Ties that Bind: Do I repeat myself?

WordItOut-word-cloud-2111782I discovered yet another layer of revision by making a “word cloud” from my manuscript. I simply pasted my entire manuscript into the tool at WordItOut. You can easily see my overuse of certain words.

I’ve spent the last two mornings removing about half of my uses of know. Only a little tedious. I found most of them were in dialogue that I thought sounded conversational, but was merely boring, you know? Now, maybe I’ll just do that with all the rest.

Thanks to Joan Dempsey over at Revise With Confidence for the link and the insights.

Have you tried this with your writing? What did you learn?

Ties that Bind: How friends challenged me to write a (better) novel

knot on fingerBless their hearts. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

My dear friend, Joan, challenged me to write a novel during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).  While Joan was a NaNoWriMo veteran, I was a virgin. Why not? I was retired now and I’d had this story of love and friendship (inspired by a few real events) rolling around in my head for years. So I rolled up my sleeves, stocked up on coffee and chocolate, and spent the month of November tapping out 70K words. Sure, it was a little rough in spots and probably had a few gaps in the plot. Nevertheless, I believed I could get it into shape during the following year. 

That was in 2008.

Cue the deep, resonant voice of an omniscient narrator: “Little did she know…”

Soon afterward, I ran into another friend, the legendary Western Nevada College writing teacher, Marilee Swirzcek. She was enthusiastic about my accomplishment and invited me to join the local critique group that she had founded. Advice from Marilee and other writers? Sure. Sign me up!

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The founder of Lone Mountain Writers, Marilee Swirzcek

I attended a few meetings of the Lone Mountain Writers and critiqued pieces in a surprising variety of genres. Romance. Horror. Memoir. Fantasy. Christian Fiction. Sci-Fi. They all had one thing in common, though: excellent writing. I knew I needed to up my game.

Months went by as I continued to polish my first fifteen pages. I was sure the group would be awed by my as yet untapped literary genius.

Here’s what I heard instead:

  • Beautiful writing, but where’s the story?”
  • “What does your protagonist want and what are the stakes?”
  • “Where is the conflict, the drama?
  • “Who is the POV character? And why does it seem to switch in the middle of this paragraph?

Gulp. While I had read a literal ton of books and had written opinion pieces for the local newspaper for a decade, it appeared I knew nothing about writing fiction. Nothing. I could certainly recognize a compelling story, but did not know how to create it. Yet.

Fortunately, the group included several English professors who could offer both criticism and encouragement in equal measure. The group has been discerning and honest and, more importantly, patient.

They have now read most of my 111K manuscript—twice. Last week, I printed a hard copy of it (300+ pages, double-sided, spiral-bound, $40 at the UPS Store, BTW) with the intent of doing a whole read-through and edit while on a long ocean voyage (18 days, Sydney to Honolulu) this month. Yes, my highlighters, sticky notes, and flash drive are already packed.

What I hope to do here is to document the next few stages of the process. You know, recruiting a few beta readers and doing a final edit—if there is such a thing. I’ll also be choosing how to publish. Shall I try to find a traditional agent and publisher or self-publish? Only e-books or hard copies too? And with whom? If this is to be a DIY project, then the issues of learning to—or paying someone to—format it and design a cover arise. Then there is promotion and, well, you get the idea. There is still a long way to go.

In addition, I’ll finally have a place to point my dear non-writer friends who keep asking when it will be done. I try to reassure them (and myself) that I don’t want to be embarrassed by something that was put out into the world before it was ready. Unfortunately, the wait has also served to raise their expectations. It seems I can’t win.

So watch this space for news of my progress. And please, if you have personal experience with any part of this, I’d appreciate you leaving a comment or link.

Now, where’s my sunscreen?

One novel idea about getting smarter, not just older

100 day
The kindergartners dressed as if they were 100 years old on the 100th day of school.

This post is in response to a brief blog-versation I had with the charming Brian over at Bonnywood Manor after he kindly nominated me for a Liebster Award. Liebster means “favorite” in German and the nomination carries along with it some obligations, which I am politely, humbly, and gratefully ignoring. Brian was curious about my creative process and the critique group to which I belong. Therefore, instead of accepting the award, I wrote this. If you have something to say about writing, creativity, or lifelong learning, please do so in the comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts. XO


In this photo, my granddaughter is celebrating her 100th day of kindergarten and being “100 DAYS SMARTER.” It got me thinking, shouldn’t we all celebrate getting smarter? Am I still learning?
I like to think so, but some of that learning is accidental. For example, perhaps we should have gotten an estimate to replace the roof on this twenty-year-old house before we made our offer. Or maybe drinking several cups of tea with my sushi at dinner the other night wasn’t such a good idea. I guess that’s what they mean by “live and learn.”

