I Printed the Draft But You Can’t Make Me Edit!

That might not be true. I can get myself to edit, but the rewrites make me fidget endlessly in my chair. It’s something I have to schedule and turn everything off, with the paper copy on one side and the screen where I translate the new words on the other.

I can’t get myself to edit appropriately without a paper copy, it seems. I mark up one copy, highlight in myriad places, and have separate notes in margins and a separate notebook to keep it all from escaping. It isn’t the short pieces that bog me down so much – it’s the mammoth manuscripts that would be novels.

Example: the one sitting on my right is about machines [read: robots] and weighs in for the rough draft at 135,000 words. Working title is The Machine Book, only because I have no idea what the title ought to be.

This year I’ve been doing something different. I’m scheduling time to sit down without interruptions and simply take notes on previous projects and learn how to make them shine. I know I’m the only one who can make myself get through the process of finishing the book.

I really wish a one-page-at-a-time idea worked, but the first edits are all about plot arcs and character growth. It’s about making sure each scene happens at the right time and the right place and moves the reader forward to the end.

Thank you to all the family and friends who occasionally ask me how my editing is going. You’re reminding me to keep chipping away at this until I finish, and it motivates me.

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A New Level

I write. Every day. I don’t take off weekends or holidays. I also write at least 750 words each of those days.

As my writing habit has grown stronger, I’ve really missed the days when it hasn’t happened. Part of it is the way I can see 750words.com tell me “You have written x days in a row.” But at the bottom of my statistics, I have a number. That number is 384, which is the most days I had written in a row.

I’ve been very proud of 384. Through that time, I moved twice and had a baby. When I broke that streak (July 2012), it was a regular day that went out of the regular routine. I learned through that it wasn’t the big things I could see coming that breaks my writing; it was the little things that you can’t plan for.

Once the streak was broken, the pressure was off to keep going. I even gave myself a month off (December 2012). Big mistake. I felt off the entire month. Like I hadn’t accomplished anything. Like some part of myself couldn’t be connected.

Today that number changes. Today my longest streak starts picking up again. Today is 385. 

I’m still struggling to put my editing into the same perspective. Maybe I’ll start putting star stickers on my binder and start a new row every time I break a streak. Any ideas?

Project Cycle

Every project begins with an image in someone’s head. Sometimes it’s hard to know whether it’s going to be ten thousand or a hundred thousand when I begin.

The first step is to spew out the rough draft. Sometimes, and with more regularity, an outline takes shape before that. I’ve been learning to get better about running through a draft until it’s done. When I stop things in the middle, I lose my place. I can’t figure out where I’m going. It takes forever to build the momentum back up again.

There is a need to let a draft sit, but not for too long. That rough draft turns into a pile of words on pages. The half-edited bundle of papers becomes something I have to re-read to connect to each time a long break happens. Yet I also get little tidbits of ideas about projects I haven’t worked on for a couple months. Sometimes those bits fit and sometimes it takes a change in the entire project to encompass the new idea.

How do you overcome that distance? What do you do to make yourself get through to the end without those long, awkward pauses of, ‘oh, yeah, I’m working on that book’? I’m also working through my resistance to editing. Somehow I will make progress.

December Brings New Goals

Why? Because it’s just fun to start a new month with new things to do.

NaNoWriMo is always fun. I met new people with the Quad City Writing Guild. New name for them, too, because they’re simply trying to organize the WriMos around the area. They decided it was so much fun, they didn’t just want to meet during November.

I didn’t finish my November novel, and I knew I wouldn’t this year. That’s been a goal for a while, but I knew with that idea it wasn’t going to happen. It’s too big. I’m not sure I have it fully contained. I will keep working on it. Last night I tried to match up the pieces I wrote to the outline boxes. Got interrupted, too, but that just means I will finish it later today.

My new habit for November was getting up super early. Before 5am, local time. I have a writing buddy (in Eastern Time) who writes with me for half an hour, first thing in the morning. I made it every day but two in November. For December, we rolled the back half an hour. I already missed yesterday due to illness in the house, but it’s a nice thing to write when it’s quiet and I will continue the best I can.

For December, also, I’m editing, rewriting, whatever it takes to get some projects ready to be released into the world. Three days in, and I have done some work on Don’t Tell Your Mother each day. I’ve also been keeping up the 750words streak, and I have passed 970k on the site. Will definitely pass the one million words mark this month. I have a short story for an anthology with a deadline of 31 January.

One thing that really keeps me on my toes for DTYM: my main character loves food. Everything revolves around food, it seems, and I struggle with that because as long as I’m not hungry, I don’t think about it much. It’s one reason I have such trouble planning meals in advance. My nose doesn’t smell things the same way everyone else does, so describing the food aromas has been a big challenge. Remind me to try to rein in the next character that goes foodie on me.

