Debora Dale

Fun at the Fair, lost lambs and dizziness

The last day of the Queens Farm Spring Festival was yesterday. We always go to the farm for their events. Yes. I live in the city, but the farm has been here since the 1700’s.  In fact, this is the same place I spoke about not long ago. My daughter’s homeschooling group had gone there for a Colonial Cooking class.

Yesterday was different. Yes, they had rides, funnel cakes and cotton candy, and yes you could feed the animals and get tossed around on the hayride. And yes, the Fabio of roosterdom was there, as always.

Crazy headed rooster

But what was so unique yesterday was all the babies. Not human babies… goat and sheep babies!        

   

They were all born either Saturday or yesterday morning. Most of them still had the umbilical cord attached, yet they were following their mama’s around everywhere they went and trying to ‘jump’ over tiny obstacles lying in their paths.

One tiny baby – a black lamb just hours old – wandered out of the barn where we assumed its mother was. This little thing started bleating the moment it stepped out the door. It was crying and crying as if lost. On spindly legs, it wobbled along the grounds, crying, sounding like he was saying, “Maaaaaa! Maaaa!” He went up to all the sheep out there, nudged as if looking for mama and milk. Each one in turn, sniffed him then shoved him away.

And he cried. “Maaa! Maaaa!”

mama?

Some of the adults were not to gentle with this tiny thing – I mean tiny, like the size of a tall, skinny cat. One shoved him so hard, he fell over and had to struggle to find his footing again. Everyone gasped. Everyone watched, hoping this baby’s mom would come out and rescue him.

She didn’t and this went on for a painfully long time. I couldn’t stand it and told Hubby to go tell someone. “Who?” he said. Since there were hundreds of visitors to the farm, finding a worker free to redirect a lost lamb seemed impossible. The baby must have exhausted his little lungs at one point, because he finally stopped crying and simply lumbered around, looking lost and lonely.

Lost and lonely

And then… this guy in camouflage pants, white shirt and sunglasses climbed into the pen. Everyone hushed. He had a walkie and we figured he belonged to the farm. He strode purposely into the barn ignoring all the other sheep and lamb as he passed them. Not a second after stepping inside, he came right back out. He stood in the open doorway, scanned the crowd of nursing mamas, bleating babies and snoozing papas, then shook his head and went directly to our lost little lamb as if he’d done this a thousand times already. He lifted the little guy with one hand and carried him back into the barn where his mama, it turned out, was having another baby.

Queens Farm - look at that face!

Everyone in the crowd cheered the happy ending, and then dispersed.

We went over to the rides. Poor hubby. Mr. Topsy-turvy-roller-coaster-riding-dude. Daughter convinced him to go on what looked like a harmless ride – a spinning ride.

 Ha! She laughed and screamed the whole time. He… turned all shades of green.

 

After the three minute ride, he was out for the count, sitting on a bench, recovering, while Daughter and I strolled around some more. Ah, to be young again… though, judging from the trauma of that baby lamb, I’m not so sure I’d want to go back so far in time that I’d have to learn my way through life all over again.

The old saying never seemed so accurate before – Youth is wasted on the young.

Not on the test

Many complaints from parents of school-aged kids center on how schools ‘teach to the test’ rather than teach for life. It’s something my family noticed several years ago but thought we were powerless to stop. Well, we were and are powerless to stop it for others, but not for ourselves… which is why we now homeschool. Or rather, part of why we homeschool.

I know homeschooling isn’t for everyone and I know there are those who think of us as freaks. I know this because I thought the same thing before we started the process. The first activity we went to with a local support group had me shaking deep inside… what would these people be like? Were they part of some kind of cult?

The most amazing thing I learned from that class… which btw was Thanksgiving from the Point of View of a Native American and featured a descendent of the Cherokee Nation… was that the other homeschooling folk were normal.

Normal.

I had no idea what I’d encounter there but everyone was part of a hardworking and loving family who had the best interest of their kids at heart… and the opportunity to remain home with them for this schooling option.

There seems to be a movement in this country, with more and more families taking their children out of school. Just in my area, there are over 10,000 homeschooled children, and the number soared to that point in just the last couple of years.

