Writing Problems: Keeping Inside of It

During this time of editing my current story, there are times — when I’m actively working on it, when I’m not in it — that I find myself thinking about it. Not just what I can do, where I can take the story. That’s fine. That’s productive to me. No, instead I find myself obsessing over how impossible the whole thing is.

I start to worry that the whole thing, it just won’t work, that whatever plot problems I have are unfixable. I’ll never hit the right tone, I’ll never make my character complicated but understood by a reader. Really, I just can’t do it.

I still make myself pick it up. I read over the chapter, find the parts I marked for rewrites. I edit, and I create new scenes. And I love it. I love my character, I love the place I put her in, I love the challenge of twisting the dialogue and narration just enough so that I get those moments where I feel like my words actually sing. I straighten out the plot, sew in my new words, and suddenly everything feels a couple of steps beyond what it was before. I’m filled with the idea that this story will eventually work.

Sometimes things just don’t work. The plot wasn’t going the right way, or you just weren’t at the skill and experience level required to bring that idea to life. But if the story feels right to you, then maybe you need to keep inside it, work on it, until you feel you’ve actually exhausted all your possibilities.

 

Moments in Editing: That Weird Period

Dog Relaxing
If only we could all find it so easy to take a break…

That weird period, when you have just managed to finish a big overhaul in your story…

And now there’s a kind of break required to let things gel so you can go back with fresh eyes, with more inclination to snip or stretch or remold than keep it all the same, because what you just did was so hard and you don’t want to do it again…

But you also don’t know what to do while you wait to go back, so you keep staring at your computer, thinking there’s got to be something productive in your life…

Or at least you can catch up on those Netflix shows…

You can’t even think of a blog post to write to pass the time…

And then it’s noon, and you wonder where that morning vanished to, and you just want to have a big problem to tackle again.

Writing Updates: February 2015

Even monthly, I forget to do this!

I feel a bit guilty. I’ve been doing a terrible job keeping up with reviews. But! I have what I’m going to say is a good excuse.

Amelita galli-curci.jpg
Amelita galli-curci” by Bain News Service, publisher via Wikimedia Commons.

The rough draft of my current work-in-project is going really well. I hit the climax, and now I just need to do the wrap up before this thing is all written. (I keep wanting to add on the qualifier “but I’m going to have to rewrite most of it”, which I should quit, because it’s a rough draft, if I don’t think I have to rewrite most of it then I’m not thinking right.)

Once that’s done, and typed up, I’m going to set it aside for a couple of months, to let some of the preciousness wear off, before I do a reread and figure out what needs complete rehashing, or has to go entirely. While that’s fermenting, I’m going to go back to the old middle grade fantasy manuscript I started doctoring up last year. I gave it out to some friends, and their criticism is trickling back in, so maybe with some other perspectives sitting at my shoulders I can really amp up this story.

I am running into another problem of wanting to do too much at once, though. I had written a middle grade contemporary also, which I liked, but I couldn’t figure out how to make the emotion, which I felt sat super flat through the whole thing, to come to the surface. (Also, it was way, way too long.) I have been reading some novels in verse recently, a format I really, really love, and I started wondering if that would be a better fit for this story. I’d like to give it a try, at least.

So now to decide…what the heck do I work on?

That’s me–writers, what are you working on right now?

Bookish (and Otherwise) Goals for 2015

Happy New Year! It’s a little late, but here are some of my goals for the upcoming year, many involving books and writing, and a couple not.

  • Get an Agent. Yeah, just…yeah. Holidays have caused me to slack a little in my agent researching efforts, but I’ll put more effort into it now that I have some non-family time.
  • Finish Rough Draft of New Novel. I’m pretty close with that one.
  • Polish Up Draft of Another “Finished” Novel. I’m waiting for when I take a break between drafts on the previously mentioned novel, and also for returned comments from some of my readers that I sent this novel to.
  • Catch Up On Reviews. I’m a little behind on my Fandom Post reviews, which I feel guilty about, but if I give myself a couple of weeks I can catch back up.
  • Complete My Goodreads Goal. I always give myself a high number, 100, because I read a lot of children’s books and graphic novels. I want to make it this year, possibly by allowing myself to count picture books I read while I’m at work.
  • Read More Nonfiction. Memoirs, nature books…some good true stories that don’t read like I’m in a classroom.
  • Read More Graphic Novels. You’d think I read plenty enough of these, but sometimes I really do feel like I’m out of the loop on too many things.
  • Finish the Couch to 5K Program. Maybe even run an actual 5K this year.
  • Find a House. That we can afford, of course. That is the trick.
  • Go on a Trip. Not just to the Cape, which we do anyway, but to someplace I’ve never been, like Montreal, or maybe California. (I’d love to plan a trip to Japan above all, but again, affordability.)