Yeah, right, like that will work. Characters! They always have to have it their way.

Margaret Atwood, the CON, and NaNoWriMo

All good things come in November, right? Even my birthday is only two days away.

Margaret Atwood spoke at the Englert Theater in Iowa City last night, which also happened to be her 75th birthday. She’s clever, concise, and funny. I might even have an appreciation for zombies after listening to her. After she spoke, there was a Q&A, then she signed books.

The questions were decent, somewhat – I’m going to ignore the best hockey goalie question because the guy was hunting for something she didn’t want to give. Still. One (expected) question was about advice for aspiring writers. Maybe aspiring writer is a different term to everyone who labels oneself with the term. However, this woman was 53 and had not finished a manuscript. (Ms. Atwood asked.) Her advice? Finish it. Then do something with it. Then write something else. That is a writer. And she’s right, of course. She also said if the writer was an adolescent, wattpad was a good, free opportunity to get words out there. Because, sure, writing for an audience of your teacher about a summer vacation is one thing, but having a real audience to give comments and feedback, even if it is just ‘more, more!’ is something that will make that person dedicated to the craft.

When she signed my book, I said I was also an aspiring author. She asked if I’d finished a manuscript, and of course I said I had. And it has been published. And I keep writing. And she said I’m not aspiring – I’m already there. Again, she’s right. Except I might still be aspiring. I want to reach higher- to find more audiences- and to always, always do better. She has a wonderful attitude, and I’d like to be like her when I grow up: in that I want to write the stories, share them, and have a humorous outlook.

Last weekend was ICON. (I suppose in this way, I’m different than Ms. Atwood. I do mingle with the science fiction community. Whenever I can.) I was so excited to go to Paradise ICON, which was the writer’s workshop piece. I didn’t do much with the CON itself. I did see my band, Wylde Nept, and I’m glad. I caught up with old friends, made new friends, and learned a few things that are still rattling around in my head trying to makes sense of themselves.

I’m in the midst of making new goals, trying new schedules to be more productive, and getting “out there” more. I’ve told several friends my focus after November will switch to editing. I know I need to force myself to do it, and with constant prodding is the only way I know to start that. (December 1st, hear me people?! Eleven more days!) Going to Paradise ICON helped. I need to spend more time in serious critique mode, too. Luckily I may have a new friend (or more than one) who will allow me to work on that with them. 

And NaNoWriMo! I love the writer energy in the air around this time of year, and I like to take advantage of it to push out a bunch of words. Greg Frost called what I am doing something like a Zero Draft, and I think I love that term. Plus it only emphasizes the amount of work in the future to resurrect it into something usable, sharable, worthy of the original vision in my head. But you can’t fix it until you get it out. I’m not sure how to describe this project, but it’s big. So I’m going to the end, and then I’ll define it. Whether I finish or not by 1 Dec, I will use that date to start editing my lovely pile of projects.

The other thing I will do (but not as much as editing) is put together another new schedule. Self-imposed deadlines. These I will also share, so everyone can keep me on task to make them. When I dream, I dream big. And I know I won’t achieve those dreams if I allow myself to let the deadlines slide too far. Like they have been doing. So thanks in advance for gentle nudges when I stall and encouragement when I falter.

I can and do own the writer label, but there are so many other labels that must be applied before one can become a successful author. So right now I will dream, schedule, plot, and implement until I make it there.

I Need More Fences in this Blog

Fences, you ask? I’ll get to it.Next week, preschool begins. It will be September, and it’s also a new session for my daughter’s activities. I’m looking forward to a new routine, though it always takes a little bit to figure out how to get everywhere at the right time.

I know a few moms who changed the sleep schedule so kids get up earlier, but my kids slept in the past two days and I’m enjoying that. In my house, sleeping in is defined as me staying in bed until 7 am.

Last night, I spent an hour catching up on social media, changing a few passwords, and adding a picture where it needed an update. The picture was the tricky part, because for some reason there aren’t that many pictures of me that I want to share. Most of them are old. Many of them have only my daughter. And it’s very rare these days for someone to take just my picture. It’s always with one or both of the kids.

My project is going well with 1500 words a day. Have 54,743 words and expect to spend less than two more weeks on Book 2 before moving to Book 3. The trick will be to find the writing time with the new schedule.

If I can wear my daughter out enough to nap, I could get some good writing time in. If I can focus, I can also get some editing time in when the kids go to bed. If I can find some quiet time, I can blog and catch up on social media, too. There are a lot of ‘if’s involved, but I think it’s worth doing, and I’ll find the time somewhere.