There are a lot of reasons so many of us opt for homeschooling. Not the least of which is to give our kids a chance to be and think for themselves. After all, if a child can recite facts from a textbook but cannot think for him/herself about practical issues, what kind of education have they received?

It seems if it’s “not on the test” schools resist or discourage teaching it. As far as I’m concerned, the test is life and life is getting harder, so it’s up to us to prepare our kids for it – gently but thoroughly.

This 2-minute video may not say it ALL, but it says an awful lot –

“Don’t think about thinking… it’s not on the test.”

 

Golden Nuggets

I had such a great experience with my Book-in-a-Week class that I just can’t keep it to myself. Soon I’ll be posting an interview with the Book-in-a-Week mistress, herself, since she’s graciously agreed to speak with me here. I’ll keep you posted on when that will happen.

Meanwhile, book-in-a-week (BIAW) fever is still soaring for me. Before this latest story, I’d spent a lot of time revising other work. Starting something new after all that time was tough. That’s why I accepted the BIAW challenge in the first place – to fan the fire under me again. Yowza! Did that fire get fanned!

A lot went into preparing for this challenge, by the way. I didn’t just take the class and have at it. I’m a workshop junkie. I love them. LOVE them. Love the interaction, the push, the praise, the hints on how to make things better. I love it all. What I especially love is plucking out the gems that work for me. And that’s how I see workshops… like panning for gold. You never know when or where you’ll find that one brilliant nugget.

I’ve found quite a few brilliant nuggets. Some of my favorites came from workshops like –

Shelley Bradley’s Storyboarding (scroll down on linked page to find workshop info)

Karen Docter’s W-Plot

Mary Buckham’s …. anything!!! … Pacing, Sex on the Page, One-on-one Synopsis and more.

Laurie Schnebly Campbell’s … again anything!!! … Fatal Flaws, Plotting via Motivation, Block-busting (putting the joy back in writing) and more.

And now, of course, April Kihlstrom’s Book in a Week.

Nuggets from each of these workshops have helped me set up the structure of my WIP, so when the day came to take up the torch and run, I was ready. I think what’s happened in the past was a blind desire or need to write without the necessary prep-work. I’m a pantser who likes to plot – but only a tiny bit. What I’ve learned over the years is that my needs and methods shift with each new story. For some, I need more plot details before I start, for others the details are like quick sand.

Each story is unique and requires a fresh approach. I like it that way. Maybe it’s the Gemini in me, who knows. Point is, I’ve learned there isn’t one set formula for writing a book. It’s a fully customizable process with handy upgrades. The workshops I’ve taken have taught me about those upgrades and how to apply them when necessary.

Are there golden nuggets in your writer’s toolbox? If so, what are they and where did you find them?

Le’Chaim! (le’khiam)

Or… To Life!

Fiddler on the Roof was on PBS last night. For the first time, I was able to watch it with someone who had never seen or heard of it.  I didn’t think it was possible for someone in this world to NOT know the song, If I Were a Rich Man. My 12 year old thought I was nuts when I did Topol/Tevye’s dance in the barn scene when he sang it… arms up forming a U, one step – stomp, shake the shoulders, stomp, shake. “If I were a rich man…” I sang and she just shook her head.

“Never heard it,” she said. “Fortunately.”

Fortunately?

Okay, maybe my version of it wasn’t so entertaining but I wasn’t going to let the opportunity of her seeing it slip by. I prepared her first, telling her how I saw it for the first time when I was only six. It was the year it came out and I’d watched it every time it was on TV since then.

In 1991, Topol revived his role as Tevye for a Broadway run. My husband surprised me with tickets and I could not believe I was going to see this man LIVE in this role after twenty years of watching him on TV. Well… when he walked onto the stage I was floored. I felt that rush of excitement when something special happens, and I gasped in awe and delight. I was the first to stand and start clapping but the rest of the audience followed immediately, like a wave of welcome to this star in his perfect role. That moment was 20 years in the making for me and 17 years later, it’s still fresh in my mind.

