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I Love Trees, and other disclaimers

choose joy

So I’m way behind (two months, in fact) on check-ins with the #WIPMarathon gang, and I haven’t just blogged to blog in donkey’s years (real time, a few months). I’ve been buried in my current manuscript, as well as summer travels, and a decision that seems increasingly weightier every time I peer at it. Sideways.

But now’s the time to sort that out. Summer’s always my busiest time of year since that’s when we tend to cram in all the trips. July was the most incredible (I mean that literally; I couldn’t believe how much I fit in) month, and I can tell you that easily because I recently invested in one of these:

http://www.passionplanner.com/

I had to order it from the States but it was well worth it. I like lists and organising and planning, and I’ve tried any number of diaries and planners over the past two decades (I was very fastidious with my planning back in high school, too!), but this one is TRUE LOVE.

I won’t go into all the reasons why — check it out for yourself — but suffice it to say it shows me at a glance how I’m doing this week, asks me questions, gives me encouraging quotes, and does it all in a neat, tidy, professional-looking package (without being sterile-looking).

Anyhow, back to July! When I answered my questions about how July went, how I felt about it, etc., I was BLOWN AWAY by how much I accomplished in the month! It’s my favourite month, I suppose rather egotistically because my birthday’s in it (even though these days, the idea of no longer being 25 freaks me right out), but also because it’s summer and reminds me of all the fun childhood summer adventures I had.

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This July, though. My husband and I played in TWO separate outdoor volleyball tournaments with our friendly club (the Horfield Hornets), Wick and Whitefield in the Bristol area. Between those two weekends, I went to Falmouth, Cornwall (where I attended uni) on a solo writing break for 4 nights, had the most glorious (distracting) weather, and edited about 50k words.

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The next free weekend, we went to the west coast of Wales for my birthday present (my husband is the most thoughtful guy ever), which was a day photography course with this guy:

http://www.andydavies.info/pages/workshops/skomer.html

We took a small boat to Skomer Island and I learned some new tips for using my DSLR to photograph wildlife, specifically, puffins (and how I love puffins… and taking photos of them; my patronus is a puffin). So that was magical.

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And in the midst of all of that, I finished 2 passes on my manuscript and got to host one of my dear uni friends for 2 weeks while she was doing a course nearby.

And all sorts of other things went down. I had my first (and I would love to say, last) MRI! I was forced to remove the belly button piercing I’ve had in since I was 22! (and put it back in immediately afterwards). I went bowling and beat my husband 179 to 177! (He wins at every game and sport ever ever ever). All KINDS of jolly japes!

We were in the VIP pit at Taylor Swift’s first ever concert in Scotland, in Glasgow, and she was adorable and sweet and entertaining as always (oops, that was June, but here’s a photo anyhow):

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Admiring her outfit as much as I was.

Needless to say, been a bit busy! But regarding…

WIP MARATHON!

I can’t really add my check-ins for June and July now, but I will say this. Trees. I love them. I wish Ents were real. Trees make this world marvellous, and I’m happiest when I’m in (or near) a forest. But I’ve gotta say, I’ve just learned the secret to editing (for me) is printing the manuscript.

That’s right. I’m on manuscript #4 and have never printed that bad boy off before, but I’ve done it now, three rounds on the current manuscript, and taken each to Staples for a cheap comb binding. And the number of invaluable changes I’ve made because I’ve seen it all on paper is beyond counting.

The proof!
The proof!

I try to utilise as much paper space as possible, so I set the page horizontally, make two columns, font size to 11, and single-spaced. Some people might say this’ll drive them cross-eyed, but it works for me. It looks (somewhat) like a real book, and that tricks my mind into seeing so much more than on the screen. Even my with massive Apple Thunderbolt screen.

I’ve read for years the tip about printing your MS and editing on paper, but until I actually did it, I sorely undervalued it. I did two drafts and two passes on Scrivener, received feedback from my crit partners, made those changes, all before printing off the first hard copy. It seems like a lot of work looking back, but I’m lip-bitingly optimistic that this has saved me a lot more work, given the endless revisions I did on previous manuscripts.

So, fellow WIPMarathoners, if I have any tip from the past two months to share, that’s it. If you’re like me and just smile and nod when people say that but have never actually tried it, I highly recommend giving it a shot once.

Of course, as with everything in the romantic and whimsical dreamscape that is the writer’s life (yeah, I know), what works for one doesn’t work for another. There is no secret recipe, but for me this has been a massive boost.

