Saturday, January 22, 2011

Asking what could happen

I revised a chapter yesterday, and I'm really happy with the results. Twisted things around from the early drafts. I thought I knew exactly where the next chapter would go. Since I was on a hot streak, I went at it.

I hated the result within 1,000 words.

I need a better transition between the last chapter's action and POV character and the next chapter's shift in POV & theme. So, I keep asking myself: "What would this POV character do next? What would happen?"

Now, I'm a big believer in writing it out and seeing where it goes, but I've made no progress that I like.

I realized tonight that I need to list all the things that could happen, even if only a remote possibilty, and select an option from there.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The need for an editor

Writers must be readers. This is what teaches us voice and proficiency of language. It also helps with those grammar skills, especially if you chose something that challenges you. You have to read things that are a tad laborious, but nonetheless rewarding. These are the same skills we use in learning a foreign language. And, more often than not, it does not fix our problems but it does make us more aware of them. Sometimes, it's enough to trigger a little voice that says, "this is not right."

That's why we cannot rely on computer spell check and even worse, computer grammar check. I recently completed the first half of a client manuscript where my very talented client knows that she is a very abysmal speller. She also knows she cannot trust spell check.

Her fantasy manuscript is riddled with errors like being executed a "trader" for dealing in "fowl" magic. Yep, can't barter for chickens in this universe.

And today, "he is quiet cleaver, though none here knows how cleaver."

Ah, the work of an editor...

Monday, January 17, 2011

The right place

I haven't had much to say in this blog lately because I've been thinking. I can't even say I haven't been writing, although I did take December off. Since that time, I've only written a chapter in my w-i-p. Yet, the entire time I entered this slow spell, my behavior was deliberate.

I wrote a poem summarizing about 500 years of world history for my history final. (Got a 98!) 

I wrote an extensive paper for my social research methods class titled, "Seducing the Masses: How Haute Couture sells Prestige for Fashion Houses." (Have no idea what the prof thought, other than the fact that my ideas were "highly original" and my final grade in the class was an A- and my exams in the B range.)

I have written some scenes out of order relating to my current fiction universe.

I have edited about 125 pages of a client's fantasy manuscript.

And, since I was not writing my w-i-p, I used the time to read (on paper) and edit (with a pen) the first 280 pages of that late stage draft. I'm so close to the end, but have worked on this project for so long, I wasn't sure how smoothly I had worked all those odds and ends toward resolution.

Certainly productive.

Plus, I read. Always good.

Now, the new semester starts in exactly one week and one hour. This leads to soul searching and plotting. I watch the dialogue between writer colleagues and it makes me ponder. For one, a friend of mine who's learning to fence (and using the experience to write better battle scenes) reminded another friend that you have to "want it" and "go get it." One of her friends reminded her that you also have to be in a ready mindset, because doubts will pull you down.

Am I ready? Are you ready?

Another colleague wrote another brilliant blog entry today about how publishing success relates to luck. There's humor and truth in what he's saying. If you want to read it, look for Jon Gibb's blog on live journal "An Englishman in New Jersey." 

For any success, in anything, there's a good deal of "being in the right time at the right place." As strangely lucky as these things may seem, you have to get to a place where you might be closer to the "right place." As for the right time, all you have is now. There's no other time. Unless you're some sort of physics phenom who can build a time machine.

So, where are you going? What are you doing to try and find that right place? Chances are, it's not inside your house. It's not on facebook. What haphazard stumbles we make through life create our luck, and maybe the right place.  

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

January GLVWG newsletter column

There's no way to write a column in January and avoid the clichés of the new year. Yes, I said, "new year," lowercase. I'm not talking about a holiday or festivities because let's face facts. Does anyone keep resolutions? Does anyone put more than a day's thought into what's possible, what's practical and what's not? 
I stumbled about some superstitions that amused me briefly. Apparently it's good luck to wear red underwear in Turkey, Spain and some other countries during New Year's celebrations. The reason we like to make noise and stay up late is traced to the belief that a hearty ruckus will chase evil spirits from our lives and give us a clean start.
And those resolutions... I won't be losing weight or heading to the gym or eating vegan any time soon. I won't be writing every day, nor will I set word count goals like 1,000 words a sitting. Chances are I won't even manage to set my pen to my journal once a day. 
Let me propose a new kind of goal setting for writers that doesn't revolve around time limits or statistics. You know what you are capable of already, and you already know if you'll make or break your resolution. So, let's try something a little less clear-cut, something harder to define in terms of success or failure.
This group provides tremendous opportunities for networking and support, but with that comes the unavoidable comparisons. Some people can write everyday, for hours (I used to, and my average writing session would go 5,000 words). Some can't. We all should. I don't deny that. Someone else might be published, and you're not. Well, an unpublished author doesn't have to worry about marketing like the author with a new book. This are some of the reasons why even at GLVWG, we're not equal peers.
My proposal is to avoid comparing yourself to the successes and to the goals of others in this group. Instead, aim to work more like your favorite author. Do you know the work habits of that person? Can you find out? Do they write longhand or on a computer? Do they have a day job? They once did, I'm sure. How do they balance the demands of life and literary art? What inspires them?
Maybe, just maybe, by researching the habits of someone who's work we admire, whose work we'd love to emulate, we could approach our work with a new freshness and sense of purpose. The motivation would come from our own attraction to words, and those individual tastes that appeal to each of us.
I adore Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. There's a diversity in his writing that I hope one day to achieve. He wrote letters, detailed accounts of what was happening in France not just his personal comings and goings. He wrote accounts of his flights across the world in the early days of aviation. He wrote the classic children's story, "the Little Prince." 
I don't know when or how he wrote, but I know the themes that emerge again and again: responsibility, country, what's right, and how we view the world (especially as we grow older). I know many of the details in his life that made these themes important to him, or at least, I think I know. 
Now that I reflect, I realize that coming from a family of nobility gave him this sense of responsibility toward his wife and his country. This responsibility would restrict his behavior, but in the end he did what he felt was right, what needed to be done, not what would please him. Or so I think. 
As creative people with families and jobs, don't we make the same sacrifice to our responsibilities? Perhaps Saint-Ex can help me balance the responsibilities I have created for myself.
I'll also heed the warnings of Saint-Ex and let my six-and-a-half year old guide me more. Her instructions for today were quite clear. She told me to do no more than five chores. Then, she listed them: tap dance, edit the manuscript I have from a client, write a column for the GLVWG newsletter and cook dinner. Don't count them. It's only four. That's the brilliance of her plan. 
Yes, Saint-Ex may inspire me to a very good year. Maybe I should learn to fly a plane...