Borrowing Light.

This week I received two fantastic emails. One was from a friend I’ve never met, who ironically lived in two cities I lived in, but never when I was living there, and now he lives in one of them again. The other was from a writing instructor from a workshop I participated in awhile back. Sometimes you hear just what you need, when you need it, and I’m so grateful for it.

I asked for honest advice, and I received it – and it surprised the heck out of me. They both believe in me, and neither one gains anything from it – one’s not a writer but a reader, and the other is a bestselling author, so I don’t think they need my feedback on their work. 😉

Because writing can be so solitary, it’s heartwarming to find you’re not just wandering around in the dark on your own, fumbling from one attempt to the next, being a harsher critic on yourself than anyone else. There are others out there, and sometimes their lights are better to see by than your own. Just want to encourage you not to feel like no one will understand, because it’s simply not true.

Thanks, friends. You know who you are. 🙂

One a similar note, I made a new friend today, on Twitter. We’ve followed each other for awhile, both writers working on non-conformist fantasies (haha), and her attitude really encouraged me on this drizzly, 58-degree-typical-British-weather day.

I took this photo only 3 weeks ago, in Glenfinnan, Scotland where I’d stripped down from a jumper, scarf, and hiking trousers to shorts and a tank top by 10 a.m. I’m going to pretend it’s still this marvellous outside.

Loch Shiel, Scottish Highlands
Loch Shiel, Glenfinnan, Scottish Highlands

#WriteMotivation Update

I won’t bother to re-list my writing goals for the month, suffice it to say I ACTUALLY FINISHED THEM in the first week. I’ve spent this past week entering a few contests (and not the online variety), making notes for and researching my next story, and reading. Currently on C.J. Sansom’s DISSOLUTION, and really enjoying it. Hoping to read and enjoy (rather than plow through, which never does me any good) more books this month than I have in awhile. 

Have a great week, and I wish for you a bit of light that fills a dark corner when you least expect it. 🙂

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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!

Fergus Scottish Festival - 18

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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July Write Motivation Wrap-Up

Where did July go? That was fast!

I didn’t finish all my goals, but I did pretty good. Here are the last two, modified:

2. Read-through of revision changes. This became, “Revise in entirety.” I’m going through, much quicker this time, catching silly errors and continuity problems, addressing a small laundry list of items to change. Still, being away for my birthday weekend kept me from getting as much done as I planned. Realistically, I hope to have this revision done by mid-August now. And then I’ll be able to do the following:
3. Send to 2 betas/CPs.

Birthday walk along the north Cornwall coast
Birthday walk along the north Cornwall coast

So it puts a bit of a wrench in my stated August goals, but I decided at the last minute to sign up for a LitReactor class for two weeks, starting last week, and that’s helping me with my revisions so I don’t mind the delay so much!

I signed up for their women’s fiction class a few months back but it was cancelled at the last minute, so I was excited to find this one – about making your prose leaner – as it’ll apply to both my current manuscripts. I’ll report back on how it went at the end! The instructor is lovely and encouraging and the other students all have such varied and fascinating stories to tell. Really enjoying it so far! (though I *am* behind…)

Hope all your goals went smoothly this month! Bring on August 🙂

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Writemotivation Update – a little late!

“But it’s Friday, not Monday!” you say.

Currently, the UK is suffering enjoying a glorious heatwave and nearly 3-week stretch of blue skies, sun, and 75-80 degree temps. My Weatherbug app currently tells me it’s 82 in Portishead. AMAZING. There have been short splashes of such loveliness over the past 6 years I’ve lived here; our wedding last year enjoyed summer-like qualities. But to go for this long without rain or clouds or the typical British chill has been so welcome!

FYI, this isn’t the UK. It’s Allegany State Park on our June visit.

It’s also made it difficult to focus for long indoors. Our flat has windows on only one wall and therefore little circulation, and of course, no AC. I am NOT complaining because this is the kind of weather I’m made for 🙂 but it does explain why I’ve been somewhat sluggish online.

So without further adieu, here is my update to Writemotivation July’s butt-kicking:

1. Finish paper revision of WIP. Done!
2. Read-through of revision changes. This has become, “Revise in entirety.” I’m going through, much quicker this time, catching silly errors and continuity problems, addressing a small laundry list of items to change, and I’ll get through this before the month’s end. Fingers crossed.
3. Send to 2 betas/CPs. This should happen by the end of the month, I hope!
4. Beta reading for J & A. Done! Now on to L’s MS which I’m 40% through 🙂
5. SOMEBODY new version x 5. Done!
6. Draft WIP synopsis. Done! And I’m pleased to say, I mustered the guts to share both with a CP.

So that’s it! We’re off to play volleyball in the 80-degree temps! Stay cool, people 🙂 Good luck with your monthly goals, if you’re taking part in #Writemotivation!

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