Until next time, enjoy the rest of your August!

The Scotsman and I had theme shirts this year. If you know these names, big-ass batch of brownie points to YOU. (Best ep ever).
The Scotsman and I had theme shirts this year. If you know these names, big-ass batch of brownie points to YOU. (Best ep ever).
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Summer’s Not Over!

I’m in denial. It’s supposed to get up to 75 here on Wednesday, so while the calendar may say September (and for #Writemotivation purposes, I’ll acknowledge it ;)), in my heart it’s still summer.

Lovely new path along Loch Shiel in the Scottish Highlands

As for #Writemotivation for August, I kind of bombed. Another last-minute trip to the States happened (for 2 weeks) and then the day after I returned, the Scotsman and I drove up to Scotland for the bank holiday and had an eventful trip. This meant my goals weren’t met, but you better believe I’m going to rock September (I have to, otherwise I may never forgive myself).

So! Without further adieu, my goals for September #Writemotivation are:

1. Finish WIP revisions. I’ve already promised one CP to have this done by this coming Friday. I’m on track with the edits I did today, but am realising I need to cut about 24k MORE. I think I’ve already cut over 30k, but the more I read, the more I hear that adult fantasy should ideally be around 80-90k. I wish there was a definitive answer on this, but as with so many things in publishing, of course there’s not. Some people say 100k is acceptable, but I think it just depends on the agent and then the publisher. Since I don’t have an agent yet, I’m still trying desperately to do everything I can to attract one, and if that means slicing another 20k off my WIP, so be it.

2. Send to CPs. Planning to do this by Saturday.

3. Get back to routine! Did pretty good today, but got a bit more distracted then I’d like.

4. WF x5. Done already! I may even send more. Look out!! I’m on FI-YUHHH…

In other writing news, I received the most encouraging email this past week that lifted my heart out of the dark place it’s been hiding with regards to this for awhile. To me it meant, “Don’t give up.” I think hearing those words every now and then along this journey is like water in the desert. Enough to keep me going.

Hope your September is off to a fantastic start. Enjoy the weather, the outdoors, and whatever goals you have this month 🙂

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Cut the writing flab, unpack the muscle. Very tricky.

I met another one of my favourite authors recently. I just had to put that out there right away! Diana Gabaldon is AMAAAAAZING! (See below photo).

Okay, I’m behind on my #Writemotivation updates, as usual, but this is a habit I must break! So quickly, here’s where I stand, in the midst of a last-minute trip back to New York to visit family:

1. Complete LitReactor course and apply to WIP for a CP-ready draft.writemotivation_header1-36217_186x186
Completed the course and got some very encouraging words from the teacher, John Skipp. My summary of the course below.
2. Polish WIP synopsis. Working on this.
3. Keep up better with #Writemotivation cheering. Trying to! Shouldn’t be as hard as I’m in EST time zone right now, but visiting family takes precedence, but I cheer here & there where I can! You guys are ALL doing way better than I 🙂
4. WF x3. Hope to do this this week.

I admire people (*cough* KT *cough) who plow through edits regardless of what busy-ness life throws at them. When I’m travelling, I tend to lose focus; late nights are key when everyone’s asleep, but that means editing with my eyelids propped up by toothpicks. Must practice this technique.

Now, on to my experience with the LitReactor 2-week course entitled Lean, Mean Writin’ Machine.

As with most things writing-related, two unplanned events took place during the course of the 2 weeks that kept me from giving it my full attention (a friend visited from abroad, and then *I* went abroad). I made the most of it though, read as many of the other students’ stories as I could and commented on their revisions. I loved it because everyone was supportive of one another and shared some great suggestions. Everyone brought a fantastic idea to the table, and John Skipp was honest, blunt, witty, and insightful. I highly recommend any of his future classes. He says it like it is, but will tell you what he likes, too. There were a few “lectures” as well as discussions where John posted brief articles about how to tighten and cut your work down to fighting form.

This appealed because I’m struggling to find a balance between unpacking dialogue tags, adverbs and adjectives, and keeping work – especially action scenes – punchy and uncluttered. John is a master at this. He took one student’s scene and cut it down expertly without losing the heart of it, giving a template for my own assignments. Even though this was stuff I knew intellectually, being part of an online class made me whip both scenes into much tighter shape. I lost the flab.

