Especially for Writers

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Doing the “Don’t”

edit

Don’t continually edit during the first draft. How many times have we been told that? Just write. Just get it down. Don’t worry about whether it’s good–it’s not supposed to be. Don’t edit while you write! Save that chore for after the first draft is done.

I have yet to obey that command, and I’m sure everyone who is a regular reader of this blog knows it, because I’ve written about it enough. I edit while I write because I know something’s wrong and it makes me nuts. I edit while I write because I’ve had to change something in the new day’s material and have to go back and tweak until everything is harmonious. And now, I’ve discovered yet another reason why I edit while I write: I keep forgetting what I’ve written before and where I was going with it.

I’ve been reading Tosca Lee’s rules for first drafts in her newsletter (also on her blog). I nod my head with everything she says, because I can relate, especially to her first installment “First Drafts–Take the Ride Yourself.” Well, okay–I can relate to the first paragraph of that post, “A friend recently asked me if I enjoyed writing. My honest answer was, ‘Sometimes.’” I can relate to this and to another line in those early paragraphs: “But that first, initial draft? Pull my fingernails out from the beds with pliers, why don’t you.”

Tosca says she’s a second or third draft writer. I’m a first and second draft writer, I guess. I want everything as near perfect as I can get it before I send it to my primary critique partner. Meaning I go back for both major overhauls and minor tweaks as I write. I reread the manuscript a multitude of times, until there are no more overhauls and only minor tweaks. Then Katie finds the big bugs, I fix them, and consider the work done.

But one of the reasons for this, I now realize, is that too much time often passes between one writing session and the next.

In “Rule #3: Don’t break too long between writing sessions,” Tosca says:

Every stretch of time you’re away is an opportunity to drop strands that become that much harder to pick up later, and to lose your sense of flow. Keep it immediate. Put in as much regular, consecutive time as you can.*

Although I have set writing hours, life and fatigue get in the way far too often for me to put in a lot of regular, consecutive time. I’m healthier, and I last longer than I did before, but uninterrupted periods of time are still hard to come by. I can be on a roll, then have to run to Bryan for a few days (not that I mind–Mom time is important to me), or weekend plans will break my stride, then I have to get a running start again. And I’ve never been able to just read without editing a little. Those edits can include whacking out or rewriting entire scenes or simply changing words or adding commas.

This violates Tosca’s “Rule #2: Don’t stop and go back.” The primary danger of violating this rule, according to her, is: “Because they [manuscripts] never [get] finished. The biggest discrepancy between those who want to write and those who do is one simple word: finishing.”

Mine do–eventually. Well, except for Corporate Ladder. That one’s the thorn in my side, and I don’t know what will happen in the love/hate relationship I have with Debra Chandler. Her story is far more difficult to tell than I first thought. Otherwise, though, I’ve finished most of my manuscripts, even though a couple of them were never published and never will be.

But my way works for me. I’d love to do as Tosca says, as Anne Lamott and countless others say, and write that hideous first draft without going back to edit. Everyone who has read my blog this year knows I tried.

Still, Give the Lady a Ride was an award winner and The Cat Lady’s Secret was a finalist for an award. My way of writing can’t be all bad.

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* As of the date of writing my post, Tosca’s “Rule #3″ was available only in her newsletter. I’m not sure when she will put it up in her blog, but be sure to catch her whole series there.

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I Lied on Facebook

coffee 535

I posted my 535th coffee meme on Facebook this morning. How do I know it’s number 535? Because that’s how I save them when I find them–coffee 1, coffee 2, coffee 460, coffee 535. To my knowledge, I haven’t duplicated a single meme, or if I have, it was either inadvertent or it was a repost of a friend’s share.

The only reason this one is important is because it leaves my FB friends with the impression that all I have to do today is drink coffee. Nothing can be further from the truth. We just got back from the Polish Festival in Bremond, following my week in Bryan, following the Blueberry Festival in Nacogdoches, Texas–and all preceding the fourth of July when the entire family along with friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, and soon-to-be spouses all come to our house. Starting Friday.

So, today, I get to finish painting the patio furniture, straighten from being gone all weekend and all last week–along with doing a Mt. Everest-load of laundry–start cleaning house, plan the grocery list, work on my book inventory, do my state taxes–and the bills and the wonderful deposit from the past weekend (it was a good weekend)–make sure Mom’s phone is working again after the fiasco from last Friday (don’t ask), and squeeze in time to work on my manuscript (I only have four chapters left). Oh, and I have to make lunch out of virtually nothing because I haven’t been to the grocery store all month.

