Posts Tagged ‘writing craft’

How We Write: Revision intro–scratching the surface…

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

David Kaplan says in A Creative Approach to Writing and Rewriting Fiction, “The purpose of writing a story is to rewrite it.” I taught a brief intro to revision a couple of weekends ago. There wasn’t nearly enough time. I like to teach this part of the writing process hands-on, over several hours at the very least. An entire day as part of a retreat is best–that way writers can bring in their WIPs and dig into the techniques, fussing about until they figure out how some if it works best for them. But the response to our limited time at this conference was overwhelming positive, regardless, and I promised my students I’d get more specific out here in my How We Write blog category. So…here ’tis. More details to come in the following weeks. Then maybe we’ll tackle my approach to planning through character. But let’s start with my very favorite thing–rewriting!


Like the above quote says, no book’s done with just a single draft in your pocket. Not even two drafts, if you aks me. You’re not done, just because you have your first thoughts down on paper (or in the computer). Once you’ve got that good stuff behind you, it’s time to make it even better!

Feeling a little cranky yourself yet?

Yeah, this motivational post is going to be a little heavier on the tough love than most.

Finishing  your first draft is just the beginning. It’s merely the end of your planning. For those of you who don’t outline your plot and character ahead of time (I’m shaking my head now. Can you hear the tense spots in my neck popping while I do it?), the draft is your only planning. But for even those of us who put serious thought into what we’re going to write before we actually do, we still don’t know for SURE what’s going to happen until that magical creative thing that is putting words onto paper happens, and the story itself takes over.

I’m a firm believer in the creative flow of drafting. The power of discovery. The synergy of planning and experience and momentum combining to create something magical. BUT… That something magical, that completed draft, is only the beginning. It’s not everything it could be. It’s not ready to leave your mind and your heart behind. It’s not all it can be. Which means, it’s time for the REAL work to begin…

Kaplan tells us that ”You need three things to be a good fiction writer…talent…a knowledge of craft…and just as necessary, a devotion to revision, to the merciless re-working of your writing until it is the best it can be.” And he (and Jenni and I) aren’t talking about looking for typos or grammar errors or tweaking your prose so it pops just so, though all that’s important eventually.

What I teach to craft students is re-writing, not copy editing or proof reading. (more…)

The Soul of the Matter: Suck it up. This is life. Live it out loud!

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” we want to say some days. A lot of days lately. For so many people I know, this is a year of volatile change and redirection. “Enough is enough,” a lot of us have insisted, bending beneath the pressure but refusing to break. “I just want a little peace…” Understandable, unless what you’re saying is that you’d rather go back than forward. Reasonable, unless what you’re thinking is that the change is what’s crushing your sense of stability. It’s not. Life has gotten very real for a whole lot of my friends and family. It’s not at the moment something we can sit back and appreciate as we sip our coffee or toast with a glass of wine. It’s in our faces and demanding our attention and dragging us into its momentum as it shouts for us to wake up and LIVE!

you've got to be kidding me

Oh, come on. This is what we’re here for, right? To learn and grow and change and see what we’re meant to become next. It’s easy. To change jobs (or publishers) over and over until you find the right fit (hopefully…this time…), and somehow find a way to feel grateful that you have a job/publisher when so many others don’t. To pay all your bills as the teenager grows ever older and more of a money pit and to see your savings and retirement shrink because of the rising cost of living and the dwindling interest rates and volatile returns on stock market investments. To accept that retirement might be as far away a date for you now as it was when you first entered the workforce, but again, you’re working so keep you mind on the present and celebrate that joyous fact that the dollar you earn today is worth about a third of that first dollar you brought home straight out of college.

It’s easy to face all that and feel warm and fuzzy about your crumbling spot on the ledge overlooking the abyss, right? RIGHT?!

Josy and Pussycats

Yeah, I feel it too. That pinch. That pressure. That sense that everything’s spinning and spiralling and I’m clinging to my balance and putting everything I have into merely staying on my feet. But that’s reality, my friends. That’s what being alive feels like right now. That’s the world we’re living in, and we ARE lucky to be living it. To have choices and to have jobs and publishers and financial resources to compete for. 

