Monday, July 26, 2010

Slipping out of the Time Stream

I received another rejection today. With it, the editor provided some valuable feedback to improve the story. The notes were, quite frankly, things I should have caught myself. Nothing like a polite rejection as a reminder not to get sloppy! So, my thanks to the kind and talented assistant editor who read my latest attempt at the sci-fi/fantasy genre. I shall polish and send it out again!

As I try to live and work through a hectic week, preparing for a “vacation” to Buffalo, NY, it’s difficult to keep my thoughts in focus. Doing anything in a straight line is impossible. It reminds me, though, of a topic I’ve been meaning to cover for some time.

Do you write chronologically? That is, do you sit down with a blank piece of paper, begin at point A and write in logical sequence until you arrive at point B?

I used to. In some cases, I still do. When it came to writing a novel, though, I was stalled. I tried everything--outlines, flow charts, mind maps--everything but letting myself slip out of the time stream. (And maybe self-discipline, but that’s another story.) I finally came to the point where I realized that holding myself to a chronological writing order was inhibiting my progress. If I finished a scene and didn’t have a clue what came next, I stopped. I never allowed myself to skip a scene, or a chapter, or several chapters. There I stayed. As a result, I am the proud owner of about five novel beginnings, but no middles or ends. Then, nearly three months ago, everything changed.

You see, I don’t think in straight lines. Since I don’t edit this blog as rigidly as most of my work, you may have noticed!

I’m not unique in this; many people don’t think in straight lines. My progress from A frequently passes through C and D and maybe F before I get anywhere near B. Since I don’t think in a line, it’s difficult to make myself write in one. I have a long-standing habit of cutting and pasting as I write, in an effort to make my work come out as something another human soul can comprehend. For some reason, though, I always tried to hold myself to a timeline in my fiction, never straying from the A to B progression.

Nope; didn’t work.

About three months ago, I finally gave myself permission to jump around. (And to write a crappy first draft, but that’s another story.) Hey, I didn’t feel like writing chapter two after I was done with chapter one? By all means, work on chapter five! Write the end before I’d written the beginning? Made perfect sense!

If you happen to think in straight lines, just the thought of mayhem like that is giving you a nervous twitch. If you don’t, though, the thought may be liberating. It was for me. Sure, I’ll have a heck of a mess to work with when I go for draft number two, but that’s okay. In the 2009 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market (Writer’s Digest Books), Donna Gephart says, “…every writer knows a good book isn’t written—it’s rewritten” (page 21). You can edit out the rough stuff, but you can’t edit what didn’t get written in the first place. Or, as Donald Vaughan said (same reference as above), “It’s a whole lot easier to revise a bad page than a blank one.”

Not every method works for every writer. Find what work for you. If using your outline and writing from end to beginning works, then do that. If you realize you work best without an outline, then throw that out, too. The point is, if sticking to a certain idea of the “right” writing method has been keeping you from writing at all, then it’s time to throw it out and create a method of your own.

Anyone up for a little time travel?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Personal Inventory: Busyness

I’ll admit it. I’ve been terrible about posting to this blog lately.

I have the perennial excuse. I’ve been busy.

Of course, the word “busy” covers a wide gamut. It could mean everything from raising eight kids while running a business and writing a bestseller, to engaging in a year-long solitaire tournament with myself.

Since most of my efforts are of the long-term kind rather than the instant gratification sort, I do sometimes feel I’m spinning my wheels in an endurance marathon to nowhere.

Seriously, though, I’ve been busy. What have I been up to?
  • I’m not raising eight kids, but I am raising one two-year-old…the always busy and sometimes whiny Baby M. Motherhood…check.
  • I am a partner in a two-person gelato business. Dormant during the winter months, summer sees it swamp me under an obligation that sucks away at least 10 hours a week, often more. Running a business…check.
  • I’ve spent the last year looking for an agent for a picture book manuscript. A couple of months ago, I finally received a helpful reply. Did you know that concepts as characters make crappy stories? I didn’t. That particular book is now on the back burner. No, that’s not a euphemism for the literary glue factory. It’s more like, “Great bone structure but needs a total makeover.” So, now I’m researching kids lit markets and working on a new picture book, in rhyming pentameter, no less. (No, not iambic pentameter; I’m not Shakespeare, after all.)
  • I’m working on a novel. Since that mostly happens between the hours of 5 and 7 AM, though, that doesn’t really contribute to my busyness during the day. It does have a great deal to do with my constant state of exhaustion. That makes everything else take longer so, hey, maybe it does contribute. Writing a bestseller? Ah, what the heck…check.
  • I’m not playing any kind of tournament with myself, though I will admit to a time-sucking fondness for The West. (Please don’t take it away; I finally have the complete Indian outfit on World 1!)
Other than that:
  • I recently conducted a profile interview and now have the article written and the query with a regional publication. I also have a couple other articles, some tips and fillers, and several short stories out and about.
  • My freelance editing and copywriting continues. Right now that means a steady gig that requires two 500-word articles and two press releases every week.
  • I have this blog, a biweekly devotional blog, and two family blogs.
  • I have meals to make, laundry to do, bills to pay, a house to help clean and a garden to tend.
  • I decided to make Christmas gifts this year. Why did I do that to myself? Oh, that’s right; I’m a masochist.
Wow. Looking at it on my computer screen, I realize I actually am busy. Sometimes it seems like an excuse. On days when I feel I’ve gotten nowhere, it feels quite futile. And, looking at that list, I still wonder, where has all this gotten me?
  • It’s gotten me two rejections, one of which I mentioned in my last post. The other waited in my inbox this morning. That’s good news. I now know one more publication that wasn’t a fit for that story.
  • It’s gotten me more familiarity with the kids lit world, which has stripped away some naiveté about what it takes to publish a picture book.
  • It's gotten me a 2-year-old who thinks she's a children's book illustrator.
  • It’s gotten me a short story acceptance, which came in the mail yesterday and which I’m going to have framed. Yes, look for my name in print come fall.
  • It’s gotten me a great conversation with a fabulous musician.
  • It’s gotten me the knowledge that I’m not Superwoman, nor do I have to be.
  • It’s gotten me absolutely no immunity to the effect of seeing a SASE in my mailbox.
  • It’s gotten me the assurance that I have something to offer the world, that I actually do know how to stick with this, that I can keep hammering at the door until it opens, that I can be a contender.
And that means it’s given me quite a lot.

What has your busyness given you?

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Another Shameless Plug

Our book, Creative Marriage Proposals, has been featured on the Canadian blog, "Candid Conversations." Quebec blogger Cliff Tooher conducted an email interview with Carmelo and I about the book and our experience writing it. You can check it out here.