Reflections on Resolutions and Writing

‘Tis the season.

What does your season look like?

It’s December, and I’m running around with holiday madness. I don’t have the time to remember my gift list let alone what I did or didn’t accomplish this year. In fact, if hadn’t written them down, I’d have forgotten I even had thoughts to change my world.

I don’t believe in resolutions. Too often they’re wishes without a specific plan for success. That’s why I embraced my writers’ group commitment to three Non-Resolutions for 2015. The challenge was to identify the “specific and concrete” steps to “improve yourself as a writer.” I did this thinking it a simple challenge something specific and easy it’s the end of the year, tis the season to look ahead while looking back. so I share my successes and failures in life, the universe and everything else.

How did I do? Let’s just say I take ownership of my actions and my non-actions. These were my commitments:

1.(A) Find an editor and (B) publish my memoir before June 2015.

Nope. Nope, nope, nope. Not even close. Every time I sat down to edit, thinking the book just needed some tweaking, I found a jumble of sentence fragments and missplelled words instead. I suspected that organizing the non-chronological series of vignettes was the problem. I came up with creative ways to procrastination. I read blog posts by fiction and nonfiction writers to learn how they handled organization. I read a memoir to see how it was organized. I found checklists to follow, but still my story didn’t flow.

That got me thinking about format and tools to ease my struggles. I purchased Scrivener, a software program has a “corkboard” to organize my thoughts and scenes so I can rearrange as often as needed with a swift swipe of my mouse. This is a useful procrastination, I told myself. I spent two weeks slugging through the detailed tutorial and then hit a snag with the program. I set it aside in frustration to continue after November’s NaNoWriMo. It’s December and is still untouched.

2.Explore at least one new book/genre and revisit an old favorite.

This was a flop. Aside from reading that one memoir early in the year, I didn’t finish another book.

 

I started what I presumed was “an old favorite” but it wasn’t as interesting as I remembered. I found a sci-fi book that both Mom and I read. I committed to read it at night, maybe not every night, but I put it and a spare pair of reading glasses on my nightstand for convenience. The only space available was at the edge, so the book is too far to reach, and my clumsy, ill-fitting dollar store glasses are awkward to wear. I have made reading more complicated than it should be.

3.Set aside time to journal at least once a month.

I accomplished this! I may have skipped weeks at a time, but I wrote more, that I know. That I feel.  I mingled my thoughts with blog posts and ideas, sprinkled between to-do lists and notes from writers’ conferences and meetings. I rediscovered that I write more fluidly by hand, so I spent more time journaling just for the fun and love of writing on paper. Writing by hand is organic to me, so I will keep journaling.

Nothing is truly a failure. These commitments did not need to be complete, nor did they need to be completed for me to succeed. I learned about myself and gained some valuable perspectives and insights into my actions.

What did I learn?

I need to break my writing and editing tasks into smaller snippets and set a timer. Tell myself “Tuesday morning, research editors” and allot 27 minutes only. I’ll know at the end of the timer I’ll either need a break or feel inspired to keep working. It’s how I survived and won NaNoWriMo.

In 23, 27 or 33 minute segments, I wrote 50,721 words in the last 20 days of the months. I started on November 11, so this equaled 2500 words/day which for me was about 1 1/2 hours per day. That means I can find the time to write because I have the time when I’m not distracted by Major Crimes on TV or Angry Birds on my phone. I remind myself of this daily because not only is it motivating but because in the madness of the month, I discovered a 25,000-word story, a complete one that I can actually work with and interests me. I consider the purchase a distraction and a success. I can use Scrivener to organize this book as I edit to publish by the end of 2015, a swift spellbinding sequel to my initial Jimmy the Burglar book.

Getting back to my roots of handwriting gave me the opportunity to see what I was thinking. Words on paper, written by my hand, helped me focus on what I want to do with my writing. I will change the focus of my blog to include more writing, insights, interviews and inspiration. Posts on Deadwood Writers Voices may change. I want to entertain my readers, offer them something worthwhile, while writing topics that excite my passion and enthusiasm. I’m exploring what those topics may be.

As for reading books, I will purchase a better pair of reading glasses.

November can be Tough

Things always seem to go to hell in November. But first, an update on Alice. The 150th Anniversary Edition of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground is due to be released in book format on 11/22 (yesterday), but I received my e-book version of the story last week and was delighted. The quality is excellent. They kept to the original, hand-written format with the drawing around the text, which cannot be enlarged on an e-reader, like a normal typeset document can. It worked perfectly on my “iBooks” app and was easy to read in portrait mode. Charles Dodgson’s original tale differs greatly from the commercial version of Alice in Wonderland. For one thing, there is no Mad Hatter in the Under Ground version, and the ending is… well, I won’t spoil the plot — for fear the Queen of Hearts will point at me and shout off with his head!