Other times, however, I’ve set out to learn a new skill. On purpose. I’ve put myself in the uncomfortable situation of being potentially and embarrassingly bad at something. Like blogging. Or yoga. In short, I’ve risked failure. At my age, being new at anything is refreshing—scary and humbling–but refreshing. Even exhilarating.
Case in point, at the urging of my friend, Joan, I wrote a “novel” in 2009 during NaNoWriMo. The quotes are because my “novel” was merely 70,000 words of collected scenes and sketches, held together with hope, Dove wrappers, and sticky notes. It added up to a word count, but little else. I knew I needed help massaging it into something meaningful (readable even?), but what kind of help? How much? And who do I ask?
Enter another friend, Marilee, who just happened to be a legendary writing instructor at Western Nevada College and founder of Lone Mountain Writers, a local critique group. LMW has been meeting every other week for over twenty years and has among its past and present members several published poets and authors such as romance writer, Wilma Counts. Marilee invited me to join. I accepted.
During my first few meetings, I observed the protocol and learned the ground rules. Up to four pieces are emailed to the group ahead of time so we have a chance to read deeply and make notes. Submissions can be up to fifteen pages. The group responds round-robin style with each of our oral comments limited to two or three minutes, all while the author remains stoically silent. We hand over our marked up copy to the author who only at the end may ask questions, defend, or clarify something.
I was profoundly impressed by the variety and quality of writing. Many people were working on novels. And for the most part, they didn’t need help with grammar or punctuation. The discussions focused on elements of fiction: plot, point of view, character, structure, pacing, voice, etc. These are the things a reader may not even notice, except in their absence. It’s what makes a reader want to invest time and thought and heart in the work. That stuff.
Consequently, I waited months before I worked up the courage to submit. I’d been writing personal narratives and opinions for years, but fiction was new to me. I polished my first chapters until (I thought) they sparkled. I just knew the group would be blown away by my literary genius. Instead, what I heard–repeatedly–was, “This is excellent writing, but you don’t have a story here.” Apparently, what I had was a mess of good writing.

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But the story in my head kept pushing me forward. It wouldn’t let me give up.

So I kept listening and learning. I read books on writing and revising. I rewrote and resubmitted. I attended a local writers conference and got feedback from a real, live editor. I “killed my darlings,” deleting lovely little bits of writing that didn’t serve my story. I learned not to take any critique personally and to listen to those who shared my vision for my story. I smiled and respectfully set aside advice from those who wanted my story to become theirs. (It needs more explosions! How about some robots?)

Now, five years and countless drafts and revisions later, what I hear is, “This is the best thing you’ve submitted,” and “I finally like this character. I understand her now.” Whew.
So while I may not have a cute hat to wear to celebrate getting smarter, I nonetheless feel a sense of accomplishment. That’s enough to keep me going. Good thing, because it’s not done yet. But neither am I. I’ve invested too much time and energy to quit now. I’m smart enough to know that.come this far2

To walk or to write, that is the question

Three weeks into January. Time to assess progress toward my New Year’s goals.blog walker

Want to know what I’ve discovered? My goals are in direct conflict with one another. Yup. I mean, what was I thinking?

What are those two opposing goals? Walking more and writing more. The trouble, of course, is that one requires sitting on my butt at the computer for hours at a time and the other requires that I …uhm… don’t. Continue reading “To walk or to write, that is the question”

Letting the River Run

blog river rush

 The Blogging 101 assignment for today is to personalize a prompt from the Daily Post. Here’s the prompt:
“Tell us about the last experience you had that left you feeling fresh, energized, and rejuvenated. What was it that had such a positive effect on you? “https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/re-springing-your-step/

That’s easy. This. Yes, this. You. Here.
You see, I started Blogging 101 on a bit of a whim. I hate not knowing how to do something so useful and cool. And it was free and I could do it in pajamas and fuzzy slippers. And without make-up. How perfect is that?
 Little did I know that it would break open the logjam that’s been obstructing the flow of words from my brain. Yes, I’ve written a few posts and tweaked my blog. I’ve sketched out my next column. But more importantly (to me, at least), I’m making real, honest to goodness progress in the long slog of rewriting my five-year-old NaNaWriMo novel. The words and ideas are once again rushing. Yes, I expect there are a few boulders and bends along the way, but I feel like I’m moving forward once again.

I’m a Big Chicken

chalk le poulet

I think of myself as a big chicken, bumpy white flesh and all, so I loved Silver Lining Mama ‘s “Stick out Your Neck” post yesterday. It reminded me that the older I’ve gotten, the braver I’ve become. I worry (a little) less about what others think.

Back in 1997, I participated in a Northern Nevada Writing Project Invitational—a workshop for teachers, based on the premise that we practice what we teach. We wrote. And wrote. I become comfortable with sharing my writing. Two years later, I began contributing to a decidedly left-leaning (granola-eating, tree-hugging, feminist…), opinion column in our local newspaper, The Nevada Appeal. That experience toughened me up. My name and face go above every column. For better or worse, I own my words.

chalk wicked chickenThe newest neck-sticking-out adventure for me was writing a NaNoWriMo novel and joining The Lone Mountain Writers, a respected, local critique group. Talk about feeling exposed! The first time I had a piece up for review was like my worst showing-up-naked-at-work nightmare. Now five years later, I’ve survived and—more importantly—learned. The other members are wise, talented, honest, thoughtful, and kind.

Thanks for reminding me that being brave isn’t about not being scared. It’s about being afraid and taking that step anyway. So here I am, blogging. If I’m lucky, no one will even notice my bumpy white skin.

Who I am and why I’m here…

I’ve written for years, but blogging is new to me. Blogging 101 seems like a great opportunity to learn the basics. I hope the blog will be an archive for the newspaper columns I’ve written over the past fifteen years and serve to connect like-minded folks. In addition, I’ve been revising a NaNo novel for about five years and hope to post snippets of it from time to time. My interests are pretty varied, so you’ll find an assortment of topics to start with as I begin to define my focus. Thanks for stopping by!