Thursday, May 31, 2007

Voice and Editing




I entered a short story in Glimmer Train's annual short story contest. No, I didn't win. But that's a good thing. Why? Because when I looked at the story again, I realized it could have been much better.
When my dad read it awhile ago, he said that he felt something was missing, but wasn't quite sure what that "something" was. I didn't, either. But when I opened the file last night, I wanted to find that "something" because this story needs to go out into the world.

After reading through it, I searched for the elusive "something." And then, it hit me. I had edited out my voice. What I read on the page wasn't me. It was my attempt to be literary and high-browed and, well, just not myself. I don't write like that. Of course, there's nothing wrong with writing that way, but my voice doesn't subscribe to it.

I began to see the story with fresh eyes and found several places where I could put my voice back "in." And it's making such a difference that I can't believe I didn't see it the first time around.

It's entirely possible to edit too much. And that's exactly what I did. It's a lesson well-learned, especially since I'm still editing my second novel. Voice is such an elusive thing that when you finally discover your own, you've got to make sure and keep it in there because that's what makes your writing yours.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

With Chocolate, Anything's Possible


There's a good reason I didn't work on my novel the other evening, and I didn't discover it until after I'd had copious amounts of Dove dark chocolate.
That particular scene giving me fits was in the wrong place. With a few deft clicks of the mouse, I can move it to the right spot and all will be well again with the world.
I was going to do that last night, but unfortunately, a massive headache sidelined me. But hey, I still went and worked out at Curves, hoping to get rid of it. Not so. I went home, popped in a movie, and promptly forgot my headache. BTW, if you haven't seen this movie, get thee to a video store. Definitely worth your time. But be warned - it is not for the faint-hearted.
Tonight, I'm hoping to go in and make that nifty little switch in my manuscript. Guess I needed to distance myself from it to see what had to be fixed.
So here's the fun question for today:
What's your favorite kind of chocolate?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

This Writing Gig Is Hard




Writing is hard.
I know this.

But some days, it's harder than others. Like yesterday.

I took a nap yesterday because, well, I wanted to, and when I woke up, I thought, let's boot up the laptop and do a bit of editing. So I did. And I dug into the story, prepared to create a masterpiece. (Ok, not a masterpiece, but you get the idea.) And of course, everything I read looked like total and complete crap. It was boring. And I thought, if I'm bored, the reader is going to be even MORE bored and never finish the book!

And it made me think of all those people who believe that writing is easy, that you just dream up a clever little story and put it down on the page. But it's not easy. It is soooooo not easy. Maybe that's why, over the years, I have collected motivational writing books like The Writer's Book of Hope and The Courage to Write, both by Ralph Keyes, and Writing from the Inside Out by Dennis Palumbo. I need to know that I'm not alone, that not just any one can put fingers to keyboard and type a great story.

It's not just about coming up with a good idea - you have to convey it in so many ways through craft. There's pacing. And character motivation. And goals. And conflict. Foreshadowing. Metaphors. The list goes on and on.

There's a ton of quotes from writers about this subject. Here are just a few:

"I would never encourage anyone to be a writer. It's too hard." - Eudora Welty

"Writing is easy. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein." - Red Smith

Of course, there's only one thing to do. Keep at it. But when you have moments like I did last night, sometimes it's also best just to walk away and leave it for another day. And that's exactly what I did. My mind wasn't in the right frame to tackle the editing. Why create more frustration for myself? Sometimes a little distance - even a few hours or so - can make all the difference.

What is your most challenging aspect of writing?

Friday, May 25, 2007

A Plethora of Ideas


When I first started plotting my Italian Duet series, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what it would be about. But the more I started digging into my characters, the more I realized they had a lot more to tell me about their lives.

I've had ideas for their story hitting me at all hours of the day. On my walks. Doing dishes. Driving. (This can be a little dangerous). Sitting at work and blankly staring at the computer screen (this can also be dangerous if the boss walks by...). And even though it's a ton of fun to have all these ideas, at some point I need to decide what's going to work. But that's what is so weird about the whole thing - one idea will hit me, I'll think, hey, maybe this will work, then another thought punctures that little balloon and I'm faced with a whole new idea.

