To Toss or Save???

I’ve been working my way through Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I almost always choose to read a book instead of clean or tidy anything, but Kondo’s true passion (absolutely infectious) in this charming little guide inspired me to go through ALL of my stuff.

Step One: clothing. I had no problem tossing out old clothes, giving up a significant portion of my writing wardrobe (old, hole-y, but soft sweats).

Step Two: books. NOOOOOOO!!!!! I procrastinated this step for a couple of weeks, but now I love having space on my shelves for exciting new books. I really don’t miss my old Russian language text books, out-dated writing industry books, really boring literary criticism. Or any of the other books that made me feel guilty for not wanting to read them.

Next I tackled Step Three. Papers.

Recycling manuals for appliances I no longer own felt great. Same for kiddie birthday party ideas that I’d cut out of magazines. I don’t see any unicorn parties in my high school daughter’s future. Old insurance policy papers? Out! This is easy!

But then I got to my writing papers.

Every short story I’ve ever written had its own file. Every novel I’ve written had its own file(s). Plus, hunky rubber-banded first drafts, second drafts, sixth drafts… My file drawers barely closed. My presentations had spilled into a different file cabinet: 30 (!) different talks in 30 (!) different folders.

All weekend I pretended that my home office didn’t exist, and read a book I’d rediscovered in Step Two. On Monday I made myself face those overstuffed files.

The magazine market has changed dramatically since I first wrote all those short stories. Thankfully, so has my writing! Penning all those stories taught me about characters, plot, language–and the meaning of “ready for submission.” I won’t be sending any of them out again, so I simply saved one copy of each story and discarded its file, submission sheet, and other notes and correspondence. I do like to see how my writing has changed, and many of those stories reflect things from my daughters’ childhood. But now they hang together in a “Retired Stories” folder in the back.

I tossed all but one copy of each unsold novel manuscript. Each is revised, so I don’t need old marked up copies. I didn’t need copies of queries to various editors and agents, many of whom are no longer working in the industry. I kept only the papers relevant to current submissions.

So many of the papers clogging my files aren’t relevant to where I am right now in my writing career, so I recycled hundreds and hundreds of pages!

I realized while going through my presentations that they fall into four categories: generating ideas, nuts and bolts of writing, characters, and revision. I saved one handout from each talk.

I filled my giant recycling bin to the brim with my not-needed writing papers. Now I have space for all the new things I’ll be creating and doing–and that feels exciting and, yes, a bit life-changing.

Dear Synopsis…

One of my absolute favorite writerly books is Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom edited by the lovely and gracious Leonard S. Marcus. Oh, how it makes me long for the days of handwriting and rushing to the mailbox, not the in-box.

I especially love a letter that she writes to Janette Sebring Lowry, about how she feels about authors with families. On page 191, Nordstrom writes about cooing at babies in strollers, “But any children or indeed any relatives–husbands, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, who are connected in any way with “my” authors are MY ENEMIES.” Families interrupt an author’s work, delay deadlines, shift one’s focus, etc.

That’s what happened to my synopsis writing last week. I spent the first part of the week taking my oldest daughter to college interviews in California. I came home to my younger daughter’s soccer-injured ankle. So I spent the rest of the week hanging out and watching episode after episode of What Not To Wear on Netflix.

Could I have worked on my synopsis? Sure. But I felt guilty about not being there when my daughter got hurt and I knew she felt lonely while the rest of us were having fun (like a day at the beach) between college visits.

Some interesting things happened during my non-synopsis writing time. At the beach we watched a helicopter chase a shark away from the crowd of surfers. That’s not something I’m able to see from my window in suburban Utah. I also got a fun story idea from watching many makeovers. And I’ve been wanting to write some short stuff between my long projects.

Yeah, life interferes with writing time. But I sure don’t want to live only at my desk. Boring! And not too idea-producing. Besides, watching my senior in high school plan for life in another state reminds me that my daily parenting days are numbered.

Living a life filled with family members–and all the ensuing drama–makes my writing richer.

Info Dumping

Aah, chapter 40, now chapter 38, once 5 pages, now only half a page in-progress…

All through this story, I’ve been trying to squeeze in a particular subplot–not because it works organically with my story, but because it’s such a cool idea, and it makes me feel clever. So I’ve been adding lines here and there–lines that might as well be typed in red font because they flash like warning signs. Warning, warning–this doesn’t belong!

Did I delete those lines? No. I added more. I padded sentences and plot lines, building little nests around this subplot. Later in the story I dedicate two entire chapters to the subplot. I might as well run outside, yank down the stop sign on the corner and shove it into my manuscript.

What convinced me that I truly needed to abandon my ever-so-clever subplot? The huge info dump on pages 153-158. A minor character who only exists to service said subplot appears out of nowhere and says, “let me explain X to you.” And I let him talk for paragraphs. Oh, sure, I break up the dialogue with some lovely actions, etc. But I’m still doing an info dump–because the subplot simply doesn’t fit, naturally, organically, compellingly, or anything-ly into my story.

So today I’m finally deleting it. No more random lines here and there. No more minor character with no other purpose. Knock. Knock. I’m here to stop the flow of your story. No more extra chapters. And no more info dump!

Things that belong in stories have a way of weaving through the various plots with ease. Characters automatically want to talk about them, great action results from them, consequences flow easily from them… Watch those info dumps. Usually something more than poor writing is going on.

Writing Resolutions: Lessons Learned from the Past

I’ve always been a resolution-maker. Looking back in my writing notebooks, I found a few examples of past resolutions.

