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Writers on Writing

Writer Recharge (The End)

Thank you so much to Sara BirenKaty UppermanAlison MillerLiz Parker, and Elodie Nowodazkij for helping me set some goals this February! Writer Recharge was a four-week jump start in the middle of a cold, dreary winter to set goals, check in once a week, and connect with other recharging writers. Check out Sara’s website to see how everyone did!





WRITE/REVISE:

I’ve spent the last week plotting and outlining for an R&R. In the next two weeks, I plan to revise the first six chapters of my manuscript and write at least 10,000 new words on the full revision.



So, this one isn’t exactly a win, but it’s not a total fail either. I did revise the first 10 chapters and managed to cut two full scenes and over 4,000 words. I also saw another plot thread that may end up getting the ax, so that part worked out fine. On the new stuff side I’ve only written a measly 3,000 words. It’s so hard to get all those old scenes out of my mind and start fresh! But I feel like now that I’ve gotten one chapter down, the flow will start to pick up. 

READ:

I’ve just started All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, which I expect to finish in a few days. As usual, I’m much more drawn to the male MC, Finch, in the dual narrative.  I usually buy books in bulk, and my stack has dwindled to nothing. So of course I am open to suggestions for what to read next!   



I did finish All the Bright Places, and I’ve got Brown Girl Dreaming bought and ready to read next.

STRETCH:

I want to strike up more conversations with strangers. I am so hopelessly introverted when it comes to those types of interactions. I want to ask at least one person per week what she is reading, how her day is going, or something like that. 



This one is a fail. In my defense, I had my in-laws at my house visiting for a full week, so that cut down on much interaction with strangers. But I have a doctor’s appointment today, so I’ll try to sneak it in this afternoon! 

SELF:

I need to get all the sugar out of my house. Between Christmas, kids’ birthdays, and Valentine’s Day, the candy and cookies just keep sneaking in to my kitchen. I know we’ll all feel so much better if we can get back to healthier eating habits.



Well, we’ve managed not to buy any more sugary things, and I guess it’s actually a good thing that we haven’t eaten all the Girl Scout Cookies yet….

CONNECT:

My local critique group has been in an awesome groove; we ended January with a workshop that helped us grow personally and as a group. We keep growing in numbers, too, and I need to get all my critiques done this week before our February meeting! I also have this weird tendency to never share a first draft of anything. With the revision I have in the works, though, I want to get over myself and get the feedback I need as soon as possible.



I did finish all my crit group comments in time, and I had some great feedback from my group on my own chapter as well. It’s amazing how you can see your work differently when someone else reads it aloud. Like, man, this scene is going on forever! And I am planning to share the opening of my work-in-progress for my other online group, so that’s a big step!

FUN:

The hubs and I haven’t been out on a date in a while. I’m hoping I can get one set up before March gets here!



Oh, another fail. Maybe soon! 

Thanks for hosting this, ladies! I can’t wait to see how you did!

The Elusive Voice

Source

Over the past few months, I’ve been working on revisions. While incorporating feedback from various sources on my own work, I’ve also critiqued pages for others from a wide range of genres. The elusive voice, the unique filter that makes a work our own, strikes me as both the most difficult thing to revise personally and to address for writing partners.

I love the drafting stage of writing because of the freedom it allows. The words flow unhindered because they can be tightened later. My voice as a writer is born during this stage. In the next phase, through learning and experience, I sculpt the story and the sentences. We have these rules drilled into us: use more active verbs, cut all the adverbs, stay within the restrictions of your point of view, and don’t pull the audience out of the narrative. These stick out in my mind because not only have I heard them in crits, I’ve used them with other people. But sometimes. Sometimes we need to break the rules to develop our voice.

Let’s take a look at the opening lines of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book.

There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife. The knife had a handle of polished black bone, and a blade finer and sharper than any razor. If it sliced you, you might not even know you had been cut, not immediately. 



Gaiman breaks every one of those rules. If I were giving comments on his first page in a blog contest, I could say:

Don’t open with passive voice. You could cut this first line to say, A hand in the darkness held a knife. Look, you even cut words that way! You could cut not immediately, too. Watch out for those adverbs! And four adjectives in the second sentence–try to cut that down to only the most important one. In that third sentence, you address the audience. You could change it to say who specifically would not know they’d been cut. I also don’t really get a sense of character in your first paragraph. Who is this book about?