Daughter loved the movie and Topol. We laughed and we cried. We talked about what was happening and why and it fit in perfectly with all she’s learned in Social Studies. It was lost on me as a child – I was half her age when I first saw it. I knew people were happy and that they were sad. I didn’t know why some people wanted to make others cry or why they made them leave their homes and… frankly, I still don’t know why that is.

Fiddler puts the sensation back after being desensitized by brutal movies and TV shows, extreme violence on YouTube and video games. Fiddler reminds us how we’re really all very much the same… and how, despite the precariousness of life and living, we somehow balance it all and continue on… like the fiddler, balancing and fiddling on the roof.

Le’Chiam!

The first 100 words

I entered two of my stories in BookEnds first 100-word Romantic Suspense contest. Sending the first one gave me palpitations. The second had me reaching for my inhaler. I love what I write until I have to share it with someone else. Then… I’m not so confident.

So… the first 100 words… entering this contest made me realize how much lead-in I usually have. My current WIP, the one I’m doing for the Book-in-a-week, had about three paragraphs I thought were vital to the opening of the story. When I highlighted the first 100 words to submit to this contest, I realized they did nothing to grip a reader. They tell important details, they’re vital to the story. But they’re in the wrong place.

My wonderful and amazingly supportive critique partner, Linda Ford, made a logical suggestion – start with the action. I balked at first. The ‘action’ in this opening is a car-jacking, but that happens after I set up the status quo. It happens halfway down the first single-spaced page. How would a reader feel anchored in my story if I begin with something from way down there?

How about if the reader isn’t given a chance to feel anchored but rather is gripped by the first few words and willingly taken along for the ride, always wanting to know what’s happening and seeing when s/he keeps reading that the answers are all provided… though not before other questions are created.

I hope that’s what I’ve done. I don’t see a chance of winning the contest – some of those entries are phenomenal. But I entered. I’ve leaped the first hurdle of fear. And I’ve learned tons by revising the opening until those first 100 words were as tight and as gripping as they could be for the story I wanted to tell.

I’m not new to revisions. With my second completed, it took a while but I realized my first chapter didn’t work. Well, part of it did. The other part? Not so much. How did I fix it? I lopped off the first 12 pages. Just like that. I cut them off without second thought. They were the dead limb drawing the life force from the rest of the body. The story grew so much stronger after I deleted them… and was requested by an agent at my dream agency. Twice. Alas… 

I know I still have a lot to learn, but being honest with myself about my own work has been the biggest and most important lesson of all.

When you write, and when you revise, do you think you’re as hard on the work as you should be? Or are you intimidated by the prospect of cutting the precious words you labored for hours to put on the page? 

Day 5 – Book in a Week

My wrists staged a mutiny yesterday. I could barely move the fingers on my right hand. They just locked up. This has happened to me before. I have to watch how I sit when I type. I tend to let my wrists droop, sitting more for comfort than for function. And I MUST get wrist guards.

Well, because of the stiffness and pain in my hands, yesterday was a bit of a wash. I managed only a few hundred words – about four hundred, in fact. But… resting my wrists yesterday helped me today. It’s not even 10am and I’m nearly done with this chapter. Already 1425 words this morning and the day is still young. Another 1200 words or so, and this chapter is done, done, DONE!

Snoopy-dancing!

 

 

 

I’m going to keep this momentum going. I’m not as afraid to make mistakes because I know I can fix them. In fact, I know when I’m done with this rough draft, I can let Nil play/revise/nitpick until she’s giggling with glee. I will confess, however, it’s been a struggle to avoid going back to fix every little thing… like having my heroine lift her car keys and give them a shake to make a point – TWICE IN ONE SCENE. Blah. But, I also know, I can eventually go back in to fix that. This is not meant to be perfect, it’s meant to be fun. Writing fast is supposed to help get the story down without distraction or second guessing. I second, third and fourth guess myself all the time when I write. Writing fast leaves little time for that bit of sabotage so writing fast is a precious and vital thing to master… and so is understanding that this is a first draft. Perfection has no place here.

Wow. I should repeat that until it doesn’t cause me to reach for my inhaler. Yikes. It doesn’t have to be perfect???

Okay. I’ll repeat that – Perfection has no place here in my first draft. 

