Weeding and writing

I am trying to write this with one eye covered by a patch. I put a wet tea bag on it  in hopes it would reduce the swelling of poison ivy.

Yep, I did it again. Thought I was pulling out English ivy vines. And yes, I know the difference (after repeated bouts with the poisonous vine) but there were no leaves on them so …here I am again, itching and miserable.

Summer is winding down, though, and soon enough my only yard work will be raking leaves. Time to start on something new. Or maybe something old. I have some manuscripts that are (gasp!) typed on paper. I wrote them before the advent of computers, that is to say very early in my career.

Now, have I learned anything since I wrote those stories? Or am I going to keep making the same mistakes, as I do with pulling vines?

Delia Owens and David Joy at McIntyres Books.

My hope and belief is that I have honed my craft enough so that I will be able to look at these old stories and spot trouble points. I need to be sure there is theme, not just a plot; that my characters are identifiable and relatable; that I balance narrative and dialogue; and most of all, that the story is not boring.

So there is that. And somehow I plan to finish that memoir I started for the grandkids, who are now adults and maybe more interested in their shared history. Our writers’ club is holding a workshop on writing the memoir in November, and  I’m looking forward to learning just how to approach this.  It is a great opportunity, and timely.

Opportunities to learn abound. Last weekend a friend and I drove two hours to hear two novelists (David Joy and Delia Owens) read from their works and talk about writing. Well worth the trip. What I learned: it is okay if your first book is crap. Keep writing.

I hope you all take every chance you get whether it is attending author talks, reading, going to workshops or conferences, or just getting together with other writers to share your dreams.

And if someone out there is trying to deter you ( and there are naysayers whose mission in life is to pull you down) just carefully root them out of your life. They are poison ivy.

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Enter Title Here

I’ve been involved in a round-robin of editing. I’m editing a friend’s new book and another friend is editing my latest endeavor. If she ever writes a book and asks friend #1 to edit it, we will come full circle.

I feel it important to ask another pair of eyes to look over any manuscript. My years as a newspaper reporter and editor taught me that our own mistakes often go unnoticed because we “see” what ought to be there.  The friend I mentioned is good at catching misspellings and typos. I am going to ask another friend to read for clarity, flow, plot holes, etc.

And of course, I ran spellcheck and took its advice 90% of the time. It has no sense of humor and doesn’t catch dialect.

Meanwhile … oh, meanwhile. I was asked for a full back in June and have been checking every day for the verdict. And, I am still sending another work out and getting really nice rejections, even a suggestion of another publisher that might take a look. I don’t want to give up hope, so I keep sending it out. I got to thinking lately that the title might be part of the problem (although I have heard editors reserve the right to change a title, I never have had one to do that).

Anyway, on reflection, it doesn’t really say what the story is about. So I brainstormed and came up with about ten alternate titles.

Here’s where I need your help.

The blurb:

Marcie Wicker is the only person, including the police, who doesn’t believe her husband, Stan, is sunning himself on a tropical beach somewhere after withdrawing every cent from their joint savings account. She refuses her father’s advice to seek a divorce and her mother’s advice to move on, and grieves that her college-age twins are letting their anger sully the memory of their father.

With the arrival of the new pastor, Adam Shepherd, Marcie realizes that she is ready to love again, but as neither wife nor widow, she is torn between accepting that Stan left her or stubbornly clinging to her belief that he has come to harm. Adam, a divorcee,  is struggling with regaining the confidence of his rebellious 13-year-old daughter and wonders if he is ready for another relationship.

When the truth is finally revealed, families are not only turned upside down, but also are made stronger.

The working title is “Wherever You May Be.”

Her are my alternates:

Missing, Presumed Alive

When He said Goodbye

When He Disappeared

Without a Word

Looking for Answers

Holding On/ Letting Go

Maybe Today

Gut Instinct

A Wife’s Heart

No One is Listening

The Stubborn Wife

Okay, no none of the above are stellar. Any suggestions?

I’d love your input! And if I choose your title, I will give your name to one of the characters in the novel!

 

 

What’s your process?

I had just wakened when the phone rang. It wasn’t too early to call, but I’d slept late because of binge-watching “Longmire” the night before. So the question took me by surprise.

“What process do you use when you write?”

“Huh?”

My mind clicked into gear and I said, “Well, I don’t outline. I tried it once and it didn’t work for me.”

So what do  you do when you first start writing, the caller asked. Do you begin with dialogue? Narrative? Action?