The world can look grim all it wants to, but I tell myself every morning that I don’t have to see things that way. (more…)

How We Write: When we don’t wanna!

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

When you’re a tech writer, you learn you have to have head’s-down writing days. Whether you’re in a busy office or working at home and everyone’s pinging you on your laptop through your DSL or whatever and the phone won’t stop ringing, you have to learn how to tell everyone that you can’t chat today, or do lunch, or even make a hour-long meeting that should only take fifteen minutes. You have a certain number of pages to get done to stay on your project plan, and that’s just the way it’s going  to be. You’re not moving from your desk or even going to try and pretend to be social until they’re done.

Fiction writers need head’s-down days, too. I was talking with someone yesterday about meeting daily page count goals. If I could do it writing 600 pg. security administration guides (brain damge would be a more interesting pursuit), I can damn well do it writing something fun like how to make dreams leathal or how to kill a bad guy with a Yoo-hoo-spewing vending machine (don’t ask). Your daily fiction writing goal is your professional project. If you have to, make a formal plan to track it. Then follow the plan. Even if you think you can’t be creative today. Of course you can be creative. You’re a creative writer. It’s you job. DO IT.

writer defined

Sorry for yelling. I’m on target to write more this year than I have in the last two years combined, and I think it’s getting to me

AND I know it’s not that simple. We all have lives, and some of us (me included) work at home and that comes with a whole other world of distractions. But be committed to your page count. To your story. It has to be a priority. Otherwise, you’re not giving your creative job your all. And it will show in the characters and plot you develop. (more…)

The Soul of the Matter: Milestones and pushing beyond them…

Friday, August 17th, 2012

Whatever your long-term goal, meeting short-term milestones is the key to success. As is  enduring between them. The troughs between the high points is where it’s easiest to quit. Our souls are most vulnerable there. Our love for competing with ourselves is most at risk. It’s these between places where we’re more likely to hit a wall we feel we can’t possible scale…

hitting the wall woman

I’ve achieved several of work/book milestones the first half of 2012: getting back under contract; finishing novels; building up the editing side of my business; rediscovering what feeds me as an artists and committing myself to that journey above all else.

Personally, there have been even more highs: 21st wedding anniversary; my teenager’s success in his 3rd semester of high school, his kick-ass internship, his (waaaaaaa!) obtaining his driver’s license and next step toward freedom; my getting a handle on the health issues that have ground most everything else into the dust for 3 years and owning, along with my artistic inspiration, what will be required likely for the rest of my life to keep me thriving.

Startling progress for six months of living, particularly after the slow down that became my 2010 and 2011… Then I hit a wall in July that narrowed my focus to quite honestly getting through the next minute, next hour, next day, next deadline. So help me God, I was going to get through! And I did. Where, exactly, did July and the first part of August go?

hitting the wall sculpture

No wonder all I want to do right now is sit in a corner and quietly, passively, watch the world go by.

Like with the distance runners and swimmers we cheered on in the Olympics, just before and just after a peak in performance we’re exhausted as our bodies and minds are wanting to let down. We’re inspired, yes, but often least able to believe that pushing through MUST be done before all else. Our focus is skewed toward a short-term goal, and we begin to wander, to wonder, to miss the point0–that the journey is key, not the result. (more…)

How We Write: Drafting and Revising, Heaven or Hell?

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

I’m a geeky, analysis-loving writer. I live to plan and revise. Drafting–NOT so much my happy place. While I’m drafting, I must continually slap my hand and let go of the overly organized stuff my brain prefers. So nix on clinging to the forms and charts that I’ve filled out and used to rough out my characters and plot. It’s the only way I ever get a draft done–I have to trust my instincts and my planning and let myself go–to PLAY.  Writing is improvisation. It’s playing. I’ve being asked a lot about my process as I do the blog tour for my latest release–here’s some of the high points about my drafting process.

draft free

Drafting is hell for me…until that ugly first draft is done. Then it becomes heaven, because now I have some place to start to REALLY craft a story I’ll love. Believe me, this is a dynamic that won’t change for my process. I just sent the first draft of my Christmas on Mimosa Lane to my Montlake editor after working on it FOREVER and much longer than I was supposed to have to write it (BLESS my editor and agent for being so patient while I tackled such a complex story), and only now do I really see the potential and beauty of what I’ll ge to work with through the editorial revision process.

