Sunday, August 5, 2012

Two Fine Lines Between Revise and Revive

Revise, revise, revise. And when you think you are done revising, revise again. You hear that word all the time in writing books and at conferences. But when does revising turn to reviving?
It’s a fine line really. Well, actually two fine lines.
First, revision is only revision when you let the pen flow freely over the page. Don’t restrict yourself to the words you have already written. If you do, your revisions are only reviving your story. It may help while you are working on it, but once you stop, your story has flat lined yet again.
Second, listen to the constructive criticism from others. Sure, it hurts but you can only linger on that pain for so long. If you revise without listening, you are only reviving. Hear the word no in your rejection letters. But don’t let it stop you. No can be a hard word to hear but it is even harsher on your book. Read between the lines of the comments in your critiques and make the changes accordingly. Stand true to the story you want to tell but know when to let it rest as well. Pushing it too hard can cause the need to revive.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Vacationing with Your Characters

Everyone needs a vacation from their work. We long for time off to relax and visit new locations. We want to experience the world around us and make memories that will last the rest of our lives. However, my idea of a great break from everyday life can be something as simple as taking a vacation with my characters.
The idea came to me after a writing conference. As soon as I returned from it, my revisions were calling; submission times closing in on me. So I scheduled four days off from work and spent the time focused on my writing.  Like any good vacation, I used this time to gain perspective, not only for me, but for my characters.
What do they want from life? What are their stories lacking? How can I take suggestions from critiques to make their worlds better?
I spent the days pouring over storyboards and writing books.  I made notes on my manuscripts and pushed to continue writing stories that had huge holes that needed to be filled. I took my characters to libraries and they took me up north and to the shores of beaches. That’s when I realized what I’ve been missing all along. I found perspective.
So what did I realize?
I can go anywhere within the pages of my stories. I’ve been stuck in a box. I was too close to them to see it before. I kept forcing my revisions into the stories that already existed on the pages. Instead, I need to let the changes take my characters to new and exciting places. The stories wanted to travel and I grounded their opportunities to fly.
I must say this was a freeing thought. I only wish it didn’t come two months before my submission deadlines. Two months, two novels, hours of research and revisions ahead of me. Looks like tomorrow I’m back to work.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Description Infusion

Ever since I was a child, I hated reading descriptions in books. I would skim right over long sections of paragraphs until I reached the dialogue. This was why I used to enjoy writing plays, television scripts, and screenplays. As I moved into my career as a teacher, my interest shifted to pictures books — because once again, I didn’t need it when a picture would support the text. Then in 2006, I had to get over my feud with description if I was going to attempt a middle grade series.
I still start with mostly dialogue in my early drafts; the descriptions usually come later through a process I like to call Description Infusion. I read through the dialogue and close my eyes trying to picture the scene. I see the fog rolling through darkness or the leaves falling from branches as the impending winter moves in. I hear the waves crash against the shore, feel the spray of the mist against my skin. I see the nick in the table as the character focuses on a tiny detail that takes her attention away from a conversation she would rather not be having. A minor detail can transform the whole mood of a scene — and all it takes is a few words.
In conversations, especially ones that require a deeper reflection, I often fix my attention on something without even realizing it. I might notice a loose thread in a curtain or an ant moving along a crack in the sidewalk. So wouldn’t my characters do the same thing? By attaching a minor detail to a conversation in a scene, you are adding a new dimension to your writing. Perhaps you would like that scene to convey the message that the character feels as though her life is coming undone. Now wouldn’t that loose thread in the curtain help support the feelings your character is conveying through her words?
It is not the pages of details that make a story but the tiny ones that are infused within the scene to set just the right mood for your readers.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Lessons from a Critique

Critique. It is that dreaded word for writers. You mean someone is going to point out all my flaws in my work? Someone’s going to tell me there is no chance of ever putting this out into the world because it is just like everything else in the market? Yes, that’s part of it, but stop the nail biting right now. Let’s break this down and take one step at a time.
The first critique I ever had was a group of my peers. And yes, this can be just as nerve-racking, especially if you are eight years old and a group of your peers is a class of third graders who have no problem stating their thoughts to whoever will listen. Once again, this was part of the revision process that my teacher designed for me. On this day, however, my teacher was not there. A substitute carried out the plans for the critique, making the whole thing even more stressful. Because remember, I was eight, and hated to read in front of the class. But these were my words. I loved them; my teacher loved them. Everyone else was going to love them too, right?
Never walk into a critique thinking everyone is going to love your work just because you do.
I remember reading in front of the class and listening to the comments. The sub did little to soften their blow. I don’t remember everything that was said that day. Only, that it was one of the hardest things I had done up until that point. One comment still stands out to me even now: “She used the word ‘he’ too much.” These might not have even been the exact words but the idea is still the same.
After a critique, you will only take with you the pieces of advice that will improve your work. You might remember how the comments made you feel but it will all be worth it.
I’ve had many critiques since that first one. I am a member of two critique groups that have changed my life and my writing. I’ve met with agents and editors who have rejected me, but in those rejections came a truth about my own work. After all is said and critiqued, stop and realize that you have just made another step in the process that is writing.
And remember, a critique is just one person’s opinion –For What It’s Worth. One person is telling you his or her thoughts. And who is to say that one person's thoughts are going to be the same as someone else?
Doesn’t seem so scary when you say it like that, now does it?