Those are some goals from me. What do you have planned for this year? Let me know!

This was written as part of Top Ten Tuesday (yes I know it’s Friday) on The Broke and the Bookish.

Earnin’ My Keep with My Critique Partner

The critique partner I mentioned in a recent post just sent me her manuscript the other day. This is something that I’ve read portions of before, but in other versions where her character had different beginnings, met a few different people, and was even narrated in a different perspective. As I said in that other post, I’m so happy the get this manuscript because I love her writing, I love this character, and I love that I have the chance to see her adventure from beginning to end. (Also, this puts me in a position to help twist and turn and fine tune the path of said adventure, which is thrilling.) On top of all of that, though — I’m relieved.

Since graduation, I’ve sent her my whole manuscript TWICE, plus a few short stories I cobbled together. She’s sent me a few short stories of her own, and asked for help in plotting out her rewrite, but, I feel, nothing near the volume I’ve asked her to critique for me.

click to return to the previous pageThe “partner” in the phrase isn’t something to take lightly. There should be a near-even amount of back and forth, of assistance and gain, going between the two. Lately I’ve felt as if I have taken an unfair amount of time on the receiving end, so while I’m always anxious to hear her opinion of a new idea of mine, there’s a little bit of guilt involved in knowing I’m not doing the same for her (who cares that she’s not currently asking for help and I am, my guilt certainly doesn’t care).

I like feeling like I’m earning my keep, that I can even out the trade off we’re doing with each other so we can both always feel like this relationship is beneficial and good. At least until I send her another manuscript in a couple of weeks.

 

Writers, do you have a critique partner? Do you ever feel like one or the other is taking up all the time, whether it’s true or simply in your head?

Having a Critique Partner is the Best

In high school, I wrote constantly. So did my best friend. We shared our work with each other and offered opinions, mostly compliments (we were teenagers, our egos were so fragile). We even took the one creative writing class our high school ever offered (at least while we were there) together. We encouraged each other, and while I probably would have kept writing without her, I do attribute some of the confidence I as I kept pursuing it to those sessions in her room where she read my scribbled handwriting while I nervously snuggled her rat.

They made pretty good critique buddies, to be honest.

Once college started I didn’t see my high school friend as much, and Facebook wasn’t a thing yet. I received plenty of comments and assistance from classmates in my creative writing courses and from professors, who at the time helped me grow and also figure out what I really wanted to be writing. But I had no dedicated friend to share these things with, so after I lost the structure of school I was on my own. I operated within a vacuum, which I can say is a horrible place to write. Though I completed a novel, and edited it, and sent it out, it wasn’t working, and I couldn’t figure out the why.

Sick of being stuck, I applied to grad schools, finally ending up in Lesley. It was great: finally, a community of writing friends, mentors, people who got it and could help me out. But greatest of all was when I found the person who, from the moment we read each other’s manuscripts in preparation for the residency, became my best writing friend*. We connected with each other’s writing more than the other manuscripts we read, and it only took until the end of that first half of a day before I felt like I could put my book baby in her hands and trust her not to mangle it up but to carefully inspect it, to help it grow, to love it. We’ve both graduated, but we email, text, Facebook, Skype, share recommendations and worries and, most importantly, manuscripts. When I made sudden edits to a story and needed feedback she was right there, ready to do it. And when she needed help of her own, I was on her list of people to send her beloved novel to.

Basically, I have a person who I know will do her best to help me out and give me honest feedback — praise along with criticism — when I need it, and I have the privilege of being the same person for her. And it’s great.

 

 

*She also owns rats, who I have met and snuggled with. So, maybe that’s a sign.

Writing Problems: Middles

Often I go into stories knowing how my characters start out, and how they end up. Even if the beginning and end eventually change, through drafts that tends to be the more solid part of the story. It’s the middle that remains wobbly, unfocused, languishing.

In a story I hoped to be done with for now (but deep down I knew I really wasn’t) I’d had some problems in the middle, with what the characters were up to, how quickly things happened, how dramatic I made the story. I thought I’d fixed that. Then I got some helpful comments back on it that pointed out my big problems, which took place…yup…in the middle.

I’ve been working on it, and I think it’s improving. I’m trimming some fat, replacing some parts (hopefully not mixing metaphors like that). I’m going to send it out to friends, and hopefully, after their comments, I’ll craft a middle that comes out less like Jell-O and more like semi-dry cement. And then off it goes again.

 

What part of the story gives you issues?