I'm letting my imagination roam with this and for some reason, I don't feel nearly as stifled as I have with other novels. Anything and everything enters my mind, and I reject the silly ideas and seriously look at others. It's part of my process, I guess.

Vacation!

I'm really looking forward to the three day weekend - here in America we're celebrating Memorial Day. I usually take that day to remember the fallen and watch some World War II movies - on tap this year is The Longest Day and I'm going to try and rent The Good German with George Clooney. I read this book and thoroughly enjoyed it, but I heard the movie doesn't follow it too closely. I'll still watch it, though.

But I also plan on spending lots and lots of time plotting and maybe even doing a little editing on the other novel. Since work has been so stressful this past week, I just want to do a whole lot of nothing for the next three days.

So I'll leave you with two questions.

1) What's the strangest place you ever got an idea for your story?

2) What are you doing this weekend?



Wednesday, May 23, 2007

My New Favorite Quotes

Thanks to Therese's suggestion, I ordered Donald Maass's Writing the Breakout Novel. It arrived in my mailbox last night and I spent a fair chunk of the evening reading the first few pages.


Maass is quite candid, something I appreciate at this point in my career. His advice isn't for the faint-hearted. Take into consideration this paragraph:


"To write a breakout novel is to run free of the pack. It is to delve deeper, think harder, revise more, and commit to creating characters and plot that surpass one's previous accomplishments. It is to say "no" to merely being good enough to be published.

It is a commitment to quality." - Maass, pg. 12.


After I read that, I felt the fire inside me flame. Yes, I thought. I can do this. I want to do this. I want to stretch myself and write something that is not just "good", but great.


I've written two novels now and several half-finished ones. My ability to discern what works and what doesn't is growing with each novel or story I write. I feel that I am ready to stretch myself, dive into the craft, and be a better writer.


The trick to all of this is to keep that fire burning, to not let the discouragement demons drag me down, to stay focused on my goals.


It's time.


Another quote I just love from this book is from the foreword by Anne Perry, and I think it's quite inspiring:


"There's room for us all. They'll just build bigger bookshops!" (p. 4)


Write on!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Monday Humor and Roadmaps


This cartoon has nothing to do with this post, but hey, it's funny. My local newspaper started featuring the comic, Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis a few months ago. Hubby loves them and I've got to admit, the offbeat sense of humor is pretty darn addictive.

The Plotting Roadmap

Before I drifted off to sleep last night, I was writing in my journal about my plotting process. I thought that perhaps with this first novel of my Italian Duet, I should plot out as much as I could. But then I thought, no way can I plot out every scene. I know some authors do this, but if I did it, I would, well, be bored when I started writing because I would already know everything I was going to write.

But, I realized that I still need a roadmap. So this is my probably overused analogy, but I like it all the same.

When you plan a long trip, you usually have some major stopping points along the way - gas, food, and maybe a hotel or two. You don't necessarily plan every single stop you're going to take. What if you suddenly blow out a tire? Or drank too much Diet Pepsi and need a rest stop ASAP? Then there's construction. Hunger pains. Whiny kids begging to get out and stretch their legs.

That's how I plot. I know my destination and how to get there, but there may be a few detours along the way in between those main stopping points. Those stopping points include the beginning, middle, and end, of course, but also some other key "rest areas." The inciting incident, the black moment, and the climax are just a few.

Let's talk about plot. When you start to plot a story, do you plot all those areas in between your major "rest areas", or do you know your starting and ending points and make up everything in between when you're writing?

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Thank the Lord for Penicillin!


Ah....after a very rough day yesterday, I am feeling mucho better. The penicillin started kicking in while I was asleep last night and I woke up with a sore throat, but not nearly as bad as it was. I couldn't believe how much pain I was in. And I even had my tonsils taken out ten years ago! Guess strep doesn't care if you have tonsils or not.