January 1, 2002: Win the Newberry. I had just finished my first novel-length manuscript. In my naïveté about the entire publishing process, I thought that I would easily find an editor, see my novel published a few months later, and win the coveted award, which I spelled wrong. So maybe I did win the Newberry–with two Rs–if it’s an award for sending a manuscript to publishers before it’s ready.

I’ve learned not to make goals that are outside of my control.

January 1, 2004: Write three middle-grade novels. I didn’t understand the importance of rest and revision (and revision and revision). I’ve written one middle-grade novel since making that resolution, preferring to write YA, and never completing more than one entirely new, completely polished manuscript in a year.

I’ve learned to honor my writing process.

January 1, 2005: Do writing exercises 5x a week, read 2 children’s novels a month, write 10 magazine pieces, write 2 novels (I listed 2 ideas), et cetera. I created a list of 10 resolutions–with an asterisk adding one more item at the end. Ultimately, I failed at each one of these very specific items.

I’ve learned that my writing cannot be reduced to numbers.

January 1, 2008: Revise with joy. I’m certain that I didn’t always feel particularly joyful while hammering away at my 2008 WIP, but I did work toward changing my attitude toward revision–and I really do enjoy that part of the writing process now. But it took time

I’ve learned that resolutions about changing my behavior or mindset are more successful.

January 1, 2013: Finish revising WIP. See? I’m starting my year off with joy!

Happy 2013 to you!!!

Making a Cheryl Klein Book Map

I’m attending Scholastic editor Cheryl Klein’s Master Class this coming Saturday, so this week I’m doing homework (I secretly love homework). We have to make a map of our book. I spent too much time yesterday trying to make a chart using Word–but I couldn’t get the little boxes big enough, yet small enough with margins large enough, and I know that some scenes are much shorter than others–I needed flexibility. So I went to the office supply store (I secretly love office supply stores) and bought legal sized paper and pens in fun colors.

Here’s my blank map:

The categories are: scene#, pages, total number of pages (I combined these into one little box); when the scene occurs; the setting; characters (I assigned my main characters colors and listed them by name); what do they want in this scene; the action in the scene; change that occurs in the scene; revision notes.

I’m going to box my map after I write what is needed for each scene so I won’t have to cramp complex scenes or take up too much space for short scenes.

Here are the first five scenes all mapped out:

Here’s what I’ve done so far–it’s one long document. Now I just have to finish writing those final few chapters. I’m SO close, but probably won’t quite finish the whole manuscript by Saturday.

As the sticky notes indicate, I’ve already targeted several parts of my story to strengthen during revision.   I also realized that I suffered a bit of Middle Fatigue, writing too-short, underdeveloped chapters in the middle of the book. Time to lengthen those too!

Can’t wait for the workshop. I’ve already learned a lot doing the homework.

Rare 7th Grade Photo Sighting

Today I spoke to the fabulous students at Union Middle School in Sandy, Utah. I showed them this photo of me from 7th grade.

I felt all nose–100% NOSE! 
Many years, and a few more nosey experiences later, I was inspired to write My Big Nose And Other Natural Disasters.
Thanks again to all the great students, teachers, and media specialists at Union Middle School.  

I’m Having An Affair…

A few weeks ago, I started sneaking around, peeking at my ex-WIP, leaving my current WIP to wonder where I’d been all day. Why hadn’t I opened it’s file? Am I seeing someone else? Is that–lipstick?!?!!?

I’m having an affair with my abandoned manuscript.

Is it because things got tough with my new manuscript–like the day I realized that I’d need to rewrite 20,000 words because I’d rambled off in the wrong direction, following a whim? Yeah, that’s part of it. 80 pages is a lot of deleting. My ex-WIP is all mapped out, planned and plotted. Maybe it will be fun to write those last few chapters?

Also, my sixteen-year-old daughter keeps calling me a quitter for not finishing ex-WIP. She likes the story much more than I did while writing it. Because writing it was HARD for me. I eked out words, slowly, painfully. I doubted so much. But maybe it’s not so bad…

And it isn’t. I’ve never followed the writing advice, even when Stephen King said it in On Writing, of setting a manuscript aside before revising. Now I see the value of putting space between the emotion of drafting a challenging story (this is hard, so it must be bad) and reading it again months later (ooh, this part is good, but that part could be better).

I’m having fun, even sneaking off for a bit of revising on the weekends. I love my ex-WIP! Sorry, current WIP, you’re going to have to sit in the drawer for a little while longer. Maybe you could talk to one of Stephen King’s manuscripts and learn about being a bestseller?

Learning From Other Genres

People often say that if you want to write in a particular genre, read 100 books in that genre, and I really like that advice. But I also think there are advantages to breaking free from your genre and learning what another has to offer. 

Last weekend I took a class about writing Collage Memoir from Paisley Rekdal who teaches in the MFA program at the University of Utah. While I do write in a journal every night, I’m not quite sure why, since my life is usually pretty dull. I read, I write, I cook, less often I clean…I watch soccer, drive carpool, chat with friends, watch TV, bad Reality TV…
ZZZZ.
So it was interesting to discover that I do have interesting things to say as Paisley guided us through a series of readings, followed by writing exercises. Collage writing combines personal writing, poems, photography, art, fiction–or even “found language” from news articles, etc. 
I actually came up with a few essay ideas that I’d like to pursue. And I added several unusual books to my ongoing To-Read list–books I never would’ve heard of otherwise–like Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud which provided the starting point for the class. Talk about a different genre! 
Best of all–I found myself jotting down note after note about ways I could use collage writing techniques to develop characters in my novel and move the story forward in unique ways. So, if you’re looking for a way to pump some energy into your writing, try taking a class outside of your comfort zone. It’ll spark your imagination for sure!
Thanks [email protected] for sponsoring the class!