Yeah, I think that about covers it.

I got up this morning to do my Bible study of Daniel, which I haven’t been able to do for over a week since I’ve been gone, and go through my emails and work on my Facebook page (since I’ve been gone and without my computer). I am so far behind on absolutely everything–no big surprise–and returning safely back to my daily rut doesn’t occur until August, so I will continue to be far behind on absolutely everything, but I am determined to finish my novel as close to my deadline as possible. It’ll be late, but (please, God) not super-late. Which, considering my track record, will be an improvement.

I’m so harried and rattled now, I doubt this post makes much sense. But it’s Monday–so very, very Monday–and I have a long week ahead, so if I’m not making sense, don’t be surprised. I’m not capable of making sense right now. Which is perhaps why I lied on Facebook. Instead of that being my plans for the day, consider it my daydream for today, ’cause, folks, whiling away the hours idly drinking coffee just ain’t gonna happen.

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Especially for Writers

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Ane Mulligan: Conflicted about Conflict?

I cut my authorial teeth on writing plays for use in the church. They ran the gambit from 90-second to 5-minute sermon-starters to full length musicals. For the short sermon-starters, there was a problem and the pastor’s sermon supplied the remedy. The full-length Easter and Christmas musicals followed Jesus’ life.

My first novel was a Biblical fiction in which I strung together a bunch of scenes from Jesus’ life, interspersed with the fictional characters. There was no conflict, other than the Pharisees wanting to crucify Jesus. I figured that was enough.

Uh, no. Not for a novel. Sigh. I had a lot to learn.

I slid that first manuscript under my bed, never to see the light of day again. I turned to contemporary fiction and let my funny bone come out to play. However, I still lacked enough conflict. My crit partners (you know the ones: Attila the Holmes, Genghis Griep, and Ludwig von Frankenpen) ripped it apart.

“More conflict!” was the verdict.

But I write light-hearted Southern fiction.

“You still need conflict. Anne of Green Gables had a story question that kept it going. Would Anne be able to avoid her usual high jinks and get adopted? While not the usual conflict, it provided tension needed to carry the story forward. You need more!”

Okay, okay. I heard. I began to do deeper character interviews in which I discovered the secrets about my characters’ past. Once I found their deepest need or darkest secret, I had the basis for conflict. What was the worst thing that could happen to her/him? Do it and then go one worse.

Suspense, mystery, and adventure genres have built-in conflict by nature of the genre. They are plot driven, meaning the events cause the protagonist to make decisions.

But in character driven fiction (the character’s decision causes certain events to happen, driving the plot forward), the conflict will stem from the characters’ motivation, which is based on that lie they believe about themselves.

These things, the lie and motivation, are found within the character’s backstory. That secret. That devastating childhood event colors their personality and their worldview. These are from where you draw the story conflict.

If it matters to the character, if it violates or goes in direct opposition to their motivation, it causes great conflict.

CSR COVER copy

For instance, in Chapel SpringsRevival, my protagonist, Claire, wants respect. Her lie is that it’s all her fault. She lives to prove that wrong. But she’s her own worst enemy, trying so hard, she forgets to stop and think before she moves or says anything. She charges headlong into trouble, and usually ends up in a mess, further compounding her dilemma.

In Rich in Love, by Lindi Peterson, the heroine, raised on the mission field, wants nothing to do with foreign missions. She’ll serve God right here in Atlanta, thank you very much. The hero, with whom she’s fallen head over heels in love, has been called … you guessed it—to be a foreign missionary.

Filled with conflict? Absotootinglutely!

So remember, conflict comes from within, in a character-driven novel. It comes from the characters’ past, their hurts, their fears—their backstory. That backstory may never make it in the book (and probably shouldn’t), but you’ll glean so much from it, you’ll have built-in conflict.

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About the Author:

President of the award-winning literary site, Novel Rocket, Ane resides in Suwanee, GA, with her artist husband, her chef son, and two dogs of Biblical proportion.

You can find Ane on her Southern-fried Fiction websiteGoogle+Facebook, GoodreadsTwitter, and Pinterest.

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Chapel Springs Survival 

coming Dec 2015

A mail-order bride, a town overrun with tourists, and illegal art ~

can Claire and Chapel Springs survive?