My first draft is for fun and creativity. My first draft is my time to play. When I’m done in this sandbox, my inner critic can have her chance and clean things up all she wants. After all, without me to make the ‘mess’, what would there be for her to do? She’ll just have to wait her turn. Meanwhile, I will play until my hero and heroine reach their happily ever after and I reach… The End.

Day 3 – Book in a Week

TWO DAY TOTAL – 3031 WORDS!

My way of writing seems to involve a LOT of thinking – like sometimes days or weeks – and then I have this manic spurt of writing. And then more thinking. It’s a frustrating process, and I’ve hoped for a more efficient way to unjumble the words in my head and get them onto the page.

I might have found it.

Day one of this challenge gave me three solid, single-spaced pages. I was thrilled but realized three pages a day does not a book-in-a-week make. So… instead of ramping up the typing, I revised what I’d written. How’s that for sabotaging my own work? It seems that perfectionist, nit-picky, inner critic of mine has an intense aversion to speed writing.

This inner-critic, whom I shall henceforth call ‘Nil’ as nil is all it allows me to write – nags me constantly about every little word, every punctuation mark, every thought I dare consider worthy. Nil has forced me to stop the writing flow and do things like research awkward wording, rethink the plot, change the heroine’s name and whatnot.

Nil slices creativity, hacks away at confidence, rewords everything I’ve written while grumbling how awful it all is and then laughs as I slink away from the computer certain I’ll never write another word. That’s what Nil does best.

It’s time I put her in her place. Yes? And I think I know how.

You see… I have learned something fantastic during this process. The best way to keep Nil from messing with the work is not to show Nil the work in the first place. 🙂

When you write without looking back at what you’ve written, you fall deeper into the story and wind up with a more flowing and consistent rhythm, tone, mood and voice. It’s when you stop writing to review or revise, that Nil puts on her work clothes and happily tweaks and alters your beautiful prose until it’s barely recognizable. 

Ever hear the term “less is more”? So it is with revising as you go. Less is more. Nil has yet to learn that term.

Day two was yesterday, Sunday, and so there were family things to tend to. However, I managed another three pages… and this happened in just two hours. For me, that is some kind of record. I’m thrilled to have written 3,031 words in two days and cannot wait to get back into it today, Day 3.

Will I finish my book this week? I highly doubt it (my wrists are already planning a mutiny), but I will have a new tool in my tool box because of it. This tool is the privacy screen between the words I type and Nil. If I do not show it to her by rereading what I write as I write it, SHE cannot possibly feel the need to ‘fix’ it.

Not until the end is written will Nil be allowed to have a go at it.

At least, that’s the plan. I have the new tool, now I just need to make sure I use it.

Day three? Here I come… armed and ready.

Book in a week

I’ve accepted the challenge that starts today in a workshop I’m taking. It’s the Book-in-a-week workshop with April Kihlstrom as instructor.

The challenge? Type a complete first draft of my work in progress in one week and one week only. That means… no revising as I go. That means, whatever scene pops into my head is the one I should write. That means keeping my inner critic bound and gagged until the week is over – longer if possible.

That means pushing WAY past my comfort zone. Writing a book in a week without revising as I go is the same to me as jumping from a plane without a parachute. Okay, for me, the non-adventurous type, it’s more like going over a speed bump without putting on the brakes. 😕

I am a rule follower. I don’t like to make waves and I don’t like to upset those around me… including myself. And so, this book in a week challenge, challenges me on many levels. I have to break the rules I set for myself which say every word I write has to have a purpose. Every scene must draw a reader into the heart and mind of my characters. Every page must contain several sense-stirring phrases that will place the reader right there in the scene. To accomplish a book in a week, I must simply write what’s in my head despite how sparse it might be. Can I do it? Well… I can certainly try. And posting here commits me to the process… hopefully that’s all I’ll wind up committed to. 😯

I’ll check in as often as I can to keep you posted and to keep myself answerable to someone. I have a new ticker right there to the right of this post…….. see it? It’s next to the picture of beautiful Tiffy. I’ll move that slider each time I complete a chapter. I should tell you, because I’m an honest soul, that I already have three solid chapters completed and seventeen left to go. Three solid chapters is a lot to me. “Three” means I’m committed to the work… ah, ‘committed’ there’s that word again. I hope that’s not some kind of forshadowing…

The W-Plot is easy, I PROMISE!