I watched four movies yesterday, ate lots of vegetable soup, cold chocolate pudding, ice cream, and jello. Lots of COLD stuff. Since I was feeling better this morning, hubby fixed me a big breakfast of eggs, toast, ham, and pancakes. YUM. I devoured it. I was ready for some decent, solid food!

I also felt housebound, so hubby took me for a drive in the convertible and I went and bought the new Maroon 5 album (and listening to it right now on my computer). Also bought Under the Tuscan Sun on DVD because, well, let's face it - I need it for research, right? (Not to mention the hunky Raoul Bova, pictured here).

My dear mother watched my daughter last night and has had her over at her house most of the day. It's so nice to have her live in the same town as we do - and I know she and my daughter have the best time together.

Next week, watch for some plot discussions. I'm anxious to dig into the whole process again!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Ugh...Sick (Strep!)

Yesterday I woke up with a massive sore throat, headache, and just a general feeling of the yuck-factor. Today isn't much better, but I'm at work (for the time being).

I actually felt pretty good last night before I went to bed. The sore throat is undoubtedly from all the drainage and doesn't last long (although for some reason it's hanging on tight this morning).

So...missed work yesterday, slept a lot, ate a lot of ice cream because it felt good on the throat (and no, I didn't even worry about calories), and watched a few good movies - Russell Crowe in A Good Year and Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief. Slept some more, ate some more ice cream, and fell asleep around 11:30 last night. Kittens woke me up at 4 a.m. , running and playing on the furniture, so didn't sleep very well.

My brother and his family are coming tonight, too - we're supposed to go out and have a family dinner, but the way I feel now...well, who knows. I'm thinking I have a sinus infection. UGH. (Edited to add - Nope, it's STREP. Double UGH. The doc says she's seen a ton of it lately. I'm starting to wonder if our antibiotics are becoming useless against these mega germs.)

At any rate, didn't get to any one's blogs yesterday and doubt I will get to any today. Will try over the weekend, though.

Hope things are well on your end and hope you have a great weekend!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007









Ah yes. It's amazing what cute little kitties can do when left unattended. In this case, they literally dismantled the wire shelf in the bathroom, strewing washcloths all over the place. I don't quite know how they did it exactly, but the picture is proof that they did!

And of course, all that running around and creating mayhem and mischief all day tires a gal out.

On Writing...
I've been struggling with the plotting process of my Italian Duet series. Why? Because it's different than anything I've written before. This is not going to be a genre book - it's going to be mainstream. And there's a difference. While there is a love story involved, it is not at the center of the book. Thus, it's not a romance. But to tell you the truth, that is pretty much all I know how to plot is a romance.
While every fiction novel follows a basic pattern, there are subtle differences between genres. In a romance, the characters' relationship is at the center of the novel and the conflict directly involves that relationship. Not so with the book I'm writing. It's almost like I have to go back to the basics. Does that make any sense? It sure made sense a little while ago, but I'm tired and could be hallucinating...
At any rate, the other evening the lightning bolt struck again and I had to grope for pen and paper on the nightstand to write it down. Thankfully, I had a working pen this time!
In the next few days or so, I plan to break down the whole plot process, not only to give myself a refresher course (because let's face it - we all need that every now and then), but to also get some discussion going on the differences between genre, mainstream, and literary.
Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Summer Vacation



Do you remember the joy of a summer vacation? I loved them. Well, up until I was a teenager and had to get a job. And before that, I had to work in the fields sometimes hacking away at weeds or scooping ditches. But thankfully, I did most of my summer chores inside the nice, cool house. My poor brothers were the ones to work outside on the farm with Dad! But it made you guys tougher, admit it! ;-)

My summer vacations were full of books, summer library reading programs, baseball and softball games, short little vacations (we farmed, so couldn't take long vacations during the summer because we had to irrigate the crops), family get-togethers, and wonderful summer evenings sitting outside and enjoying a cool breeze.