I even find time to read, because that’s the best way to get my brain to relax to sleep. I want to curse the authors who keep me awake past bedtime to finish one more chapter as much as I hope my readers feel the same about my work someday. At least if I read, I’m much less likely to be remembering new thoughts for the work-in-progress an hour after the lights are out, tapping them into Evernote in my phone.

But back to the pictures. I think I put too much thought into pictures. What should I use to describe editing? Writing? Some other activity? Do I put something else in as visual interest?

Visual interest reminds me of art class in high school. My teacher always had us trying new things, even though our artistic vision might differ. Once, a friend had a painting of a snowman, with skaters on a lake, and a few trees dotted around. The teacher said she needed a fence. It was supposed to draw the eye around the painting. After that, whenever we finished anything – we always joked that you needed a fence in it. I thought of that last night when I read about adding images to posts in Google+. It’s just something to draw in the eyes when you’re trying to get them to read your text.

So here’s my fence:

Fence around Flamingos at Sacramento Zoo
Fence around Flamingos at Sacramento Zoo

Draft Finished?

Right. I know. I said I finished it. I felt good about finishing it.

So why is it that the little things I changed keep rummaging around in my head and whisper more little details to me? That’s not finished, that’s a work in progress.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. How do you know, definitively, that you are done? I’m struggling at the moment, but I will manage.

I’m moving on to the next draft, but I hope the susurrus moves to silence. After I fix that just. one. more. thing… After that, I also need to make that definite decision of what I’m doing next. I refuse to allow myself more than a week or two before making the next move. Only one manuscript will languish away in the drawer of death for five years. NO MORE!

With the Nose

One of my weaknesses, writing-wise, is food. I know it seems like such an odd thing, because it isn’t like I forget to eat regularly. Actually, maybe that would help…

No, seriously, I won’t starve myself. I know one of my handicaps as a person is that I cannot smell many of the things that other people take for granted. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I called my friend to remark about how I could finally smell the laundry aisle at the store, because it was the first time I could remember having that sensation. At first she remarked, duh, but then we talked about how I was in the sixth or seventh month of pregnancy, and that it took that much to get me to smell those scents. My nose is more sensitive to certain kinds of aromas, and others I miss completely.

Unfortunately, I can smell diapers. I could smell the mulch outside my daughter’s preschool this week. But I can only vaguely remember what the flowers smelled like during my pregnancy. I’ve never smelled most of them on my own, but not for lack of trying. My husband (before we were married) would bring me flowers. I would bury my nose in them and inhale deeply. It isn’t because I can smell the roses – I literally can’t – but it is one of those automatic gestures I do when I receive flowers.

When I started editing Don’t Tell Your Mother, I have several places where the characters have food or it is cooking. My critique partners underlined them, asking what they were eating, what they smelled at that point, or something else along those lines. Sometimes, I just can’t even imagine what I’m supposed to put in there. Even when I can describe the actual food, whether there are cherries in the dessert or rosemary in the pot roast, I don’t always know if those things give off enough of a smell for most people to identify them.

[Yes, I’m still editing Don’t Tell Your Mother. I’m still struggling over some of these food descriptions.]

I started asking other writers about food in stories. A few of them find it brings out their experience to have these things described. To bring them into focus even though the food itself is not dragging the plot forward, in most cases.

The other problem with that novel is that it takes place on a farm, where the smells are different than they are in the city. Livestock is kept on the farm, and there are certain smells that I’m sure I haven’t delved into the descriptions nearly enough for people who have never visited one. Thinking of that makes me want to print off another copy and highlight all the places where I might have missed some smells or other sensory perception that would aid in creating my setting.

What is it you look for in a scene where food is present? Scent is supposed to be linked strongly with memory, so do you find it more interesting when there are smells, tastes, and textures along with the sights and sounds? It’s definitely part of the “show, don’t tell” advice to bring in all the senses to bear when using description. Or does all of that just get in the way of the narrative when you’re reading?

Stretching for Goals

I read Yoga Journal, and I found this quote:  “Failing is a part of success. To make goals effective, you have to fail at them 50 percent of the time, or they didn’t stretch you far enough.” Chip Wilson, courtesy of an article by Ella Lawrence called Set Your Course.

While I make goals and I keep track of them, I must not be stretching myself enough according to that standard. I often choose smaller goals and see if I can do more than just the minimum. I also realize that it isn’t possible to do everything I want to and have interest to attempt. Not even close. But I do prioritize and make an effort on the things that matter to me – though it is often something I know I can do if  I put a reminder in front of me.

