Friday, January 30, 2009

bummer scene

I  just get stuff down on the page so that the ideas and general gist of the scene is there. But it's pathetic when I read it. It waits for the "telling detail" about the setting, a character's gesture, the smell of the place, sounds, other movement--all that stuff that makes a reader really enter the story. The last scene I wrote was especially  superficial. Funny how all the stuff about the senses changes the way the whole thing flows. Dialog without any action or expression of feeling just lies there. Once the gesture is there, the whole line makes sense. It's in my head when I first write it, but I don't always get it all down until I read back through and visualize the scene happening--like watching a play. Once I step back into that scene as a reader, not as the writer, it's easy for me to put in the things that color and animate my story. 

My main goal is to get the book finished, then go back and add a lot to the detail stuff, but when the first read-back of a scene is so boring, I really have to fix SOMETHING then. I can't just leave it there, crying for a life. And that's what makes reading other writers so valuable. Not that I want to spend too much time reading other people's stuff and not writing my own, but reading good writers reminds me where I want to go, and where I want to take my readers. And sometimes it even shows me how to get there.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Other great writing books

I've discovered another favorite writing book: Writing Away by Elizabeth George. I find each chapter makes me stop and take notes for the scenes in my books--character development, dialog, setting, landscape--she's very challenging to read and I am stirred to respond by making my own writing more alive and evocative.  

Just for fun, read Stephen King's  book, On Writing. It is a superb look at the way he approaches his writing, and is very encouraging. As he talks about his own writing journey, he vividly brings to life his past jobs and scenes from his personal life that make me glad I don't read his writing. He is very good at making things real and in-the- moment. I can't handle horror books, and I can tell from his writing in this book that his novels would scare me for decades!

And so I labor on, with George and King as part of my team of guides.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Progress is daily on the road to glory

I was recently reminded about one of the best books I ever read/acted on: The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron.  I'm  planning to re-read it in the near future--even got it down and put it in the stack of books by my bed--but I've lived by it for more than a decade. Cameron's book is about nurturing our creativity--making room for it in our lives, balancing input and output, reaching for our goals, finding our way.  You read one chapter a week, write three pages a day of anything (when I first read it in the 90s, I wrote a journal, now I use the idea for my book) first thing in the morning, and have a date with yourself once a week to go someplace that nourishes your spirit and gives your creativity a boost. 

As I finished another scene in my book today, I felt again how important it is to write every day--to keep the momentum going, the story line straight in my mind, and my characters awake in my consciousness. Right now they are clattering around all over the place, anxious to break out and tell their stories. So I guess Cameron's method is working.

Monday, January 19, 2009

sorting it all out

It's amazing how stepping back to take a look at my manuscript helps build excitement about what I'm going to write next. I have gone through all the chapters, listing the people and key action that occurs in each and noting what needs to come up next. One of my critique group (ever vigilant) commented on something I'd said about computer cabling and classroom bells. She reminded me how long it's been since I've been in a college setting. Around 25 years! So, I need to do a bit of research with the local colleges about how they handle class changes and computer installation. All these little details, if not taken care of, may distract a reader and kill their interest in your story. 

In one section, I commented on a certain bridge in downtown Portland, Oregon. It's one phrase, but if I'd gotten it wrong, anyone familiar with Portland would immediately distrust other things I have to say. The research for that particular remark wasn't laborious, but I did sweat it a bit. In these times, when you ask a city engineer about which bridge in the downtown freeway system would really botch up the afternoon commute if it were closed for any reason. . .well, I'm just glad nothing happened to that bridge after I asked the question.

Ahh,the  fun and games of research.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Critique groups

Today my critique group met to present our latest manuscript pages, poems, etc.  If I had not had these women to turn to over the last several years, my book would long ago have been put into a drawer and left to rot. With grace, wit and great wisdom, they edit and comment on what I bring to them. They laugh and admire a paragraph or two, then point out what is slowing the story down, what is unclear or downright stupid (although they never use that word).  

They are helping me with two novels: one I've described in this blog, and another that is a coming of age story about a young girl whose mother has rejected her and left her to be raised by her grandmother. Both books will eventually be finished because of these faithful and diligent friends. I count on them to counteract my nearsightedness  about my own work. 

Some writers choose not to join a group, some have joined one and found it unhelpful. I've been in several, some better than others. Things just work in my current group. If you have not been fortunate in critique groups, keep trying. Find one with people that share your particular values and outlook, or maybe your genre. Fantasy  and sci-fi writers may need to find a group that sticks to their genre. Some of the rest of us have no idea how to advise you.  But for most of us, a general group can work very well. However, all groups need to follow some simple rules.

Come prepared to share your work, and prepared for it to be criticized. This is the purpose, after all.  I've been in critiques where certain members wanted to read their material and be praised. Any suggestion that changes needed to be made was rejected and they eventually left the group. Get real, people.

Come prepared to offer your most gracious help to the other readers. Give kindly critique, helpful direction, gentle guidance--honesty with grace, please.

Come prepared to share the time.  If any one person dominates, someone else loses the chance to present their labors.

Come to triumph over all the things that keep you from finishing and marketing your work.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

planning the book

Whew! The holidays took their toll on my writing schedule. Now, I'm back  at work, but doing a bit of evaluating, rather than writing at the moment. I need to get a grip on all the details, where I am, where I'm going, and I'm checking out what's missing that needs to be added to the manuscript as it currently stands. THEN, off I go again, moving things along. 

My hope is to wrap up the first full draft by late spring so I have summer to edit and rewrite. And rewrite and ....