And I’ve revised the entire thing myself something like 15 or 20 times already. The ending chapters–I must have rewritten them at least 10 times in the last few weeks. Character arcs–each one has been obsessed over. Subplots–do they reflect the main? Secondary characters–do they have their own story to tell, as well as playing into the central plot’s overall themes? Setting–how well have I show the reader what I need to, so hopefully she’ll feel what my characters are feeling within their world? And on and on… All because of the momentum I allow to build as I draft freely, and the notes I keep so I can come back and rip everything apart once I have a big picture of the entire story.

I draft (from a proposal synopsis and around three chapters) forward without stopping. No going back. No letting myself fix things or revise. Not until I reach the end. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be an end. (more…)

How We Write: Don’t Overwork Your Muse…

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

What do you do when your muse deserts you? What keeps you going when today’s tight market seems to be saying you should give it up? I’m on vacataion this week. And, yes, working a bit while I’m here. But first and foremost, I’m taking some much-needed downtime to recharge and prepare for the next big push in my job–which is waiting for me a soon as I step off the plane in Atlanta. I better be ready to go when I get back, but how exactly do I make that happen, and how do I keep from getting even more burned out?

Well, for me butteflies work…

butterfly farm blue

But maybe not so much for everyone else ;o)

The midlist is dying, we’re told. The task of getting the right manuscript on the right desk at the right time and selling a book has never seemed more Herculean. The average writer watches seven to ten years go by before she publishes her first manuscript. With odds like that, is it any real shock that from time to time the excitement that once inspired you to keep going just up and vanishes? We’ve all been there.
And let’s face it, nothing feels worse than to find yourself stuck in the quagmire you affectionately call your *%#$! work-in-progress, meanwhile everyone around you is effortlessly producing at Mach 3. You used to be producing, too. But now, plucking a fresh description or an unforgettable character out of what was once your boundless creativity is about as effortless as pulling a splinter from your hysterical six-year-old’s fingernail. There’s lots of screaming and tears involved, lots of wasted time trying to pin the little bugger down, only to have him scoot away just as you’re starting to make real progress. Finally at the end of your rope, you give up wrestling and wonder if you’ll ever be able to get the darn thing out.
So how do you recapture your muse?

The Soul of the Matter/How We Write: Calming and Nurturing Yourself

Monday, June 11th, 2012

I read an article recently that suggests that while the tendency toward having a depressive personality can be hereditary, how that part of your psyche manifests itself depends a lot on whether you were raised in a conflict/anxiety-driven home environment or a calming/nurturing one. Heh. Guess what the growing up years were like for this curly-haired bruentte  whose happy-ending stories begin with broken characters who are worlds apart from each other and their hearts desire, forcing them to fight the entire book for that loving, sigh-worthy place waiting in their Emerald City?


Yeah, so it’s no mystery that dark and angsty writers tend not to come from the most warm and fuzzy of family bosoms. Then again, neither have a lot of the romantic comedy writers you love. The difference between them and me, I think, is that I find catharsis in facing the shadows within. While the lighter writers I admire heal by focusing on the good without, to get them through the tougher stuff. As many a wise person has said over the years–there are many roads to Oz.

Still, as I look at my body of work or even my current projects (a heroine with amnesia that must remember her troubled past to save her life–June 15th Dead Sexy release; a heroine just out of an abusive marriage who must face the emotional trauma she’s running from in order to save an abused little boy–July Heartwarming release; and a heroine who grew up homeless who must face the mother who abandoned her and give up her dreams of making the past better in order to have the future she’s always longed for–October Montlake release), the patterns are there and a little staggering.

I’m a woman dealing with what a lot of us do as adults–the fact that as children we weren’t loved and nurtured that we should have been by those who “took care of us.” The result–we live life too often still feeling abandoned, and frequently expect our friends and loved ones to chose to protect themselves whenever we most desperately need them to help us.

