Thursday, November 29, 2012
Monday, November 26, 2012
Nano's almost over! Let the fun begin!
I adore revising. I have, in fact, been revising my books for years. And years. And...years, which makes me something of an expert on revision. And the first thing I can tell is...don't start yet. As much as you want to scrub the guck off those fifty-thousand words and let your critique group see them shine, don't. Put it away, for a few weeks at least, until you've forgotten everything you did or were trying to do. Going in cold is one of the best things you can do for a new manuscript. It's easier to see what's working and what's not because you've forgotten about all those darlings you've built in. You know...those super clever things that totally aren't working and detract from your story? Yeah, those.
So give yourself a month away from the infant manuscript. Read some books. Revise something else. Brainstorm new book ideas. Whatever. When you finally get back to it, you'll be a much more objective critic.
Let's skip ahead a few months/years/decades... You've reread and revised. You've responded to comments from your critique group. You're ready to send it out but shouldn't you go through it one more time, just to make sure?
Obviously, we want our submittals to be the best they can be, but sometimes we writers just don't know when to let go. We put off sending out a manscript because we're being cautious or, possibly, as a subconcious effort to avoid rejection. [I could totally name some Monkeys who are super guilty of this, but I won't because I'm classy like that.]
So, when *is* a manuscript ready? Here are five points to consider...
1) You've changed something back to an earlier version. If you drafted a revision, then decided two weeks later that it worked better in the original, chances are it's time to stop revising. You could go back and forth forever. Better to send it out and see what a professional makes of it than spin your wheels endlessly.
2) The revisions you're working on make the book 'different' but not necessarily 'better'. There are hundreds of little changes that would make our books 'different'. But if you're making a lot of revisions that don't improve the manuscript, it's probably time to stop revising. If an editor or agent loves your book, they're certainly not going to reject it because your main character's name is Bob instead of Bill.
3) Your critique group opens your submittal and groans, "Ugh. Not this again." I usually submit something to the Monkeys once. If they suggest huge revisions to it, I might send it back for feedback on the changes, but that's rare. I never, ever send anything three times. My feeling is, once they sign off on it, it's pretty darn close to editor-ready.
4) Your heart isn't in it. Remember the first-draft days when you jotted down fab lines of dialogue and snazzy plot twists at stop lights? If you don't feel at least a smidgeon of the same love for your manuscript, it's time to move on to something new. Writers write because it's our passion. If the passion between you and your manuscript is gone, it's because you've turned it into a job instead of a love. Send it out and let someone else fall in love with it.
5) You can't figure out what else to do with it. This seems obvious. If you can't find anything else to fix, it must be ready. Right? Yet so many times, we writers fail to see this. We stare at the words; we make small changes (a la #2); but we just can't believe it's ready. Perhaps we're waiting for a sign from the Almighty. Send out your book now written in the clouds. (FYI, this hardly ever happens.) If you can't figure out what else to do to it, the next step is probably to send it out. The first round of comments you get back will help you determine if there really is something you need to address, or if it just needs to find the right home. Either way, you're making forward progress.
Remember...one-hundred percent of shots not taken, don't score. Your book will never be published if it remains hidden on your hard drive. So take a chance. When it's ready--send it out!
Friday, November 23, 2012
Thank you for following Turbo Monkey Tales! We're so fortunate that you choose to swing through the kidlit jungle with us.
Now it's your turn: who would you like to acknowledge? And for you published folks out there, who have you already acknowledged?
picture provided by Wikipedia Commons
Monday, November 19, 2012
Memories are practical and efficient things, serving us when we want them. We don't lose them; they just go to sleep until something pokes them awake. Recently I read the memoir of a writer who had grown up in New England, as I did, at about the same time as I did. Her experiences of being in college, listening to the music, watching the TV shows, wearing the clothing and hairstyles, knowing the weather, and the smells and sounds all felt so familiar. And as I recalled from her text how the mosquitoes came out at dusk and how fresh-cut hay smelled in summer, and how the frigid winter air dried your nose the moment you inhaled, and the sound of music wafting across a college quad once spring blossoms, other memories emerged which were uniquely mine.
I also remembered that when I was four or five, I'd slip into bed beside my mother every morning and slide my arm under her neck. I remembered sitting on the back stoop of my grandmother's house after supper, lingering over a Pepperidge Farm cherry turnover while crickets sang in the field across the road. I remembered the the places in the arms of my grandfather's chair where the varnish had worn away, the flavor of water drunk from a garden hose, and that I used to imagine our neighborhood, which was laid out in an oval, was one giant merry-go-round.