With the success of her Operation Marriage Revival, life is good for Claire Bennett. That is until the mayor’s brother blabs a secret: Claire’s nineteen-year-old son, Wes, has married a Brazilian mail order bride—one who is eight years older than him. When Claire tries to welcome her new daughter-in-law, she’s ridiculed, rebuffed, and rejected. Loving this girl is like hugging a prickly cactus. When family members begin to choose sides, will Claire and her family survive her son’s marriage?

Lydia Smith is happily living alone and running her spa—then the widow on the hill becomes a blushing bride. Along with her new marriage, she has a dream to expand her business by adding guest rooms. Things are going according to plan. That is, until her groom’s adult son moves in—on everything. Will her dream survive her stepson?

From the first sighting of a country music star in Claire’s gallery, The Painted Loon, to the visit of a Hollywood diva, Chapel Springs is inundated with stargazers, causing lifelong residents to flee the area. When her best friends, Patsy and Nathan, put their house on the market, Claire is forced to do something or lose the closest thing to a sister she’s got. With her son’s future at stake and the town looking to her to solve their problems, it’s Claire who needs a guardian angel.

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What About the Other Guy? by Robin Patchen

Thoughts and Emotions of the Non-POV Character

When I was a new writer first learning about Point of View, it seemed unconscionable to me that my readers might miss the nuances of what the non-POV character was thinking and feeling in a scene. I thought maybe my book was one of the few that really needed to be written from the omniscient viewpoint. I desperately wanted to embrace head-hopping as a valid literary choice.

Years have gone by, and I’ve seen the error of my ways. As an editor, I hear similar arguments from my clients. Unfortunately, the arguments don’t fly for them, either. It doesn’t matter that your favorite classical writer employed omniscient POV, and nobody will be swayed by the fact that some bestselling author head-hops all the time. When you’re a bestseller, you can break the rules, too. And maybe in a hundred years, your book will still be on the shelves—but only if you get it into readers’ hands now.

Of course, your non-POV character is having thoughts and feelings, and you do need to show them. How can you do that if you’re not in his head?

With your POV character, you can show his thoughts, his focus, his physiological responses to his emotions, and his actions, which together give us a good idea of who he is.

With non-POV characters, you lose a couple of those tools. Obviously, you can’t show your non-POV characters’ thoughts. And their physiological responses? Well, you can show the ones the world would see. And we can still write about what they focus on (because the POV character could notice it) and their actions—including dialog. And we have another tool in our arsenal—one that hardly works with POV characters—their facial expressions.

Let’s say you have a married couple, Bob and Mary. Mary is our POV character, and she’s just walked into their master bedroom to find Bob.

Her secret box lay in splinters, smashed to bit. Dread filled her as she met Bob’s eyes.

Her husband lifted David’s letter so she could see her ex’s familiar print. His eyes were filled with cold hatred. “You promised me,” he said. “You swore it was over.”

“It is. I just—“

“Don’t.” Bob turned his attention to the letter, and she watched as his gaze scanned the page, reading her ex’s deepest emotions. She knew by heart what was written there, the poetic words of love, the promises and pleadings of the man who’d sworn he’d always love her. Never mind that his words had turned out to be lies. Sometimes, it felt good to read them. She needed those words. When Bob was gone on his long trips, she’s found solace in David’s words.

She thought of Bob reading what David had written. She swallowed a wave of nausea. She wanted to tear it from his white-knuckled grip. To save him the pain of reading it, of knowing how, in her loneliness, she’d longed for what Bob had never been able to give her. And she wanted to protect the secret longings she’d carried for years.

But there’d be no getting the stationery away from Bob’s grip. He finished the, then glared at her once more before he tore the paper into tiny bits and dropped them onto the floor at her feet, where they fell like the shattered pieces of her life. He brushed his hands together, dislodging the last remnants, and yanked the suitcase off the bed. “I’m done.”

No! David meant nothing to her, not anymore. So she’d held onto one last love letter. She should have destroyed it years ago—she knew that now. David’s love was a mirage, but Bob—he’d been her provider, her everything. Did her one small desire—the need to not just be loved, but to feel loved—did that have to mean the end? How could Bob do this, after all they’d been through?

He brushed past her.

She lunged toward him and wrapped her arms around his waist. “Please, let’s talk about this.”

He pried her arms off and pushed her away. “The time for talking is done. Good-bye.”