I had to think a minute. How do I start a new work? A song went through my addled brain: “…start at the very beginning, a very good place to start…”*

I just start writing I said. I tried to explain that before I sat down to write, the entire story is laid out in my head. I have spent months going over it at odd times, three a.m when I can’t sleep, standing in line, driving … the scenes get worked out, I imagine what the characters will say, I know what’s going to happen and how it ends. I don’t worry about jotting down fragments on stray sheets of paper or in a notebook (although I carry one because I read somewhere that’s what writers do).

It’s as if the entire novel is already written in my mind and when I sit down at the computer I am not writing so much as taking dictation. I begin by setting the scene in a specific time and place, introducing the main character, and describing the goal or problem that must be reached or solved.

Then I tell the story. I try to limit narrative as being a “tell” rather than “show.” Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but I’d rather let the reader find out through action and dialogue. Narrative is limited to describing the scene where the action takes place. I’ve been told dialogue is my strong point, so I use it more often than narrative.

My caller asked how I handed the second, third, and consecutive drafts.

I stumbled over that, being still only half awake. What I should  have said was that I look for problems in pacing (using shorter sentences and paragraphs when the action heats up), flow, plot holes, repetitive narration or description, and other stumbling blocks that might make a reader stop and scratch her head in confusion. I also believe it is important to pay attention to white space on the page. Dense paragraphs are off-putting. Again, crisp dialogue helps balance the longer, necessary descriptions.

Then I edit for grammar and construction. And finally, look for typos.

When I’ve done all I can, I ask trusted beta readers to read the manuscript. I take their feedback and make any changes I find applicable.

Only then does it get submitted to a publisher, where an entirely new process begins.

So that’s my process. What’s yours? How do you begin your story?

We all want to know.

* “Do-Re-Mi” from The Sound of Music

 

Back into the fray

I had a wonderful birthday week. My sister came to visit from Pennsylvania and together we drove to the Golden Isles in Georgia to visit my oldest son and daughter-in-law. My second-oldest son flew in from California, making my birthday wish to have all my family together almost come true. (My youngest son and wife couldn’t make it.) Of course, none of the teenage grandkids could come because of summer jobs and/or school. So it was an adult gathering … very relaxing and enjoyable.

Since I have returned home, I’ve been busy bouncing back from yet another rejection and sending out queries and submissions. If the rejections hadn’t been so positive I might have given up, but the encouragement to keep trying is very persuasive.

And, working on my WIP. Isn’t there always a WIP? If not, there should be. It”s the only way to stop worrying about the submissions — did they get it? did they like it? when will I get a reply?

And keep dreaming and hoping for a “yes” this time around.

If writers didn’t dream, there would be no stories. Oh, they might still write them, but the results would be

These daisies didn’t succumb to the dry weather and heat while I was gone and were a welcoming sight when I returned home.

hidden in a box under the bed, read only by trusted friends and then returned to dust and darkness. So we dream up stories and then dream of them finding a home on someone’s bookshelf.

And if we’re honest, on many, many someones’ bookshelves.

This writing path has had many twists and turns since I had my first acceptance after years of writing and submitting. My first two books were accepted and published, only to have the publisher close their door.  I got my rights back and self-published, figuring all the editing and formatting had already been done, so why not? Then I self-published another because it was fairly easy and let’s face it, instant gratification.

 

My next three were accepted by a publisher, which was and is thrilling. The series was fun to write. Then I wrote another book and self published it because I was too impatient to do the necessary round of submissions.

It seems my sales are about equal for the traditionally published and self-published novels. I think there is more of a sense of satisfaction when you get that acceptance letter, but today there is no real downside to self-publishing, either. I think either way is perfectly legitimate. So if you are wondering which path to choose, it depends on how quickly you want to see your book in print. But if you do self-publish, it’s very important to have your work proofed, edited (there is a difference), and professionally formatted. See Mark Coker’s excellent guide (Smashwords) if you decide to format it yourself. And don’t forget your cover, which is the first thing a potential buyer looks at.

My, I’m full of advice! Some gleaned from reading books on getting published and some from my own experience. And, in my opinion, real-life experience is the best teacher.

Write on!

 

 

 

 

Growing a book

I have been on a roll, waking every morning for the past six days to roll  out of bed  and walk two laps around the park. Then home for coffee and to read the newspaper, after which I sit down and write.

Yes, I have also been writing every day. I’m pleased with my progress and how the story is developing. Maybe I feel just a little smug as I pat myself on the back.