Whether we write for kids or adults, whether our stories are set in reality or a different world, the present or the past, details like these are what infuse our stories with authenticity and personality. But how can we coax those sleeping memories awake, especially if they've been snoozing for years? Here are some ideas:
- Listen to music from that time in your life.
- Look at magazines or catalogs from that time. Paging through old Sears catalogs, which I buy on ebay, often trigger my memories.
- Find smells from that time. Old Spice reminds me of my dad, and the original Avon face cream reminds me of my mom.
- Ask someone who was with you then, like your sister or brother or cousin or best friend, what they remember.
- Sit with a notebook and pen and write a list, or draw a bubble diagram as fast as you can of a particular place or person or event.
- Read a diary or journal you kept, or letters you or someone else wrote at that time.
- Read your favorite book from then. Recently I reread A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which a teacher had recommended to me. Although reading it as an adult gave me a different perspective from when I was young, I also remembered how particular parts of the book had impressed the young me.
- Visit a place you lived in or visted often. It's astounding how much you'll remember--details will fight each other for your attention.
As your memories awaken from their deep sleep, you'll discover this very cool thing that happens--they appear as fresh and new as when they first happened, without the tarnish of use.
What do you do to spark memories for your stories?
Thursday, November 15, 2012
But do not despair!
Today I offer you proof that no matter how far behind you are, there is hope!
I was talking with a writer friend about how I'd begun to doubt my chances of reaching 50,000 words by November 30th and she told me about Marissa Meyer. Marissa wrote the first three books in the Lunar Chronicles (the first novel in the series, Cinder, was released in January of 2012) during NaNoWriMo. Not three separate NaNoWriMos, ONE NaNoWriMo. Thirty days, 150,000 words.
That’s 5,000 words a day, people. I’ve still got time to write a book and a half!
Oh, heck, I might as well try for 10,000 words a day!
Author Rachel Aaron explains how she does just that in this guest post on SFWA’s website.
Totally doable, right?
Kiersten White wrote Paranormalcy in three weeks and Mind Games (out in February 2013) in nine days.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote his first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, in less than three weeks.
Agatha Christie wrote her first detective novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles in two weeks.
According to Robert Louis Stevenson’s stepson, the author wrote Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in three days.
John Boyne wrote The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas in two and a half days.
Even if you haven’t written a single word, you can still “win” NaNoWriMo! At this point, all you have to do is write 3,333.33 words per day!
And you only have to keep up that pace for two weeks! As opposed to month after month like Dame Barbara Cartland who holds the Guinness World Record for the most novels written in a year. Want to guess how many she wrote?
|Dame Barbara. She wrote 723 novels during her lifetime. |
And looked fabulous while doing it.
So, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got 2,417 more words to go today...
Monday, November 12, 2012
Since I’m committed to on-going chaos, I thought I’d call on teaching/writing friends to see how they handle all the hats they wear, and these generous, over-worked souls answered!
I asked everyone how teaching helps and hinders their writing. David offered that being among kids all the time helps him stay in tune with the middle grade and young adult mindset. Sarah agrees, and adds that besides the great opportunities for listening in on the worlds of students, teaching helps avoid the "lost in my own head" syndrome writers can be prone to. She says, "life outside writing is the wellspring of our writing." Dawn, too, finds that being in the thick of things, surrounded by kids engaged with reading and writing, keeps her in the mood to write. On the other hand, she points out that all the energy teaching and grading require can leave a person drained. Terri spoke of how, despite intent to grade holistically, she couldn't help but dive in and spend lots of time responding to even simple assignments. She still has nightmares that involve grade books. As much as we all love our chosen profession, all agreed teaching can be utterly consuming with planning, meetings, giving feedback, and record-keeping leaving little time for writing--the writing we'd like to be doing, anyway.
So what can be done?
David makes use of the snippets of time he does have. He explains, "Even five minutes is worth it. I can't tell you how many times I've found 50 pages of a draft I'd written, only to have no idea when the heck I'd written them." He also suggests trying not to have to reinvent your job each year, but he followed it with "Good luck with that!" so I suspect he's been as successful in that capacity as I have.