A few items of note:

  • Cut to the chase. Literally. I don’t know why, but hearing this rusty old phrase hit me hard. In a pivotal action scene near the climax of my WIP, this was well-timed advice. I’ve got so many great big blobs of introspective hoo-haw in the midst of what should be a nerve-wracking, page-turning scene. Skipp pointed out that this stuff needs to go before or after the scene. Not in the midst. DUH!
  • Cut soft, weak words. Again. Obvious. But somehow these are words I find again and again in my revising. Examples from submitted work were things like, “and then,” “nearby” (as in “the nearby tree”), “simple”, “single” (as in, “a single bloody scrape”).
  • Foreshadow. It was brought to my attention that an action in my scene that seemed impossible and would make the reader go, “Yeah, right,” would easily be made believable had I foreshadowed it and how it might happen. A character was bound with ropes and I overlooked how I could show him a few paragraphs earlier inching his way forward and how he was moving to use his ropes to strangle another character. But before I foreshadowed, it seemed to just come out of nowhere. It didn’t even occur to me because *I* could picture it. Another reminder that my job is to make readers see and believe. Not just dump the stuff that’s in my head on the page.
  • Don’t forget sensory details. I fear being verbose so much that sometimes I skip even the most basic smell/sound/feel of things that would help the reader connect with the setting and the moment. Gotta work on this.

Conversely, there’s been conversations among #Writemotivation people on our +Google community (come join us!) as well as on some other websites lately about “unpacking” our prose. This article by Chuck Palahniuk says rather than writing, “Tom hated Mary,” we should unpack this to describe Tom’s facial expressions when Mary enters the room, how he rolls his eyes or moves to the opposite side, or exits the room entirely, clenching his fists or tightening his jaw. Interesting article.

But the advice is tricky to put into practice if you’re an unpublished author looking for representation. Yes, we want to show not tell as much as possible, but there has to be a balance, right? Skipp’s class was about losing the flab. This article is about gaining inches of muscle. So we should lose the flab (weak, soft words) and gain muscle (unpacked showing rather than telling). But doesn’t “writing muscle” in a kind of way leave us in a similar position as the “writing flab” that we want to eliminate? Both take up precious space on the page. Obviously muscle’s preferable. But it still adds heavily to our word count.

Example: if Diana Gabaldon was trying to get agent representation for OUTLANDER/CROSS STITCH in August 2013, she’d have to cut about 220,000 words first. And it’s all muscle.

Sunday I was lucky to hear Diana speak at the Fergus Scottish Festival in Ontario, which I found out was taking place (2 hours away) near my hometown as I was en route from the UK. She was on my “hope to meet someday” list but I didn’t expect it so soon!

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She was lovely, generous, and full of anecdotes. She mentioned that OUTLANDER is, I believe, 305k. I would never begrudge her a single of the exquisite words in any of her books. She’s successfully unpacked her captivating descriptions of everything from medical procedures performed in the 18th century to detailed character studies in every scene.

But we’re being told these days that 120k is the maximum for adult fantasy. 100k is more like it. 80k would really be best. How on earth will a debut author ever get a novel as richly painted as Diana’s on the shelves again, unless s/he first has wild success with something more akin to a novella by comparison?

It’s disheartening, but makes me realise the importance of striking a balance. Sometimes you need the, “Tom hated Mary” sentences. Boom. There it is. Sometimes you need the, “As soon as Mary entered the room, Tom set down his beer and excused himself from conversation. His jaw ached from clenching it. His first free night in weeks now ruined. Memories of their last conversation flashed in his mind, how her smug features set his nostrils flaring. He couldn’t make a scene here. He grabbed his coat and took the back door.” (Whatever. Please excuse the off-the-cuff verbiage).

Do you sacrifice word building and character exploration in order to “unpack” every dialogue tag or clipped phrase possible, thereby cutting down on actual story in order to SDT? There’s got to be a happy medium, but in this day and age when production costs and bookshelf space are primary concerns over story (and I do get the financial side of it… sort of), it seems like we’re being given very dicey parameters.

Having just finished a course about tightening your prose, I think a lot depends on genre, style, and voice. Maybe alternating clipped phrases with more illustrative actions. But I *don’t* think we need waffling on about Tom’s every body function that spells out his hatred for her when we could just say, “Tom’s disdain for Mary knew no bounds,” but I think maybe it’s all about context. In other words, there is no hard and fast rule. Don’t use “said” for every dialogue tag in the world, but we don’t need three sentences to avoid using an adverb.