I fully intended to follow that routine today, but so far the walk is the only goal I can check off. It’s been hot (have I said that before?) and because it hasn’t rained in a few days, my plants started drooping. So after my walk and checking the news, I decided to water them. Then I needed to pick off the dead blossoms.

I remembered I had purchased new clippers the day before, so it seemed like a good time to try them out while it was comparatively cool. Noticing that the grass and weeds around some of the larger shrubs had grown, I got out my

I wish my astilbe looked like these!

weed-whacker and  whacked away, accidentally decapitating one lily plant. Oops.

That done, I clipped around some plants and pulled some weeds. One weed was wrapped around an astilbe, and I accidentally (not a good day) pulled out part of the plant. So I dug a hole and replanted the separated plant and while I was at it, dug up and re-planted another that had unexpectedly popped up several feet from the parent plant. So now they are all in a nice row.

Swept the sidewalk, washed my tools, and washed my knees which were muddy from kneeling on the ground.

Gardening is a little like writing. You start with an idea, and it grows. Then you need to weed out the parts that don’t belong. Sometimes a scene needs to be moved from one chapter to another to make the story flow more clearly. As you write, time slips away until you realize you have accomplished more than you had planned.

It’s a good feeling, either way. My flowers are happy and now I am off to work on my novel.

 

 

 

 

 

Ready, Set … Goal!

Having made the statement that I was going to revisit an old manuscript and revise it because I know now more than I did then, I had several people respond that they couldn’t wait to read the story.

Not only that, but in my writing group I set my next month’s goal to finish at least four chapters. We each put in 25 cents and write down our goal for the next meeting. These slips of paper are put in a pot and drawn. If your name is drawn and you have accomplished your goal, you win. If not, the pot rolls over to next time.

It isn’t about the money. The last person who won walked off with a whopping $5.00. It’s about setting that goal and reaching it. No one wants to admit that, for whatever reason, they didn’t do what they vowed to do. It’s not only  embarrassing, but shows a lack of commitment.

So I set both a short-range and a long-range goal to revise and finish this story. I’m excited. For one thing, in the past 10 years or more since I started it, I’ve learned more about pacing and structure. I’ve changed from pure pantser to more of a plotter, because I’ve discovered that if you go down a  road without checking a map first, you could very well find yourself at a dead end, or almost as bad, someplace you never intended to go and no way to get back on course.

I would most likely finish the story without having made my intention public. But now I feel a responsibility not only to myself but to my few but loyal fans.

Setting a goal is good and we all do it. Sometimes the only person aware of the goal is yourself, and if you fail you are the only one who knows it.

However, if you set a goal and talk about it to friends and write about it, you  have a lot more riding on its completion. And if that doesn’t make you sit down and start writing, I don’t know what will.

 

 

 

Drastic surgery

Once upon a time, I wrote a long, rambling book that I was so in love with that I couldn’t see its flaws.

Its many, fatal flaws.

I revised it several times, but I still couldn’t get anyone interested. At 180,000 words, I now know why. I love, big books. I’ve actually read “War and Peace.” Ken Follett is one of my favorite authors and I just finished “The Punishment She Deserves” by Elizabeth George which  is 690 pages long.

But Follett and George have something I did not: a established following. By that I mean readers who will follow them anywhere, even if it means reading a book that could double as a doorstop.

More to the point, most readers prefer something shorter and editors strive to give them what they want

Back to my book. It concerned two girls, Damaris and Morven, whose lives intertwine although they take different paths. It was a story of friendship and loyalty and a lot of other lovely things. I had to put aside my fondness for the story and do as doctors do when presented with conjoined twins and decide how best to separate them.

I carefully cut and pasted and managed to get Damaris’ story free of all entanglements. The result was “Riverbend,” which came out in May 2017.

Now I’m working on Morven’s story. Like Damaris, she’s a young girl alone in the world. Unlike Damaris, she doesn’t marry the first man to offer and suffer the consequences. Instead, she manages to build a family for herself and only then find true love and her HEA.

It’s a little trickier. I’m cutting entire chapters and eliminating any distracting side plots that don’t move the story along.

 I wrote this book almost 20 years ago, so as I read I am both amused and appalled by my naivety.

But I’ve learned along the way. I can (hopefully) correct my earlier mistakes. And, by letting it “sit” for awhile, I can be a little ruthless and throw away those passages I loved then but question now.

Writing isn’t always just sitting down and putting words on a page, although that seems to work for some authors. For me, it’s revision and cutting and revision and rewriting, and then revising again. Maybe that’s why I don’t publish a book every three months or even every year.

But like the tortoise, I somehow manage to get to the finish line.

 

 

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