Writing Problems: Beyond the Limit

Thanks to some encouraging news, I’ve been pushing myself over the last few days with some of my writing projects. I’ve reread, edited, and plotted for more hours than I usually dedicate to projects in one day, and now I’ve gotten into rewriting. Generally, a decent day of writing a story for me involves 3 or 4 handwritten pages. Rather than a stopping point, though, I’m trying to make that number a minimum, something I only finish the day at because there’s too much other life happening that there’s no real time to generate more than that. Hoo boy, is that hard.

The reason 3 or 4 pages is usually the limit is that by that point, my brain feels stretched, an elastic I’ve pulled and pulled and I can’t tug on anymore because then it will just snap. This is the point where I actually jump on the chance to do chores around the house, or leave for my job, because my brain doesn’t have the capacity to write any more.

But I can’t think of my brain as something that I’ll just break apart if I push it too far. It’s a muscle, and just like how every yoga class I’m a little bit closer to touching my forehead on my toes, if I keep pushing myself to my limit — and then a little bit beyond — I’ll be able to write more, and more, and maybe one day even pump out a dozen pages over the course of the day without feeling as if I’m about to collapse.

Moments in Editing: Chop Chop Chop

I’ve gone back to my recently rehashed old manuscript again, after setting it aside for a few weeks to give me a break. One thing I’ve noticed: It’s really not that terrible anymore, which is nice. Another thing: There’s still a lot to cut.

Chop ChopOn that last go through, I didn’t quite reach my goal of cutting 10,000 words (essentially a quarter of the book) and got to the end with ~8,000 words sliced out (it sounds like a lot, and it kind of is, but it wasn’t as hard as you’d think since most of those words were so, so bad). It was a big goal, but I was a little disappointed with my failure. But, luckily, now that I’m going back again, I’ve found sentences and phrases and single, weirdly placed words to ditch, and I managed to cut out ~200 words in the first three chapters. This leaves me hopeful that there are another 1,800 overripe sentences or misguided word placements I can extract.

Lesson learned here: you can always cut more.

In interesting (and flattering) news on my ramblings on the process of this whole thing, an earlier post on all the massive mistakes I noticed was picked up by Kath Temean and reposted on her blog, Writing & Illustrating. If you want to see it again, please go here, where you’ll also see a comparison of my old and new opening pages.

Horrible Past (Writing) Mistakes

I mentioned earlier that my current main writing project is rehashing a novel I completed a few years ago. Thinking it was done 5 years ago, I sent the story out to a handful of agents and got a less-than-enthusiastic response. Tepid is even too strong of a word. “Practically nonexistant” probably best describes the replies I received.

Frustrated, and also feeling like I didn’t have a clue about what I was doing, I pushed this story aside, started work on the novel for whom I’m currently searching for a home, and enrolled in my MFA program. While I did use the first couple chapters of this old MS to get into my program, I haven’t touched it in years.

As things tend to do, this story haunted me, and when it came to be too much I copied the thing into Scrivener, opened split screen, and started retyping the story. I’m just about done with my initial go-through, and I am proud of what I’ve managed to cut and alter. But I am disappointed, and sometimes horrified, at what I dared to send out to agents even a few years ago. Some are big things I might not have noticed that time and a bit of schooling have helped me notice. Others…I don’t even know. Here are a few of the problems:Editing Marks

  • Slow Plot. It takes a while for things to get truly interesting. Which is why most of my big cuts take place in the first third of the book. It’s no wonder I never got any personalized email responses, the agents probably slept through my sample pages.
  • Whiny MC. I wanted my main character to have some realistic 11-year-old life issues, but I really overdid the last time and she turned into a real Debbie Downer. A bunch of that got cut, too.
  • Distant MC. It took me two years of Lesley to figure out that this was my problem and how to fix it, so it’s no surprise that an old MS was practically disease-ridden with distance.
  • Lengthy Conversations. I still gotta cut some of these down, even at my ending. It’s kind of a bummer when you realize you said the same thing three times in rapid succession.
  • Passive voice. This thing is chock full of it, and it probably bleeds back into my distance issue.
  • Overuse of words/descriptions. Everyone is snarling, like, constantly. And I think I used the word “just” about 4 million times.
  • Typos. Oh my god! The typos I left in there! Forgotten quotations, misspelled words, inconsistent apostrophe use. Did I even proofread this thing before I sent it out? I can’t even remember now.

Really, this is a great case for giving yourself time and distance before you dive into edits. Hopefully I’ve learned enough now that I won’t have to wait it out for half a decade before going back to something. Also, get a bunch of critique partners to read it before you send it out, seriously.