- Sarah brings up some sage and comforting advice from our own Turbo Monkey (and former teacher!) Ellen Jellison. Ellen, she says, "essentially gave me permission to not write during the week. (Sometimes I do, though, because my fingers are just itching to get a scene down. I just don't feel guilty if I can't.) She suggested I make notes about all the ideas I have during the week and then write on the weekend."
- Dawn suggests setting boundaries, as difficult as that is. She dedicates a set amount of time to grading essays, for example, and then puts them away for the day, and she makes every effort to use prep time at school efficiently so home time is free (well, freer). Papers can wait "a little longer," especially if the reward is a happy, productive writing teacher.
- Terri offers perspective gleaned from years of writing, teaching, and parenting (experience she conveys so well in her workshops--don't miss a chance to see her!). She urges writers to "compartmentalize your writing as much as you can. Let others know when you will be writing and then follow through. Don't watch TV. Don't do Facebook. If you have to research something for your writing, make a list and do it later. Keep your flow!!! Don't take phone calls unless they're urgent. Don't listen to make sure your kids are doing their assigned chores (you'll know soon enough)." She encourages writers to not allow family or friends to guilt them into losing focus and reminds them that "your work is only as important to your family/friends as it is to you!"
Thursday, November 8, 2012
Which got me to thinking about my own experience of author and illustrator visits in schools when I was a child. I racked my brain and I came up with virtually nothing! I keep thinking we MUST have had visits, people MUST have come to speak to us, but nothing stood out. I don't think I even knew what an illustrator did until I got to college. (And not hardly then). We had school trips to museums and (possibly) art galleries, but most of my knowledge came from wandering around museums and galleries on my own. And, of course, the wonderful old library in our town.
I say virtually, because I do remember ONE visit to my school by an author. I think I was about 14 years old. At that time I was constantly drawing and writing, making little comic books and newsletters. Working on the school magazine. Making up plays. So I was interested to see what a REAL author did.
In my memory she is somewhere between 35 and 85. Wild grey hair, no makeup (possibly), hippy clothes and baggy cardigan. We gathered in the library, myself and my best friend up at the front of the crowd. She must have told us something about her life as an author for adults, but I only recall that she read us some of her writing. And I was appalled. This was writing?? The story, I believe, was about a woman's life. Except all I remember was a long, long list. A list about everything in her kitchen, her cupboard, her fridge, her closet. And it went on and on and on. I am sure it was a good idea, experimental, deep, 1970ish. Anyway, she was published so I respected that. But I preferred my Bronte, CS Lewis and pony books.
In the library the author gave our stories back to us. I turned excitedly to the last page to see what she'd written. 'Good Try'. Oh. My heart sank. I peered over at my best friend's story. Her last page was covered in flowery writing. She grinned widely and showed me. 'Natural writer, what a voice, you are a born story teller!' I smiled and offered congratulations. Then I sank down in my chair and hunched my shoulders.
My best friend stood at the front of the class and read out her story.
I went home. I got out my drawing pad and I drew. And I drew and drew, because this much I knew - I could draw! And if they noticed nothing else, they would notice that!
I stopped writing. Or at least I stopped thinking about it as much and enjoying it. I still read voraciously. Gradually ART took over my life.
Later, in my twenties and thirties, I started to pen little stories. I never did anything with them. They were just scribbles. Drawing was how I made my living. And then, finally, in my late 30's, the urge to storytell begin to re-emerge. I sent off a few chapters to agents .. I got some hand written rejections which I cherished. And then, mid 40's I realized there was nothing else I wanted to do with the rest of my life than to follow my dream and illustrate and write - for children. My writing is coming on, it has a ways to catch up with my drawing, but it will.
I tell you this story because it is a reminder to me, and to us all, that the children ARE listening. When I do a visit to a school I will bear in mind that every child is important - not just those with the talent that shines most brightly. And as I do more of these visits I realize that one of the most important sessions is the Q&A. Because that's when you really get to talk to the children ... not just tell them about you. I am going to sit up and pay attention to what THEY have to tell ME.
Thanks for listening and if you have any links about school visits or your experiences, would love to read your comments.
Monday, November 5, 2012
Thursday, November 1, 2012
I color-coded the protagonist and other characters, paying special attention to their interaction with each other. I plastered myself to the protagonist and listened to his voice in everyday life, and during conflict. I felt his raw emotion. I experienced his world.