhere, but I’m grateful to be well and grateful that my family and friends are well. During this difficult, strange time, when many of us are confined to our homes, I’ve decided to focus on my faith and my writing.

What is happening in the world is out of my control. All I can do is try and stay healthy. This is in God’s hands. That doesn’t mean I understand it, just that I accept it. I pray a lot and try to leave my worries at the cross. I am also reaching out to friends and neighbors. I watch a limited amount of news, and then look for distractions.

My WIP sat for a month while I was sick. I got back to it last week and completed my second round of edits. My previous post talked about revising and editing. Here are some additional questions to ask yourself as you edit.

*Is the story plausible and does it play out naturally?

*Is there an immediate conflict?

*Are your scenes interesting? Cut the least memorable one.

*Do you need subplots to keep the story moving?

*Is suspense drawn out to increase tension?

*Is the dialogue realistic?

*Have you used sensory descriptions that invoke all the senses? Many of us just use sight or sound.

*Is there too much exposition?

Beta readers can also be beneficial. Or not. My recent beta reader’s only comment was “I like it”. That’s not especially helpful. When I pressed him, however, and asked specific questions, he was very helpful. Because of his feedback, I’ve decided to rewrite the ending. Not a small task.

Later this year, I plan to hire a developmental editor for another WIP. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Until next time, stay well.

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Writing Makes Me Happy, Editing is a Chore

February 18, 2020

I’m editing my WIP (work in progress). I don’t like this part of the process. It’s much more rewarding to write – to create characters and scenes and develop motivations and plots. What will this person do next? How will they overcome the obstacles and succeed in their quest or change for the better? Writing is creativity.

Editing is necessary for any written work. I have no problem editing reports or speeches or other nonfiction, but when it comes to my creative writing, I’m loath to remove anything.

This is a brief outline of my editing process:

Once I finish writing, I set it aside for a few days or weeks so I can edit with fresh eyes. The longer the piece, the longer I wait. This is tough because I want to finish the project.

After the wait, I do a thorough read through and condense the piece. I’m good at condensing. Short story writing is training me to be more concise, to make every single word count. Sometimes, however, I have trouble deleting. I may acknowledge the scene description is too long, but I like the way I’ve described things. I become attached to my characters and to certain scenes.

Next, I look at my structure:

  • Does something of interest happen right away?
  • Is the goal or plot clear? Is it enough to make the reader care?
  • Is the main character compelling? Will the reader care?
  • Does the character grow or change?
  • Does every sentence move the scene or story forward?
  • Have I described the setting well enough? Or too much?

Each scene needs a reason to be there. It should contain an objective, conflict, struggle, and outcome.

Then, I look at:

  • Dialogue
  • Flow
  • Pace
  • Conflict and resolution

My next step is to highlight elements of the work. Tension is yellow, background is pink, setting is blue, dialogue is purple, description is green, metaphors and similes are red. This helps me see if the story is balanced.

Then, I check for redundancies. I tend to use some words too frequently, so I do a search and change some of them. For example, how many times do I have a character smiling? Instead, they could stretch, open their arms up, or hug someone. The character who keeps widening his eyes could instead stand back, breathe faster, or swallow. I often connect compound sentences with the word “but”. However, therefore, though, yet, nevertheless – these are all good substitutions. Sometimes, I split the sentence into two.

My final step is a spell check.

The steps I’ve outlined here are basic, and I’ve left some things out. There’s a lot more to it. An outside editor is also an option. I’ll talk more specifics of editing and revising in my next post.

Right now, I’m going to finish my first round of edits, then I’ll set the piece aside again before moving on to the next stage. Wish me luck.

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