Contest Win!

I’m excited to announce that my newest manuscript Thoughts and Prayers won second place in the Utah Arts Council Original Writing Competition in the Novel category. It’s my first story for adults, although I snuck a couple of teenage characters into the mix!

I also did an interview with the Davis Clipper. You can read that here:

What I Learned in Cheryl Klein’s Workshop (An Incomplete List)

I took 27 pages of notes during Cheryl Klein’s plot workshop. Phew! All kinds of revision ideas popped into my head. Fix this! Do that! Don’t forget X. What about Y? I jotted down ideas all over my notes, all over my homework, and book map. Wow!

And then I took a week off. Cheryl set aside our notes and rest for about a week. Good advice. That allowed the solid revision ideas to settle into place while the more frantic ideas floated away. So I ate Thanksgiving turkey, played lots of card games with my daughters, read a whole bunch, visited relatives–and let revision ideas simmer in my subconscious. The following week, I made a list of seventeen things to work on during revision. Here a few things on my list:

#4 Giving my character more active choices to make.

One thing that really struck me while making my book map was that I don’t always let my main character make the big decisions. Too much simply happens to him–outside of his control. During the workshop, Cheryl talked about how active choices have consequences. And that sure makes for more interesting storytelling, doesn’t it?

#5 Cut Subplot X

#6 Axing that character who rarely interacts with my main character. He pops into the story–twice–to deliver BIG NEWS.

Cheryl talked about reworking storytelling situations that are unnecessarily difficult, asking “are there facts that you’ve created that don’t contribute to the plot? Or mechanical problems or issues that change the balance?” I have a character who rarely has access to my main character & that created huge mechanical problems for me. Too much unrealistic sneaking around just for a few bits of BIG NEWS. I also found myself pounding a particular subplot into my story like, um, devouring two desserts after eating second-helpings on Thanksgiving. Now I feel really good about simply leaving out that subplot. If only that would make my jeans fit better…

#12 Pinpoint main character’s Moment of Emotional Truth.

Cheryl asked us to think about key emotional transformation of our protagonist. I realized that I’ve been so busy working out the kinks in all the action in my story that I’d forgotten to stop and really emphasize the emotional change in my character, so that the reader will pause for an AHA moment.

#2 Rewrite chapter one.

I loved that first chapter–it’s so pretty and sounds so nice when I read it out loud. I pictured that scene the moment I committed myself to working on this idea. During Cheryl’s workshop, I realized that it doesn’t serve my overall story as well as it could. My well-honed first chapter actually flattens out some of the bigger themes explored later.

I really wrestled with making this change all during my week off. I skipped a writing day–just because I didn’t want to mess with that beginning. But then I gave myself permission just to try out a new beginning. I’m still working on Chapter One, but it’s so much stronger and much more effective. Even though it’s not pretty yet–or quite finished.

So I’m only on Revision Item #2, but I’m more excited about my WIP than ever. Much thanks to Cheryl Klein for her wonderful workshop!

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?

Silencing That Internal Editor (Blogging Elsewhere)

A few weeks ago, I signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo, a fast-drafting novel challenge like the one in November, but during the more lazy days of August. A couple of weeks ago I started having doubts…maybe I should write the old-fashioned way, the more authentic way, the more author-ly way. You know, slow, painful, full of doubts and deleting. But then I read Jonas Lehrer’s book Imagine. His chapter “Letting Go” convinced me that fast-drafting is a great way to get that first effort of a novel down on paper.

I blogged about it today on YA Outside The Lines.

So I’m off on another NaNo adventure–I figure with Camp NaNo that I’ll get some care packages, make s’mores, and maybe do some arts and crafts. Watch for updates!

*** OOPS: So apparently, Lehrer used even more fiction techniques, faking some of his anecdotes, etc. Read about it here on NPR’s blog. The publisher is offering refunds for people who purchased the book. I’m still going to let go while I write tomorrow, even if the Bob Dylan stuff is all bunk.

Can’t I Add A Random Dance Number, Please?

Some writers overwrite, typing an abundance of words that later need to be cut and trimmed. I’m more inclined to underwrite, reducing what should be action-packed goodness to a simple sentence. And I usually do it when the scene I’m writing is difficult.

So as this after-spring-break week comes to an end, and I’ve sworn off stealing more Easter candy from my kids, I find myself eking out word-by-word an action-filled chapter that I didn’t write well the week before.

I had snapped my laptop shut with satisfaction, telling myself that Chapter 11 was fine. Just fine. Some stuff happened. My character did some stuff. And my story grew five pages longer. That’s good, right?

The following Monday I watched the new episode of SMASH. The one with the entirely gratuitous bowling alley song and dance number. Oh, yeah, I thought, wouldn’t that be nice if I could get away with filler like this in my writing? Not to mention the same episode featured a character who existed only to be a plot device. Shudder.

That’s when I realized that I had in fact written a song and dance number. Because my characters hadn’t done enough stuff in Chapter 11. I hadn’t really moved my story forward. Sure my characters moved around on the page, but the chapter didn’t contribute to the themes or plot or character development. Chapter 11 was in fact gratuitous.

That’s all changing this week, word by painful word.

Diving In…

Diving into my new work-in-progress reminds me of the first time I stood on the high board at swimming lessons. The water seemed so far away. I worried about doing a painful bellyflop. But I tipped off the board anyway.