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Importance of Revision

If you are in the writing community like I am, then you already know that a writer is only as good as his revisions. Or in my case, her revisions. I love the process of discovering my characters and watching the events unfold before them. It is equally as pleasing, however, to fiddle with those events once they are down on paper and create just the right mood to pull your readers into the lives of those characters. I care about the people in my stories and I want that to show on every page of my work. But the only way to do that is through the process.
Perhaps it was my first experience with revisions that made me realize the importance of it. I was eight and in the third grade. And as all good stories begin, it started with a fuzzy idea and some crude sketches on some scrap paper. This wasn’t the first story I ever wrote but it was the first that I would take through the revision process. Because stories, no matter how skilled the author, do not start like this:

Not that this is any great hook to pull in your reader, but remember I was only eight. And while most eight-year-olds would probably write a first draft like this, my journey took a bit longer. Especially since this page in my first draft looked like this:

To this day, I still wonder how my teacher was able to look at this rough (and I mean rough) draft and see what I saw in my own work. In my head, the pages were already color illustrations and the words printed text that any reader could understand.
It wasn’t.
It took a lot of hard work to bring my book to that place. My teacher took time out of her own day to work one–on-one with me to bring the revision process to my level. I explained what I was trying to say, though it was quite obvious to me at the time, and my teacher wrote my words on the final draft. I replaced my pencils sketches (if you want t to call them that) with the colored illustration I saw in my head. And pages that once looked like this:

Became pages that made sense:

It was slow going but it was the process that I loved.

But unfortunately, third grade did not last forever. Summer came and my teacher made me promise that I would finish the book. I said that I would.
But I never did.
To this day, I stare at those back pages of my story, the ones still not translated, and I wonder what I was trying to say and where the story would have gone if I had only finished my revisions. I remember something about Mitten throwing a party while his owners were away, and perhaps that helps to decode pages like these:

But I still wonder what this book could have been if only I didn’t let other distractions get in the way. Maybe that is why I am so determined now in my writing. The rejection letters might stream in, but they are my motivation, my reason to revise and make the story what it already is in my own head.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Art of Character Journaling

I often kept a journal as a child. My early entries at the age of eight are quite funny to read, but somewhere along the way, I lost interest. Most days, I resorted to writing about the weather, because for some odd reason, I thought that in the future I might care that it had been rainy and cold on this exact day some twenty years earlier. It wasn’t until my teen years that my entries got interesting as I searched for a deeper meaning. But it is my current journals that I find the most intriguing. Not because I have some great wisdom on all things big and small, but because these entries are not my own. They belong to my characters. Taking one chapter at a time and writing a journal from each character’s point of view has helped me get to know them — thankfully, none of them are as interested in the weather as I was. Character journals have opened my eyes to the truth behind even the most minor character. During revisions, I can take one look at a character’s actions, dialogue, and thoughts and know whether it is something they would actually say or do if I were to meet them in person. If you are a writer and have never tried this, I suggest you give it a chance. But then again, this is just one person’s opinion… For What It’s Worth.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Picture is Worth A Thousand Words

Have you ever bitten off way more than you can chew?
I do it on a daily basis. There is just so much I want to accomplish and not enough hours in the day to do it.
And unfortunately, something ends up suffering because of it. This week, it was my goal to submit my photographs to a competition. So instead of finding time to print and mount my work, I started a photo blog, A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words.
Because sometimes, there are just not enough words in the English language to create the exact feel or mood that is needed. With a single click of a button, a photo can capture more than a page full of words. In this blog, there are no words, only photos and the moods they create.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

One Person’s Opinion

When my friends told me I needed to a start a blog, the first thing that ran through my mind was: “What could I possibly have to say that anyone would want to read?”
The follow-up thought to this question was: “You’re a writer. You better have something to say that people would want to read.”
And now, you're thinking: “What did you write and where can I buy it?"
The short answer is: “I have written a number of children’s picture books, a middle grade series, and a young adult novel.” The long answer: “None of them can be purchased in any store. At least, not yet.”
So who am I? And why should you care what an unpublished author has to say about anything?
Well, isn’t that what’s great about blogs?
It’s just one person’s opinions.
As a child, one of my favorite things to hear on Sunday nights was the ticking clock of Sixty Minutes followed by the voice of Andy Rooney. I was in awe that someone could be paid for giving their opinion on television.
And now, we can do it through blogs.
So if you don’t agree with me, what then?
Well, the beauty of my blog is that it is just one person’s opinion – For What It’s Worth.