Any thoughts? I’m still kind of baffled by it all, but it’s something worth thinking about. (Though perhaps, not too hard ;))

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IWSG First Wednesday of September – Structural Renovation

This is my second monthly Insecure Writer’s Support Group post, which you can read more about here. It’s all about sharing fears and concerns with other writers, and cheering each other along. As a fairly anxious one myself at the moment, it’s nice to read others’ blogs and see we all go through similar things on our journeys! (Though I wouldn’t wish some of my paranoid worries on others 😉

Right now is also a #Writemotivation goal month (see my last post) and I’ve pledged to get about 28k written on my WIP which is rolling merrily along at the moment. However, as fortune would have it, a lovely friend gave me some much-needed feedback on MS#1, so I jumped on the chance to make changes.

At first it was like looking at a cluttered attic and having no clue where to start to get it organised. I *thought* I was done. I *thought* it was ready. I think it’s come a really long way in the 6-7 years it’s been kicking around, and I’ve re-written the thing from scratch twice. This time it just needs tweaking, shifting, and a few new scenes added to replace some hangers-on that were simply in the mix because of their age, not because they necessarily added anything.

So, Leigh, a massive thank you!

My current thought (I won’t say worry, but…) is simply changing things that have been in this story for so long. Darlings, I suppose. To me, anyhow. It’s like removing supports in a house you’re renovating… which ones are really necessary to keep the structure sound, and which ones are just decoration? 
When I was 7, my family was renovating our 100-year-old house and turning the main bottom floor room, which was a gravel garage, into a family room. There were a few poles, one metal pipe and a support in the middle of the room. I wasn’t old enough to know that they could figure out which could go and which needed to stay, but I remember vaguely having nightmares that the house would collapse if they took the wrong one down (so they might, y’know, need my help figuring it out to make sure).

I definitely don’t need my story to collapse! I’m so ready to be done, and by ready, I mean, THIS MONTH, for real, polished and done. I believe in this story, but I needed the beta feedback, and I’m grateful to others reading it now as well. I think everything I’m targeting is frivolous, and drags the story down. But I guess I’ll find out if it still holds up when I send a final draft to some betas!

Have you had experience taking out long-standing scenes that you took for granted? How did you feel afterwards? I feel a bit like I’m cutting limbs off, but I think they’re superfluous limbs. 🙂

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ChristMAS is all around us…

A Christmasy view from Glen Nevis, Scotland

First off, Christmas is soon, so MERRY CHRISTMAS (that’s right, I didn’t say “Happy Holidays”) and I hope you (yes, you!) have a fantastic time with lots of cookies, food, drink, people, presents, movies, books.. whatever your thing is for this time of year. Since I’ve jumped the gun on my annual LOTR-marathon thanks to the new Blu-ray and home cinema my fiance’ recently bought (we had to test it out the best way I knew how 😉 I’ll be pulling out my other holiday favourites: Love Actually (who can resist Bill Nighy trying to get his Christmas number 1’s rhythm correct?), It’s a Wonderful Life, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and The Snowman.

One of my favourite gifts from last year was not the wine that came in this (though that was good, too!) but the Santa-wine-snuggie itself.

I plan to do a lot of writing over the season since we’re headed up to Scotland for 18 days and likely to be snowed in once we get there. *rolls up sleeves* Perfect time to make some killer headway on my work-in-progress, a fantasy (possibly YA, but still working that out… bit hazy as the MC is 17, but it’s not really focused on YA-type situations so much as her specific situation.. anyhow, more on that later) set in what might’ve once been Britain but is now very much overrun with magic gone wild, snarky unicorns, sexy hags (you read that right), and a desperate attempt to find a cure for the MC’s hometown, centuries-old magical plague that’s imprisoned them on their ruined island.

AND for fantastic news on a great Christmas contest, check out C.A. Marshall’s website: http://www.camarshall.com/.

It’s “Editing Advent 2011” and she has graciously been giving a winner an editing prize a day! Go enter! And while you’re at it, check out her website, too. I just stumbled over this inspirational post of hers – there are many more!

On that note, I should get back to my WIP. Hope you have a lovely Christmas season <3

Yes, I have a giant red plush crab who likes to wear a Santa hat this time of year. Isn’t he the sweetest?
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