Broken String is back from my two editors and all of their comments and corrections are in. The final edit trims to 111,200 words. That, from 122,800 in first draft, or about nine percent. I don’t know what that means, but I’m a nut for statistics.

Artist Jeanna Jinks of Wake Forest, North Carolina, is doing a cover art example for Broken String. If you are not familiar with her works, drop by her online studio, JinksStudio.com. Jeanna’s paintings are captivating and I’m anxious to see what she comes up with.

In other news, I can now add Manservant to my resume. I have Mo home recovering from foot surgery she had on Veteran’s Day. One of the hazards of being a nurse is that you are on your feet all day. Her employer gave her eight weeks to recover, which is great for her and not so much for me. I am writing this the day after her surgery. For the first five days of recovery, Mo will spend 55 minutes of every hour with her foot “up” and five minutes walking. Early mornings and late nights, I’m up and down the stairs refilling the ice bag that keeps the swelling down. She tells me I’m a dear. I’m trying to get my lap time under two minutes.

Starting day-six, Mo will only need to spend 40 minutes an hour with her foot up. It’s her left foot, so she can drive on her own after that. She has a temporary handicap parking sticker but you can bet dear will be driving Miss Mo around more than she’ll be taking herself places. Thanksgiving and Christmas fall during her recovery period.

This should be fun, and I say that with tongue fully extended from cheek.

Normally, it’s just me and the dogs during the day, and they’re usually asleep. Mo and Ben are off working and I don’t turn on the radio or television while working online or writing. I like quiet, find it more soothing than any music. The perfect background for thought. But right now, I can hear the living room television playing some TV serial Mo’s recorded in advance, in anticipation of binge watching away the tough months of November and December… Note to self; get Mo headphones for Christmas, give them to her way early.

I say this in jest, of course. Mo knows my sour sense of humor, she even encourages me when it’s aimed at others. I’ve no doubt she’ll run to grab a stick when she sees the piñata that looks like her ice bag.

Marital Advice for Grammarians

I never want to be thought of as an annoying individual who likes to point out other people’s mistakes. With that in mind, when my husband recently said “…for you and I,” I stopped myself from saying, “You mean, ‘for you and me.’”

KellyDeadwood-2015-8Aug-TightCrop

In that brief moment between hearing the mistake and wanting to straighten it out, I decided that I wasn’t about to trade marital bliss for a lofty disposition.

Does anyone—even a supportive husband—ever really appreciate unsolicited grammar advice? It may be meant as constructive, but when it’s directed at you, the unexpected input seems like full-blown criticism. As if you failed a test that you didn’t know you were being graded on. You feel disrespected by the Grammar Police, insulted and stifled from saying whatever was on your mind.

A member in one of my online writing groups recently posed a question to the rest of the group. I immediately noticed that his question contained a common error: using “there” instead of “their.” Pretty much everyone is prone to making similar mistakes. We forget to apply certain rules or are guilty of little typos. In those instances, we simply lower our guard and something slips, unchecked and uncensored, through our fingertips. I wasn’t about to publicly point out the blogger’s mistake since it wasn’t important to the ensuing conversation.

Another writer, however, was excessively harsh. This stickler rudely asserted his opinion that “someone ought to be using a dictionary to improve THEIR spelling.” Ouch! Point made, although it wasn’t really a spelling error but more of an error in word choice. Notably, no one—myself included—seemed bothered enough by that faux pas to make an issue out of it.

Similarly, there was no good reason that the there/their matter couldn’t have been addressed in a friendlier, less offensive, and perhaps even private way. By politely ignoring the situation altogether, the rest of the group sent a subtle message to the one outspoken member that perfection isn’t always necessary, especially in informal settings.

I was glad I had sided with the discerning writers who let both the original mistake and the poor response go unaddressed. But it’s hard for me to subdue my persnickety nature. I admittedly harbor some intolerance towards common grammatical mistakes. There are standards, and writers are expected to lead by example. We’re judged not only by our ability to tell a story, but also by our mastery of punctuation, spelling, word usage, and sentence structure.

We have decisions to make over the tiniest details. For example, do we use a numeral or spell out the number itself when referring to a centennial home as being one hundred years old? (Usually it is spelled out, but there are exceptions.) Should e-mail be hyphenated? (Yes.) Can we abbreviate okay as Ok? (No. Capitalize the entire abbreviation, as in OK.) Is the title to a blog italicized or placed within quotation marks? (The name of the Web site is italicized and an article posted on the site is placed in quotation marks.) Do we trust our phone’s spell check when it inserts an apostrophe into our family’s last name…when we’re not showing possession? (No! The Bixbys don’t like that.)