When I posted the picture of my finished W-Plot worksheet in my last entry, I was afraid it might be a bit frightening. I posted it anyway, hoping that I’d explained it well enough to calm suddenly tense nerves. I don’t think I did, so I’d like to do that now… but I’ll do it without going into detail about the process since no one can (or should try to) explain it the way Karen Docter does.

The completed W-Plot worksheet looks involved because it’s an accumulation of a lot of tiny bits of information. Truth.

In order to get to the final worksheet – which I posted – all that’s necessary is to jot down an OVERVIEW of your character’s throughlines. Face it, stories start with an idea. As you spend time on that idea, it becomes more developed, even if only slightly so.

Now, if you’re like me, thinking too hard about a story before you’re ready to write it is the same as giving anesthesia to your muse. That’s why I love the W-Plot. The beauty of it is indeed it’s simplicity.

Let’s work with the hero – Where is he at the beginning of your story? At what point does he realize what he needs to do for the next 20 chapters? Is it when he learns the jewels have been stolen? Let’s go with that… that’s the high point for your hero because even though stolen jewels suck, pardon my French, he has a solid starting point. He’s got to find who stole them and why, AND get them back without getting himself killed in the process.

Now… getting from that high point (Plot Point 1) to the final high point, (Plot Point 9), is going to be a roller-coaster ride for Hero, with severe drops and slow rises. Your nine points are just highlights of his story with as much or as little detail as YOU want to include.

The reason my finished W looks so intimidating is because I’ve included everyone’s plot points there in the order they’ll occur. It’s like looking at a skeleton of my story. Everything is somehow connected but not yet filled in. THAT’s the fun part. THAT’s the part a pantser muse eagerly awaits. THAT’s when a storyboard truly becomes a treasure if you want to flesh out your W even further… with specific scenes.

Honestly, IMHO, these two tools used properly and in tandem, will make writing/telling/enjoying your story that much easier. Oh, and in case you’re not convinced… a completed W, when organized the way Karen explains, makes writing the dreaded synopsis easy as pie.

Truth.

Plotting

So… as many of you know… I’m a writer. Within the writing world, I’m what’s known as a “pantser”, meaning, I’m not big on plotting out an entire story before I write it. I’ve tried it that way and have lost all the excitment of putting fresh words and ideas onto the page.

There was one method I truly enjoyed, though, and that was the storyboard. I’d taken an online workshop with Shelley Bradley and it was amazing. You can be an avid plotter or a simple pantser and still use her method. What it does is organize your thoughts. As they come to you, you jot them down in as much or as little detail as you want (on a post-it) then slap them onto the storyboard in the spot you think they will fit. Of course, there is more to it than that, but after a while, it seems that easy. It’s also fun to see the post-it’s pile up. They’re color-coded, too, so that makes it a super visual tool.

Here’s one of my completed storyboards – ain’t it purdy? 🙂

Storyboard

Another exciting method I learned, use and highly recommend, is the W-Plot. What an amazing tool. Karen Docter gives that workshop, and I can’t say enough about it. Basically what it does is help outline (don’t shudder at that word, it’s not really an “outline” but more like a “highlight” of…) your plot using only nine major plot points for each main character. It’s much easier than I’m probably making it sound, and it is so very worth it.

A finished W might look intimidating at first (even second and third) glance… BUT… I can’t stress enough how simple it truly is. Of course, it forces you to think, but the panster in me stuck around for the entire process without one fainting spell. Truth!

Now, prepare yourself…

Here’s what a finished W looks like with all the plot points (36 total – 9 for the Hero, 9 for the Heroine, 9 for the Villain and 9 for the romance) highlighted in a different color.

Completed W-Plot

See how each plot point in it’s proper place makes the story flow?

If you have the opportunity to take either or both of these classes, I HIGHLY recommend them. Of course, I’m a workshop junkie, so there are many more workshops I can tell you about. Until then… check these out and tell me what you think.

What about workshops you’ve taken? Which ones do you have safely tucked into your writer’s toolbox?

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