I wanted my daughter to have a true summer vacation. Since I've had a full-time job, she hasn't had the luxury of staying up late to go chase fireflies or sleep in after an evening hard at play during the summer. She always had to go to bed at the same time and get up to go to daycare.

This year I was determined to change that. I wanted her to have a nice, relaxing summer free from the same old routine. Quitting my job was out of the question, of course! But last night my husband and I hit upon a solution.

Our wonderful family friend, who is retired, agreed to watch the kids for us this summer at our house. Since she lives right down the street, this is absolutely perfect. My daughter will get to enjoy her summer vacation and I will rest in the knowledge that I gave her a small gift. :-)

I'm very thankful that the Lord provided this solution to us. I know I'm very blessed to be able to do this - lots of people don't have an option and must use the daycare route.

This will also be a break for mom and dad, too! We'll have three months of not worrying about getting a grouchy seven-year-old out of bed and taking her to daycare.

What's your favorite memory of summer vacation?


Sunday, May 13, 2007

Birthdays and Mom's Day!




My daughter turned 7 yesterday. And of course, we had to celebrate in style! Along with her grandmother, we went to the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo. If you've never been here, I highly suggest a visit. It is a simply amazing place. Very well kept, clean, and full of wonderful animals. And as much daughter loves animals and wants to work in a zoo some day, she was simply in heaven.

We had a Scooby Doo birthday - Scooby Doo cake, presents, and fun! Happy birthday, sweetheart!

Today is Mother's Day and in addition to my daughter's wonderful handmade gifts - a hand-painted planter and a card, my husband gave me a dozen roses and the DVD of Disney's Robin Hood. I simply adore this movie and highly recommend it! Hubby is also making his famous homemade enchiladas for me and cleaned the house!
Happy Mother's Day!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Week's End



Friday, Friday, Friday.

I never used to love Fridays this much when I was a stay at home mom. I think it had something to do with all three kids (daughter and two stepsons) being home all weekend long How times change...

Now I adore them. Maybe it's because the day job has been so demanding lately. And it's cutting into my writing time.

Last night I worked on the plot of my first Italian Duet novel and had an ephiphany (don't you love those?) on a particular plot point. It certainly added a new dimension to the story.

Not much more to report - will try and stop by your blogs today. Thanks for all your comments on my last post about rejection - it's just part of the whole writing life. It's just adding another layer to that requisite thick skin that a writer needs to survive this business.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Rejection Equals Frustration

Rejection.

It's a part of life. And it's a major part of the writing life.

What's a girl to do when nothing but rejections invade the email inbox?

Keep at it.

But what happens when frustration begins to claw its way into your brain?

Drink lots of Diet Pepsi. And eat lots of chocolate. Lots of chocolate.

Monday, May 07, 2007

R.U.E.




I want you to remember this acronym.

Resist the Urge to Explain.

R.U.E.


Why is it so important in writing? Because if we try to explain every thing down to the smallest detail, we cheat our readers of using their imagination. Not only that, but we also might bore them, which is even worse! Renni Browne and Dave King coined this acronym in Self-Editing for Fiction Writers .

So what should you resist explaining in your novel or short story or heck, anything you write?

Look at the following sentence.

She slammed the door and marched over to him. "You make me so mad!" she screamed angrily.

It's pretty obvious in this sentence what we want to delete: "she screamed angrily" isn't needed. The slamming door and what she says pretty much convey that this lady is just a little upset.
Adverbs are always a clue that you need to look at your writing and see if you are trying to explain a little too much.

But what about sections that aren't so obvious?

Here's a paragraph that is a little more difficult.

She put the beer back in the refrigerator, then pulled it out again. If she left it there, he would want to drink it again. And she didn't want that to happen. He'd been drinking too much again, and she couldn't stand to watch him stumble around anymore . But if she took it out, then she would be a co-dependent. What to do?

This paragraph analyzes this character's motivation to the extreme. In the proper context of the novel (where we already know what's happening), you could shorten it to read like this:

She put the beer back in the refrigerator, then pulled it out again, torn over the decision.