I write about strong heroines and protective heroes–but my mind doesn’t seem to be satisfied with simply brushing over the darkness that calls these characters to fight their epic battles. I evidently need to explore those places and spaces in my character’s (and my own) mind that are holding them (and me) back. My writing, I’ve come to realize–my creating–is about learning how to fight for the nurturing and care that I need, right along with my protagonist.


I’ve been described as a hopeful, inspiring writer, one who lifts readers up through realistic journeys that make you feel as if you, too, will find a happy ending at the conclusion of your battles. (more…)

The Soul of the Matter: Give ‘Em Hell…

Saturday, June 2nd, 2012

“If you fall pick yourself up off the floor (get  up). And when your bones can’t take no more (c’mon), just remember what you’re here for… Give ‘em hell, turn their heads. Gonna life life ’til we’re dead. Give me scares, give me pain. Then they’ll say of me… There goes the fighter… Here comes the fighter… This one’s a fighter.” ~~Gym Class Heroes, ft. Ryan Teddar, The Fighter

Watch this video. Listen to the song. Find all the lyrics and read them. Then do it all again.

“There’s no reason you should ever have your head down… It’s gonna take a couple right hooks, a few left jabs. For you to recognize you really ain’t got it so bad…”

gym class heroes

It’s been a long week, and I’m being torn in about ten directions at once. But I’m living a life I’d only dreamed of ten years ago. And this is my time to shine, fight, work through the bruises and the challenges, come out swinging despite the obstacles, and give ‘em hell!

Here’s hoping you do as well ;o)

How We Write: Women…

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

You wanna sell in romance and women’s fiction, give your heroine a strong hook. But don’t make her too damsel in distress, don’t make her too bitchy, don’t make her so smart she’s bossy, don’t make her too dumb, and don’t, don’t, don’t do anything to run away the average reader who buys the majority of books like the one you want to sell. Or should you? Because if she’s a down-the-middle kind of gal, where’s the hook? I’m just askin’.

In my Naked Hero blog post yesterday (over there I’m the Goddess of Mischief), a bunch of us chatted about favorite hero attributes. Now it’s the girls turn. And while I’m all for pleasing the reader, it can get a little crazy-making, talking with a publishers and editors about what they’re looking for in a heroine, what makes them want to pull their hair out about an over-used cliche, or want to smack a whiny leading lady, or turn a book down flat, because the female protagonist, in their opinion,  just won’t sell to readers, she’s just not what most everyone is looking for in an easy read like a romance.

Okay, but what about the widow of a defunked televangelist. A man who was exposed as a lying, cheating sinner, run out of town, on the lamb from the law, then turned up dead, leaving his wife and son destitute and at the mercy of the small town he swindeled?

Dream a Little Dream

Or a former snotty, priviledged, cruel small-town beauty queen who’s fallen on bad times and wants to make amends/start over, only no one’s buying it? (more…)

How We Write: Focus, goal, distraction, KNOCK IT OFF…

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

We’re creative creatures, writers. We’re artists. We want to imagine our worlds into being what we need them to be, how we need them to feel, and we need others to share in that vision, to see us. Unfortunately, for those of us who want to make a living from our art, we typically need to do all of that on deadline. And there’s the rub. A brief workadayreads interview with me went up yesterday, talking more about the business/insides of writing than my recent guest posts, so take a look. Then shoot back over here, and lets get down to the nitty gritty of how to focus when you have to. Because you have to. No matter how much you love your story or characters or your readers, this writing/creating gig becomes a job at some point, and if you can’t focus your energy on your creating long enough to actually create something on deadline, you’ll be writing for yourself and friends for a long, long time–but the new hearts and souls that you could have reached with your work won’t ever get to share in your creative journey.


Think of focus as a tool. A zoom lens. It’s the determination that you will get whatever you need to get done today, DONE TODAY. In however much time you have, you will make the impossible happen. Because you have to. Even if what needs to be done is an intensely personal, creative thing. Even if it’s like pouring your heart or rage or fear or insecurities onto a page, that’s your job today. And you’re focusing until your job is done.

focus goals

Your goal must remain your focus until you reach, well, your goal. Sounds easy, right? RIGHT.

Today, my goal is to get to the midpoint turning point of my book, (more…)