I felt guilty writing the above paragraph, even in jest, because Gaiman’s opening line and chapter are my absolute favorites. (Not just my favorites of Gaiman’s, but my all time favorites.) Who cares if that first sentence is passive? The rhythm and the image set the perfect eerie tone for the rest of the book. Chills ran down my back the moment I read them for the first time, and I was hooked. And in the end, isn’t that all that really matters? Being able to hook the reader?

I know we have the rules for a reason. I try to be ruthless with the passive voice and the adverbs. But sometimes we just have to trust our own voice as writers to tell the story in our own way, focusing more on our connection with the reader than on murdering all the darlings.

Music for today: Here Comes Your Man by the Pixies.

Writers on Writing: The Writer’s Process

Last week Alison Miller tagged me in the Writer’s on Writing blog hop, and today’s my day! You can check out her blog here. Thanks, Alison!

1. What are you working on?

My work-in-progress is a YA contemporary about a girl with a disabled father and a mother in prison. She’s done a fine job taking care of herself and her dad, thank you very much, until the uncle she blames for her mom’s conviction shows up to ruin everything. Again. The writing is going slow, with end of the school year activities on top of work-type editing responsibilities. But I am in love with this character. She’s brave and strong and loyal, with a questionable moral compass. The family relationships are complex, and it’s exciting to see how their interactions play out. I’ve readjusted my goal of finishing the first draft from a certain date to sometime this summer.

2. What makes your work different?

Every piece of long fiction I’ve written takes place mostly in the South. This didn’t begin as an intentional choice, yet most pieces take place in north or central Florida, in areas where I’ve lived for many years. North Florida has a unique flavor, somehow both deep South and lassez-faire, diverse in culture and beliefs, and both literally and figuratively hot and steamy. I hate seeing Southerners depicted as dim-witted and close-minded on television and in movies, and though less often, also in books. I try to bring a different touch of the South to my work, something that enhances the characters without drawing too much attention to itself.

3. Why do you write what you do?

I fell in love with YA while teaching middle school. It started out as a way to stay tuned to what my students were reading. I read everything they recommended, alongside my Anita Shreve and Stephen King. One day, a student came to me and said, “Mrs. D, you have to read this! It’s about a boy, and he finds out he’s a wizard, and…” Suddenly I wasn’t just reading children’s books for them anymore. I was one of those people waiting to pick up the next Harry Potter at midnight when it came out. When I started seeking out YA books that were beyond my sixth graders for my personal reading, I knew I was hooked.

Still, when I started writing, my first novel was in the “women’s” fiction camp. It took place over twenty plus years, but it began when the main character was a freshman in college. But she didn’t act that way. She acted like someone in high school. And it hit me that tapping in to the potential for a life full of wonders and firsts and mistakes, was the sweet spot. The place where I wanted to write. I started reading YA almost exclusively, and writing it, and I haven’t looked back since.

4. What is your writing process?

Everything starts with a character. I think about him or her for a while, and I start with jotting down everything. Likes and dislikes, quirks, family background, friends, everything. Once I have a general idea of what the problem will be, I write a rough idea of what the climax will be, usually not knowing how it will end. Next I write more back stories for more characters, and then I just dig in and let those characters take me where they will. So, in short, I’m a pantser.

For my fantasy Trespassers, I have composition books filled with the “rules” of the world, drawings, maps, sticky notes for errant thoughts, the arch of the would-be trilogy, and extensive research of the history on which my magic was based. For my magical realism Perception, everything is cataloged in Word and Excel. (I think for me, the method changes to fit the story.) I do listen to music while drafting, and when I wrote Perception, my playlists included music my MC Evan loved. I edit and revise in quiet, and now that I’m drafting again, I’m having to find new music to suit my girl.

This has been so much fun! Alison also tagged Melanie Stanford today, so please check out her answers. And I’m tagging fellow Florida girl Missy LaRae, so please stop by her blog here for her answers on Thursday, May 29th.