As the New Year is upon us, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking: not about goals and resolutions, but about progress. A lot can happen in a year, especially when you’re an author. I have a friend who started out the year scribbling between customers at a retail job, and now she’s proudly freelancing enough articles to work from home and focus on her own writing. Another friend is set to self-publish her first novella this February … and of course, this past fall saw the publishing of From the Desk of Buster Heywood and the completion of the first draft of In The Cards.
More than that, I’ve grown to be part of an amazing community of writers on Twitter: writers who hold one another up and cheer through every victory, no matter how small (finding just the right word) and provide support in the face of hardship, no matter how large (a precious baby girl’s medical bills). If there is one thing that 2015 has proven to me, it is that authors can do anything… and most of us do it for very little or nothing at all, in between what my friend Gracie calls the #JobToSurvive. It’s a precarious balance to keep, for sure … and if you ever find yourself weighed down by it, feel free to reach out to me. I’ll just point you toward groups like The WANA Tribe and the #2bitTues Twitter crew, and we’ll keep you afloat.
As a fitting end to the year, I thought I’d close 2015 with a little giveaway! If you sign up for my newsletter before the end of the year, you’ll be entered into a random drawing to win a copy of “Writer With A Day Job” by Aine Greaney. It’s an awesome book with a lot of tips, hints, and exercises that are helpful no matter what your #JobToSurvive might be.
Just click here to sign up, and I’ll add your name to the list. A winner will be chosen via Random.org's list generator and notified via email on Saturday, January 2nd. Good luck, and happy writing!
Hi, everyone! I apologize for the lack of post this past Thursday ... not only has life been hectic, but I am trying to push and get 30 Days of Aviario ready, so that I can build my mailing list. I am behind in my short story deadlines, but that's something I can work with ... I am still hoping to have From the Desk of Buster Heywood published on Smashwords by September 18th. In order to get things moving, however, I am going to have to put this blog on a hiatus until the book is out.
In the meantime, I encourage you to still follow me on Twitter, where I will be continuing to help #2bitTuesday grow: this week's optional theme is "Temperature". To keep myself sane, I've been taking short breaks by indulging in the following things. Feel free to check them out, if any strike your fancy!
Okay, now you all know what my favorite color is - and my Gram's, too. One of these days I intend to tell you all about her and how much I owe to her for my creative spirit, but today is not that day. Today we are at the end of the Editing Rainbow, and the pot of gold is a marked-up manuscript ready for you to go through and clean up. I know, at first glance it doesn't sound that rewarding, but I get excited about these things. It means that the thing you spent SO LONG putting together and pulling your hair out over is one step closer to being presentable to the general public, and not just your long-suffering close friends & beta readers. (Hi, ladies, you know who you are, and I love you all.)
The best part is that purple, Voice, is the easiest color to edit. I don't even have any bullet points, this week. It's that simple.
This is the part where you go through your manuscript and look for the bits that make you say "YES. I have read this story so many times that my eyes are about to start bleeding, but I still absolutely love this." It can be as big as a whole scene, or as tiny as a description ... One which sticks out for me during my edit of From the Desk of Buster Heywood is the detail of a lost mitten "marinating in a pile of slush". I just love the way it sounds and flows on the page, and the picture is crystal clear to me. Go through your draft and find those parts. Underline them in purple. If you have any lines that are the exact opposite which you haven't already cleaned up with other colors, put a jagged purple line to set them apart.
The lines that you like the sound and look of best are the ones that fell into your lap while you were sitting under the word tree - they are yours by chance, ripe and ready and perfect. They are the cornerstones of your writing voice, and I would be willing to bet that you didn't even think about being "voice-y" or "really good" when you wrote them. Be proud of these. Hold them up in front of your mirror and say "Damn, you wrote this? You rock!" Take a nice ego boost and feel good about yourself. This may be the least rule-intensive part of the editing method, but it may also be the most important, because it's about building confidence in your own writing. You might have all those red adverbs, clunky blue beats, and redundant orange bits in there staring you down, and sure, fixing them all is going to be tricky and daunting, but hey! You have all that purple that you're still proud of in the middle of it all, holding it together. You're a badass. You wrote a whole entire book, and there are parts of it you don't immediately want to throw out the window, even in what Anne Lamott calls the "shitty first draft". Go, you.
Now that you've had your moment of triumph, it's time to take that purple prose and look at it under a magnifying glass. What is it that made those passages work for you? Why do they sing? Do they have a common thread, or were they just a perfect fit for that particular point in the story? You're figuring out your strengths, the place where your voice shines. Once you break that down, you can apply it to the places that aren't so strong. The biggest discovery I made during this phase was that I write best when I can relate closely to someone in the scene... so going forward, I tried to find something I could do the same with in as many situations as possible, even if the character wouldn't react the same way I would. I know a lot of writers say this, when they talk about writing, but they say it because it's true: bring yourself to the page. Your readers will notice the life there, every time.
