Writing

I have crossed the finish line!

blissysmile

You would think when the finish line is in sight, you’d pick up speed, put all the pent-up energy into the drive to get there, raise your arms in triumph and barrel full-speed ahead. There would be a cheer from a crowd of onlookers, confetti maybe, and a trophy, or at the least, a hug and a high five.

Well…

My victory – finally typing ‘The End’ in context – wasn’t quite so energized. In fact, it was the polar opposite. Everything led up to those final moments. Final moments when the characters’ struggles had to be shown as worth it, as life-altering.

Stitching those last high-energy scenes together was tedious work. Intense. I spent a lot of time staring unseeing at the blinking cursor, deep in thought, watching the scene play out in my head, forming the perfect string of words to show that scene as I saw it. Burrowing deeper into the minds of my characters than I had in a while. I had to navigate their subconscious, locate their ah-ha moments and then slap them into action, realization. All they’d fought for, all they thought was lost was finally there for the taking. They had only to realize how they got there, what they’d overcome and what it meant for their futures… as individuals and as a couple.

They’re off making love somewhere right now and I’m… left behind to write their synopsis.  <shudder> I need to find a real title, too, and of course, I’ll work on the query. Rejections will start to flow in and I’ll sigh and file them away. But then maybe, just maybe, someone out there will fall in love with my little creation the same way I did. In truth, I hope lots of someones out there will fall in love with it. But then, isn’t that the hope of every writer? Isn’t that why we do this in the first place? To take people into our worlds for just a little while? To take them on an adventure? To surprise them and make them cheer for our characters… and then sigh in satisfaction when they reach the finish line?

If we’ve done our job right, the reader will know that The End is nothing more than a new beginning.  And we, meanwhile, will start the entire process once again.

She tossed her head as his eyes roamed her body

Imagine the horror to his poor roaming eyes as she tossed her head. Where did she toss it? And did she first holler, “Catch!”?

Roaming eyes and tossed heads – otherwise known as wandering body parts. Keep those parts attached to the body and the image won’t be quite as grotesque as a tossed head or worse. And yes, there are worse.

I’ve been writing now for… a long time… and those wandering body parts still tend to show up in my work. On first draft. A fresh phrase isn’t always easy to find, especially when you’re on a roll with story details you didn’t realize you knew. Yes… that happens. Scene basics and dialogue sometimes spew forth from my fingertips to the keyboard to the page so quickly the precise wording has not yet been uncovered. It’s when polishing time comes that those nasty little things are noticed – hopefully. Nasties, such as wandering body parts.

Just before I came here to blog today – in fact it’s the reason I’m here blogging about this very thing – I proofed a scene that I’d just written. It’s the opening scene of my final chapter. A chapter long in coming. My heroine has been through a lot.

A. Lot.

Poor thing.

But she’s been made stronger because of it. All of it. However, this scene brought on her breaking point. It was hard for me to write… or to start. I knew the emotional investment would be high. The heavy scenes wear me out. This one was heavier than expected for some reason. Maybe because I’ve become friends with my heroine and have decided she’s someone I’d like to finally see happy. But to get there, as I mentioned in another post, she’d have to suffer through the tough times in order to make her happily ever after that much more rewarding.

Well, I proofed the scene so I could finally consider it done and move on, when much to my amusement, my heroine did something totally unexpected. She lifted her face to the ceiling. Now, I don’t know about you, but… first of all, I’m not 8 feet tall, so lifting my face to the ceiling would be tough for me without a ladder. Second, did she take her face off and hold it there against the ceiling or did she just kind of, stand on her toes and press it to the plaster? Hmm? And why… please tell me why… would she lift her face to the ceiling in the first place?

In defense of my heroine, she is rather distraught. But while she might have thought (because I told her) that she lifted her face to the ceiling, what she actually did was simply tip her face up toward it. Ah, see? No wandering body parts, no horror-scene flashes. Just a little effort on phrasing and my heroine is once again a normal human being instead of some shape-shifting creature who can stretch her neck to insane lengths or remove parts of her body at will.

Setting new goals

The summer has slipped by with nary a word from my in my work in progress. 🙁

I know… I’ve been busy. I’ve had a great time traveling and visiting family. I’ve solidified our newest homeschooling curriculum and I’ve entered three writing contests – that’s two more than I’ve entered since I started writing years ago. And so… my muse has taken a hiatus and now I must coax it back.

My new goals… to write something, anything, on my story each and every day. I don’t care if it’s one paragraph or one sentence. As long as it’s a NEW paragraph or sentence and not one I’ve decided to tweak, I will have accomplished my goal.

Of course, as you can see by some of my posts on this blog, one paragraph tends to grow quickly when I actually sit down and write. My only hope – not goal – is the same will happen for my story.