So what is the change if I allow myself to fail at a goal here and there? It opens up a lot of possibilities. I can call it a work-in-progress and remind myself that there is wiggle room. Yet it’s also good to remember I only have a couple hours a day when I am doing things for me and not my children.

Writing takes up a lot of that time. I won’t apologize for it, because it’s what I love to do.

I’ve been struggling to get back to my daily yoga practice post-baby. Part of this is because I don’t have somewhere to go do it yet, and my toddler takes it as an invitation to use me as a jungle gym. It greatly increases the difficulty of a pose like Warrior I when you have a small child standing on your back leg.

My challenges this month are to go back to yoga every day and to edit a novel and to keep up my writing streak and prep another novel. Those are big goals considering my newborn is 7 weeks old. He just slept a little over 6 hours, which is called “through the night” by the professionals… and I woke before he did. Somehow I was wide awake and starving at 3:30 in the morning.

If this keeps up, I’ll have plenty of time to practice yoga when my children are sleeping. And edit my novel. Probably a bunch of other things, too, but six hours isn’t really enough sleep for me on a regular basis. While I can dream of things like bottling time, liquid sleep, cloning, and delegating roles to an army of bored people who procrastinate their time away, I know that we’re all given the same time and it’s what we do with it that sets us apart from the rest.

I don’t have time to be bored. If I finish those novel edits, I’m going to dive back into writing that novella I think I have a handle on completing. There’s always another project that I’d like to tackle – even if it’s just knitting another rug for the bathroom floor.

What do you do for your goals? How do you know you’re successful? What do you think of the 50 percent and stretching quote from Chip Wilson?

Focus or Diversify?

Do you ever wonder about which is better – to focus or diversify?

With focus, you can become an expert in a small field. It is identifying a niche that pleases you and moving from there to let others come and make use of your knowledge in that small area. On the other hand, with diversity you can know a little bit about a ton of things and point questions in the direction of someone with the expertise to answer in the niche.

I’m struggling with this because I want to focus, but I do not seem to be able to let go of all the little distractions that lead me to exploring other areas. My other problem is a lack of time.

I’m a stay-at-home mom. I play with my kids and try to teach them things and hope they don’t run me ragged by day’s end. I get very little quiet time to pursue my interests, mostly writing, and so I think it’d be best to target one thing and finish it and do it well. Usually I find myself doing about ten things that aren’t that one task that I think ought to be most important.

Is it procrastination? Or is it just some inability to focus?

It’s March and NaNoEdMo is going on. I know I can’t set aside 50 hours to dedicate to editing my manuscript, but I did dutifully send the next segment to my [online] critique partners. While this piece isn’t in their science-fiction-or-fantasy niche, they’re being good sports and reading it anyway.

Yesterday I figured out new goals for the month, and the day before I was free writing about the idea of a community. Some science fiction story will be popping out of that at some point in the near future. It’s not my fault – I refuse to gag my muse. Or maybe that is my fault, because I refuse to gag my muse. She drags me on all kinds of side trips around different concepts and characters and plot twists until I can’t help but focus on something else.

I should be able to help it. I’m the writer. I’m the one in charge! Or so I like to tell myself. When characters take the stories into their own hands, trouble ensues but it makes for a beautiful story.

Sometimes I write articles as well. Does it help to further split my time between nonfiction and fiction? No. Yet something brings me back to nonfiction time and again, so I’m attempting to keep it in check while I go.

I keep track of social media and I’m learning about how I can influence those around me. It’s also interesting because that will be part of my platform for when I do get that book out.

When. Not if. This is not a place or a time for doubt. I am an artist and doubting my work comes all too easily, but I am working on not letting it get in my way. Determination takes me farther than talent, so as long as I keep my iron will set on getting it published I know it will happen.

Then what stops me from working on it until it shines like a pearl? Something is resistant to me sitting down and just saying I’m a novelist, or a short story writer, or an article writer. [Though on that last one, I blame lack of interest in pursuing only articles.] I’m not the best writer out there, but I can’t say I’m a bad writer, either.

Then I’ll be spending more time on the question of whether to focus or to branch out, whether to find my tiny niche or keep writing as I find interest. It is a question for my platform, because then I wonder if I should separate it to be found easier for the things I do, or to lump them together and show the wide differences in style.

It’s hard to be successful until you figure out what you want to do and apply all your talents in that direction. But what if what you think is the direction you want to go actually covers too much territory to make it work? What did you do when this question presented itself? Did you find your niche and become the expert? Or did you dabble with fingers in every inkwell?

It reminds me of the phrase, “jack of all trades, master of none.” Except something in my writerly head wants to twist it to ‘jill of all trades, mistress of one” – meaning writing, of course. I can’t stop because I love it and I don’t know who I am without it.

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