And there were bellyflops, ear infections, and green-blond hair, but with practice I improved and moved on to trickier dives. That’s how writing works too, I guess. Yesterday I bellyflopped my first chapter, attempting something too flashy, trying too hard to impress on the first page. So today I’m starting again. The water seems so far away, but I’m tipping my toes over the edge…

Setting Aside a Work-in-Progress

I’ve decided to do something I’ve never done in my writing life. I’m setting aside my WIP to start something new. Why?

I scrubbed my refrigerator instead of writing on Tuesday.
Yesterday I spent my writing time filling my notebook with poorly-written poems.
Characters sparked by reading a newspaper article a few weeks ago won’t stop chattering at me.
I’ve been trying too hard to write a book with a BIG GIANT SKY HIGH concept. And it’s just not me.

Part of me feels like a quitter, putting aside something that I thoroughly researched & outlined with the fast-paced precision of the 4th sequel in an action movie franchise. I pounded out 50,000 words during NaNoWriMo. But I have to acknowledge that the story is not working. And I’m not working. Even my family is growing suspicious about the cleanliness of the house. Matched up socks? What?!?!?!

Maybe the marketplace wants novels that can be decorated with dark, doom and gloom covers with pessimistic views of the future. Someone else can write those books. I’ve got to stay true to myself & tell this new story about real people with real problems, not that having vampires in my backyard wouldn’t be a problem…

I’m excited!

NaNoWriMo Day #9

Many times during my first week of NaNo writing, people said to me, “I’d love to try it, but I don’t have the time to write in November.” I don’t have the time either. That’s what I love about NaNoWriMo.

As I head into Week #2, I’m hosting an SCBWI conference & dealing with all those last minute details. Coordinating my daughters’ after school activities requires military-level planning–cloning would be even more helpful. I’ve had fun events, too, like last night’s dinner with Two Rivers High Students (amazing kids who are passionate about reading & many who will become authors in time).

I even went to the dentist this week.

And I still have to exercise, sleep, and feed everyone. I wouldn’t have started this novel in November. Or maybe I’d still be dinking around with my first chapter–getting it just right while doubting my whole idea. But NaNo has forced me to squeeze writing into my hectic days. We’ve had homework/writing field trips to the bookstore cafe late in the afternoon. I’ve woken up early on the weekend. And today I’ll probably add to my word count while waiting for soccer practice to end.

NaNoWriMo reminds me that I can always make writing a priority–no matter what is happening in my life. I’ve written 13,583 words so far & I’ve added two official patches to my book bag. I plan to hit 15,500 today. I’ll get to add another patch & I’m sure there will celebratory chocolates too!

Developing A New Idea

My WIP is off with its first readers, so I’ve allowed myself a few lazy days of lounging. But now it’s time to think about developing my next idea.

My new idea came to me through random chance encounters…

Teen in bookstore cafe + a joke made during a dinner party = my cool new idea.

(I chose this idea because the challenge of pulling it off kind of scares me.)

But it’s just an idea–an unformed blob. How do I give it shape? The idea sparked on June 13th last summer, so since then I’ve been collecting more information.

An essay in Men’s Journal gave me a hint of voice, attitude… so I asked my hairdresser if I could keep the magazine. I’ve found a few more clippings–photos of the kinds of characters I plan to create, stuff that might interest my characters…

I’ve been gathering a stack of research books too. Some deal with my main topic, but others only relate to the themes a little bit. I plan to read a wide variety of stuff that will allow my mind to make unusual connections that will–hopefully–deepen my original spark of an idea. And add lots and lots of layers.

I won’t be ready to write for several weeks, but I’ll start playing with my characters’ voices during my writing exercises. Let them talk without the pressure of creating WIP word count.

I’m also asking myself lots of “What If” questions about plot–jotting them down in the notebook I’ve set aside just for this story. Once I finish the bulk of my research I’ll sit down with a thick yellow pad and list possible scenes, plot points, figure out each character’s motivation, etc. For me, plot works like a puzzle.

Now I just have to find all the pieces…

Work-In-Progress: The End

Yesterday after I announced celebrating the completion of my first draft, a friend confessed to me that she didn’t experience joy in finishing her recent manuscript–because she felt as if there was so much more work to do.

Yes, I have much more work to do: characters to round, subplots to weave with thicker yarn, themes to emphasize…

But today I blissfully mismanaged my time. I nibbled the congratulatory chocolates I mailed to myself–while reading a book for pleasure; I took a long walk in the middle of the day; I flitted about online, window-shopping; I played long games of fetch with my kitten. I still haven’t showered. And maybe I won’t.

Yesterday I hosted a cupcake party for my daughters. Living with a writer isn’t easy–I space off mid-conversation, talk about people who don’t actually exist, sneak away from home on weekends, and ask weird questions about plot possibilities–again for a story that doesn’t yet exist. The revision process is only more obsessive–so we all deserved a treat.

The truffles, however, were all mine. I stretched myself with this manuscript, trying out a new genre, working hard, fighting doubt and fear, finding courage. I learn so much with each story I write–no matter if it ever reaches a bookstore or not. And that’s something to celebrate!

I urge you to mark your own milestones by doing something fun & slightly indulgent. Finding joy in the process of completing a big task–like a polished, ready-to-submit manuscript–is the best part of the journey.

Do to the fact that I have not yet showered, Minnie will be starring in today’s vlog:

Just don’t tell my mother that I’ve posted a cat video online (she’ll never let me hear the end of it!)