I’ve hit the proverbial brick wall. I need to back up, take my characters out of the situations I’ve left them in and rewrite them into new situations. Situations that will help me move my story forward. See, part of the reason I stopped writing in the first place was because I’d somehow veered off the track I’d set for this story. I allowed the characters to have their way and like unsupervised children, they’ve done some things I’m not happy about. And so, I’m going back in with sleeves rolled to the elbows and I’m going to straighten things up… with their desires in mind. A neat compromise should do the trick of getting us – myself, my muse and my characters – back on track.

So my new goals are to write each day no matter how little. To walk away and do something else when the words stop flowing – rather than sit and stare at the blinkin’ cursor. And to explore even the most far-fetched ideas my characters and muse introduce.

What is writing fiction if not playing with ideas and “what ifs”.

What if… I actually finish this story before this year is out. Now THAT’s a goal I’d like to reach.

Growing as a writer

When I was writing my first story, I thought every word was golden. I thought every moment of my character’s life was worth writing about. And so, I had a lot of wasted words and hardly any forward movement. My stories were big, as you can imagine, but hardly gripping.

Until I grew as a writer.

I’m convinced the best way to grow as a writer is to put your work out there and have others give you honest – sometimes brutal – feedback. The first instinct is to defend yourself and your writing. It makes sense and is a natural reaction. BUT, after several comments leaning the same way – that your work needs to be reworked – it’s time to give credit to at least some of what’s being said.

I used to roll my eyes at my first CP. Actually, she was my former teacher and then my paid editor. She had excellent advice and perception but it was different than mine and so, at first, I dismissed much of it. I thought she simply did not ‘get’ my story. It took quite some time for me to stand back from my work and realize how right she was.

Now… when I put my work out there, I want the honest truth. No pats on the head, no gentle criticism. I think I’ve grown as a writer in that respect, and want only truth in the feedback I receive. After that, it’s up to me to decide if the suggestions or opinions given will enhance or hinder the story I want to tell. Just being open to the possibilities is a major turning point in the life of a writer.

A writer’s ego is a very fragile thing. And yet, while we seek accolades, we – most of us – want them to be honest.

Another way I’ve grown as a writer, is by realizing I need more. Yes, over the years I’ve considered it, but until now, I didn’t do a thing about it. This year will be the start of something, I think. With the New Jersey Conference around the corner and my registration form nearly filled in, I’m making that next big leap in a writer’s life. It’s exciting – which to me, means it’s time. About time.

How have you grown as a writer? Has that professional growth helped you in personal ways as well?

I’m blogging – when I should be writing my story

I admire the writer who can wake in the morning primed and ready to write. I admire the writer who can balance home and family with quiet, private writing time. I admire the writer who can deal with real-life drama while creating some drama of her own.

I used to be that writer. Years ago. Of course, that writing wasn’t something I’d share with the world – though at the time I thought it was better than anything out there.

I’ve become more critical of my writing over the years. If a word doesn’t fit the rhythm of the prose, I’ll obsess until I’ve replaced that word with just the right one. If a tiny plot point seems out of sync with the rest of the story, it will haunt me as I make dinner, fill the car with gas, help Daughter style her hair.

So, I’m always thinking about my writing – always thinking about what comes next in the story and just how I want to say it. But I’m not always getting it down on the page. Indeed, there have been times when doing the dishes, the bills or even the yard work is more attractive to me than writing.

What’s up with that???

Methinks it’s simply part of my process. 🙁

I wrote an article not long ago titled, “Thinking IS Work”. For writers, writing is easy. It’s the planning, the precise wording, the puzzle pieces neatly fitting – the missing puzzle pieces – and the thinking that put the ‘work’ in our creative day. I tend to spend a lot of time thinking and looking for those missing puzzle pieces. Once I finally sit, the words do flow but getting from here to there… well… utter torture.

Obviously, getting the words on the page is the ultimate high for a writer – myself included. Then why do writers like myself do so much to avoid it? Maybe because of the required investment of time, energy and emotion? Writing fiction is definitely a commitment of heart and head. When I sit to write, I need to know I will not be interrupted. Only then can I immerse myself in the story and FEEL the anguish or delight my characters feel. Only then will those characters ‘speak’ to me. Only then will that depth be transferred to the page. No half-way investments. It’s all or nothing – and that can be absolutely draining.

Starting a scene or chapter is the hardest part of all for me. POV switches, change of emotion or action… all work as the proverbial brick wall in my path. However, once I’ve forced myself to just have at it and have written my way into the story – with the knowledge that I have X amount of time to myself – the words add up, the emotion roils and the scene is there in all it’s glory. At least in my completely biased opinion. It’s a wonderfully productive time that makes me wonder why I put such effort into avoiding it in the first place.

What about you? Are you a rise and shine kind of writer, primed and ready to go? Or are you a tantrum thrower who has to drag your muse, kicking and screaming as they say, to the page? What is the easiest part of writing for you? The hardest? And how to you overcome that which keeps you from plopping your butt in the seat and keeping it there until a solid day’s work is done?

 

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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