Okay, it’s a little melodramatic, I admit. But when you study David’s physiological responses, his facial expressions, his actions, and his words, do you need to be in his head to discern what he’s thinking and how he feels? Perhaps there are nuances we don’t understand, but we know enough for the scene to work.

It takes some skill to show the emotions of the non-POV character in a scene, but it can be done. So rather than trying to redeem the art of head-hopping, perhaps you can give this a try.

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Robin Patchen lives in Edmond, Oklahoma, with her husband and three teenagers. Her third book, Finding Amanda, released in April. When Robin isn’t writing or caring for her family, she works as a freelance editor at Robin’s Red Pen, where she specializes in Christian fiction. Read excerpts and find out more at her website, robinpatchen.com.

Links

Chef and popular blogger Amanda Johnson hopes publishing her memoir will provide healing and justice. Her estranged husband, contractor and veteran soldier Mark Johnson, tries to talk her out of it, fearing the psychiatrist who seduced her when she was a teen might return to silence her.

But Amanda doesn’t need advice, certainly not from her judgmental soon-to-be ex-husband. Her overconfidence makes her vulnerable when she travels out of town and runs into the abuser from her past. A kind stranger comes to her rescue and offers her protection.

Now Mark must safeguard his wife both from the fiend who threatens her life and from the stranger who threatens their marriage.

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Take Time to Look Up

pond

Midmorning yesterday, the sun broke through the clouds and trees to kiss our pond.

Yesterday afternoon, a male cardinal cracked the shells of sunflower seeds and fed his wife.

Yesterday evening, bluebirds and sparrows bathed and preened, ruffling wet feathers to blow-dry in the breeze.

Last night, fireflies pricked the shadows of the deep woods.

Early this morning, deer darted away from the threat of the opening curtains.

Right now, pink clouds race against an unsettled sky, and the emerald forest waves goodbye to each wind-gust blowing through.

And I looked up from my manuscript, from Facebook, from my inexhaustible list of emails long enough to catch sight of real life in action.

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Tough Love for Writers

solitude

Author C. Hope Clark wrote a tough-love piece for writers who are afraid of taking the step to becoming published authors. In her blog post, “On Being Tentative,” Hope writes:

This is all on you. We all like the pat on the back and the positive reinforcement. That’s human nature. But if you need someone petting you on the head every day to keep going, maybe this isn’t the job for you. There are too many others out there who show up everyday to make their dream happen. And they left their mommas in the other room.

Hope’s piece is the kick-in-the-butt kind of a pep talk that falls in line with the “pee or get off of the pot” mentality. Toughen up! Dig deep!

She’s right.

I don’t know too many authors who think this job is a cake walk. It’s hard. It fosters fear and insecurity. For many–if not most of us–it keeps us humble.

Those of us who make it a point to sit down to the keyboard every day are putting into words things we think are funny, sad, scary, exciting, touching, inspirational–then we put them out there with our fingers crossed and our eyes screwed tight in prayer that someone else will find them funny, sad, scary . . .

But that’s not all of it. Many writers have to overcome the idea that they have no family support. None. But they squeeze out time to write anyway and get their few words down one day, only to rip them up in disgust the next.

Then, finally, one day a miracle happens, and they have a completed manuscript. They manage somehow to go to a writers conference, they sit in on agent/editor panels and listen to what’s expected of them–and true terror sets in, because here is where they learn that it doesn’t matter whether you have a great story. You have to have a great story that will compete with hundreds of thousands of other great stories. And you have to have a platform of people who are willing to buy your great story. In fact, if you have a fabulous platform, you don’t necessarily need a great story.

Everything falls on the shoulders of the author these days. Networking and marketing are as much the author’s responsibility as writing, editing, meeting deadlines. So when–miracle of miracles–our manuscript is accepted, we have to step out of our little shells and toot our own horns. This is when we discover that we’re playing a kazoo at a high amp heavy metal concert.

But–yet another miracle–people start buying our books and the reviews start pouring in. Many of them are good, but there are always those who simply didn’t like it, and low ratings appear and raggedly rip at our hearts with a dull blade. Meantime, we watch someone else skyrocket to the top, someone who found the key to the spaceship, while we’re still searching for the launch pad.

For many, if not all, writers, this is it. This is a way of life, our chosen career. We swallow the fears, the insecurities, the anger at injustices, the lack of family understanding and support. And, masochists that we are, we sit down to do it all over again.

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