Look at all of those words we deleted! And in so doing, we didn't bash the reader over the head with information.

When you're editing your novel, look for places where you can Resist the Urge to Explain. It will help with your pacing, tighten sections that are just a little too wordy, and smooth out any rough spots.

Happy hunting!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Eight Things About Me

Toni tagged me, so here goes...

1. Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
2. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
3. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
4. Don't forget to leave them a comment telling them they're tagged, and to read your blog.

Eight Weird/Random Facts About Me

#1. I have nearly the whole script from The Princess Bride memorized.

#2. I have two stepsons - one lives with us and the other lives with his mom in Kentucky.

#3. I don't wear make-up every day. *gasp!* Seriously, I don't. Natural beauty, baby!

#4. I used to have horrible dreams about cats - they would sink their claws into me and I couldn't get them off. In fact, I used to really hate cats because of that fact. Now I have three of them and wouldn't give them away for anything. (Well, ok. Maybe a million dollars.) ;-)

#5. I am the one that picked out our house. The first time hubby actually stepped foot inside it was the day we moved in. He looked at some pictures before we bought it, but that was it! He said he trusted me to make a good buy. Well, I got him a three car garage. What more could he want? ;-)

#6. I like liver and onions. With ketchup. Must have ketchup.

#7. I absolutely adore Big Band music, Frank Sinatra, and any other crooners of the 1940's and 1950's.

#8. When I gave birth to my daughter, in the midst of intense labor, I asked my husband, "How can women have herds of these things?" I still don't remember saying it, but apparently I did.

I tag...

Anissa
Robin
Elizabeth
Diane C.
Diane P.
Camilla
ChaCha
Meretta

Friday, May 04, 2007

It's Friday!

I had a wonderful surprise last night...

Hubby found one of my notebooks (that is supposed to be in the infamous file folder) in his garage.

I have no idea how it got out there because believe me - his garage is his domain. I rarely step foot in it.

But this particular notebook had all of my editing notes that I desperately need. I am so, so thankful that he found it.

As to where the rest of the file folder is...who knows where it will turn up!

I'm working at home today...my stepson has the flu and he's one miserable guy. But hey, it's Friday and I don't mind not being in the office. :-)

Hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Small Bites (And Happy Birthday!)

Even though I doubt my little brother ever reads my blog (he's too busy living the carefree life of a bachelor!), I'm still going to wish him a happy birthday today.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, COREY!!!

Now. Onto the writing...

Small bites. That's what I've been doing this week.

To tell you the truth, when work wasn't as busy, I was much more eager to get home and start writing. Now that I'm completely swamped at the day job, the urge is less apparent. When you write for a living (I'm a copywriter) and also write in your free time, it's a catch 22. On the one hand, my writing has improved by leaps and bounds since I started this job. I write every day and my writing muscle is well-toned. On the other hand, when I write all day, sometimes the very last thing I want to do at night when I get home from work is sit in front of the computer and write some more.

My solution? Small bites. I turn on the laptop every night and force myself to sit down and write. Even if I only manage a page or a paragraph, it's progress and it keeps me in the story. Last night I sat on my front porch swing and enjoyed the beautiful evening and wrote. Moving my location from being chained to a desk to the outdoors also helps.

Here's what I've recognized about myself. I need downtime. I can't come home, sit in front of the laptop, and start writing. I need a few hours to decompress. If I don't get that - well, just ask my husband what happens. *grin* I also don't want to burn myself out.

So I reserve my major writing time for the weekends, when I have lots and lots of uninterrupted hours (well, as uninterrupted as it can be with two kids, four kittens, and three dogs) to dive into the novel.

Are you one of those people that need to decompress after a long day on the job?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Watcha doin'?


Feels like the blog world is a bit quiet lately. So tell me:
Watcha doin'?

New Digs

I've got a new home on the web - stop by if you get a chance! www.melissamarsh.net