So, that's it for purple. It's all about following your heart and your gut. But what happens when you finish that whole rainbow? That's up to you. I thought I'd be good just typing in my corrections, but then I decided to take a tally of how it all wound up and find what my biggest weaknesses were. I'll be sharing my breakdown in next week's post, so that when From the Desk... is finally available, you can compare and see just how much I hacked it apart before sharing it with you.
Oh, and here's Anne Lamott's essay on shitty first drafts, courtesy of Canvas online courses. There's a link to a PDF of it, there. If you like what you read, I suggest you pick up the book it became part of, "Bird by Bird". It's one of my favorite books on writing - I'm saving the others for a later post. Here's to the rainbow, and I'll see you next week!
Back in January, I finished my first, quick edit of From the Desk... and knew that it would not be enough. I needed to roll up my sleeves and dig in. Unfortunately, most of the editing advice I had seen in blogs and writers' sites was only helpful in a vague sense. I knew I had to tighten my writing, but not how. I knew I had to exterminate my adverbs, but I wasn't sure why. Most of all, I saw that I had to "kill my darlings", but didn't know how to make it a mercy killing that would actually make the end result better without them.
Enter a book that has landed itself a spot in my top five writing guides and memoirs: Self Editing For Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King. You can read more about the book itself - and find yourself a copy, if you're so inclined - here on their website. I'm not here to review, but here to tell you how I combined their wisdom with a "rainbow editing" tip I saw on a writer's blog several months ago.
Each chapter in Self-Editing focused on a particular skill-set: character voice, dialogue, grammar, style, and so on. Since I mostly do my editing during my lunch breaks at work, I refrained from taking notes, as I was hoping to come up with something portable that would take up a minimum of space. Instead, I flagged each point that I found could pertain to my projected editing process. Once I finished, I assigned a color to each skill-set and consolidated the chapters into checklists: simple descriptions of things I could scan for and mark to correct when it was time to edit my digital copy. Then I bought a set of my favorite writing pens in rainbow colors, and got to work.
I hit the halfway point in my hard-copy edit yesterday, and I'm happy to report that the method is working extremely well, so far! In addition to helping me catch everything, I can use it as a sort of score-card for my writing style: more of one color than another means that it's an area I need to focus on improving when I start work on In The Cards again, this coming April!
Since this method works so well for me, I feel like I should share it with any other writers out there - so expect one color checklist each week while I finish up my editing!
Before I even thought about being a writer, I was a reader. As an only child living in rural New England, even the small-town cliche of walking everywhere to keep myself entertained was right out, since we lived right on the edge of the area's main highway. Thankfully, my family had a large patch of land behind the house that bordered the forest and river, so I could tromp around all of that and let my mind wander. So wander I did ... and when I wasn't wandering, I would read. I read curled up on a patch of spongy moss in the back fields, or under the trees, or on the porch, the little jungle gym in the back yard, the couch ... If you could perch there and bring a snack or a drink, I'd read there. As much as I loved where I lived, I loved the places books could take me, even more, and I loved the people in them who kept me company. So when I cracked open Writing With A Day Job by Aine Greaney recently, doing her opening exercise of setting personal goals didn't surprise me as much as I'd thought it might.
Maybe five or so years ago, my goals as an author would have been loftier: publishing! Best-seller lists! Gushing reviews! Envious former classmates and co-workers! But last night, I set down what I really, truly want from my writing, and I feel it's only fair I share it with you.
As a writer, I want to set my worlds and the people in them free, so that they will outlast me. I would like them to be popular, sure - what writer wouldn't? - but right now, the most important thing to me is that they are preserved. Manuscripts and notes have to exist to be discovered, and for that, all these roads and places and oddball folks have to make it out of my head and onto the page. Readership of any size, once that's done with, is a bonus.
I want to be the sort of writer who is known for the richness of their creation, the breadth of it. I want to at least come close to the scope of my favorites, old and new: Terry Pratchett, J.K. Rowling, George R.R. Martin, Brent Weeks, Daniel Handler (or even his friend Mr. Lemony Snicket), and my favorite childhood retreat's creator, Brian Jacques. Not to sound stuck-up, but I know that amount of detail and depth is there... I've spent over a decade weaving it, after all. I just need to stop hoarding it and get it all out, out, OUT. And that's where you, my reader, come in.
When you read my work, I want you to feel as though you're escaping to visit old friends, just like I did, or that your troubles might not be as bad as theirs. I want you to come to love these places and people I create as much as I do. I want you to be able to not just sense that the town of Aviario is my second home: I want you to feel at home there, too, to feel free to roam its streets at your leisure like Buster on a Sunday afternoon, or invite yourself into your favorite character's home whenever you feel like it, put your feet up, and spend some time with them. If I'm really, really doing it properly, I would hope that their truths and lessons will be things you carry with you close to your heart, that there might even be one little passage or moment that lingers with you after you've closed the book and walked away.
Starting with these first two novels, that's what I'm going to try to do. It may take me a little while to get there, since I'm doing it a few pages at a time, but I will put this world of mine out there for the sharing. And once I do, I sincerely hope you'll give it even a brief visit and tell me what you think.
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