A writer’s ability to convey clear and concise thoughts is dependent upon all these things, in addition to understanding the basic parts of speech. It is our job to expertly unite a myriad of facets—nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections—so that our work reflects both definitive grammar and intuitive usage.

There is a lot to remember, so let’s find support in reputable guidebooks, like The Chicago Manual of Style. Then understand that despite our best efforts, occasionally, you and I are going to mess up. We should strive for—but not expect—personal perfection, be kind when offering advice to others, and relax with the people we love.

Shut the Noise

“Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must first be overcome.”

Samuel Johnson

Do you edit as you write? Do you struggle with every word, sentence, paragraph, character, and scene before you decide that your writing is not yet perfect? Do you hit the delete button more often than the save button? Do you hear the critic in your head saying that you can’t write, that you need to find another hobby?

Shut the noise! Stop allowing your inner critic to dictate the success or failure of your writing life. Quiet that voice in your head which is telling you to quit.

Not easy you say? Of course, it’s not. Your inner voice fears rejection. It fears failure. It even fears success. That voice is afraid of jumping off the high diving board, riding a motorcycle, or taking a chance on love. That voice has held you back long enough. Take a plunge. Take a ride. Take a leap of faith. Try something different. Be brave. Write what you feel. Write what you’ve always wanted to write. Write with abandon. Write without restrictions. Even if what you write is not the next great American novel (Whose is?), just write because that is what you want to do.

Some writers say, “If you don’t write in spite of your inner critic or negative feedback from others, then you’re not really a writer.” I disagree. Some people are born with a stronger sense of self-worth than others, but that doesn’t mean that they are better writers. It just means they are more capable of forging ahead in spite of the negative voices.

Do you really want to write? Than do it! Don’t worry about imperfections as you work. Just write! You can always edit once you finish.

Playing Leapfrog

phil7.1.12With Knock Softly (KS) finished, it’s time to clean up. But first, the statistics.

With “The End,” KS crossed the finish line at 128,814 words, 448 pages in manuscript format, in 44 Chapters. It took 21 months to write and I compiled 28 pages of notes, plus a thick folder of printed articles. There are four main characters and four support characters as well as a cast of over two dozen doctors, nurses, lawyers and the like. There are two main settings and a couple of side trips. And two dogs. And one mysterious friend who seems to know everything. Done.

Then I played “Leapfrog” with the novel, only going backwards. I re-read chapters 43 and 44, then re-read 41 and 42, then 39 and 40 and so on, until I finished back at chapter one. This allowed me to know where I was going and to be sure each chapter led clearly and succinctly to the next. It also allowed me to “kill my darlings.” I’ve spoken of them before; those cleaver little verses that seemed so cute at the time. But in leapfrog, they appeared as obstacles that only got in the way of a good jump. I also identified areas that needed shoring up for what comes next, and those I marked with an “R/W.” I did not rewrite anything, just cut and identified what needed more work.

The manuscript now weighs in at 120,090 words, 429 mms pages. It took seven days and produced another page and a half of notes. Twenty pages went into the dust bin, 8,800 worthless words. Bye, darlings.

Now comes the real fun part; I get to play God! I will start again from the beginning, only now knowing all, I will tighten the read, heighten the valleys and smooth the jagged edges with that last chapter, last page, paragraph, the very last word, in mind.

Some of the things I will be on the lookout for are, first and foremost, character development. I want to be sure my folks develop on pace and keep with their persona. I was amazed at how many times my characters cried. I didn’t set out to make weaklings but that’s how they appeared in some scenes. I noticed a lot of character movements when a simple he said, she said, would work better, faster. Even after leapfrog, the characters are still smiling 148 times, sighing 48 times, and mad or angry 51 times. Not to mention all the tears. I’ve still got work to do.

You don’t see these things while writing first draft because you are wearing each character’s hat and navigating them through uncharted waters. Your adrenalin is flowing and you just want to keep the action moving forward. You forget they’re human, that they need to breathe, too. I don’t how much more there is to cut. I don’t have a target word count or anything. I’m letting KS sit for a few weeks before I come back to it with fresh eyes.

Am I happy? So far. Satisfied? Not yet. Eager? Yep!

Next month, we’ll take a look at correctile dysfunction; the author’s inability to line edit their own work.

-Phil

 

Seoul40  Freya40

Seoul Legacy, The Orphan’s Flu is available in paperback on Abe, and on Amazon in paperback & ebook.

The Freya Project is available in hardcover and limited edition from the author. Quantities from Countinghouse Press.