Those who CAN and those who DO

I have a goal to write 5000 words a week. I have given myself a deadline of getting my next novel done and cleaned up, so it can be published this November. I’m worried I won’t get done. My list of excuses are: a son graduating high school, new job, moving to Texas, trying to sell a house, remolding projects so the house will sell, trying to find a house to buy, a son leaving on a mission, another son who wants to be able to start marching band with everyone else at his new high school (so we have to have the new house at the beginning of summer break). If you are still reading this list you should have skipped a head to the next paragraph a long time ago because the list is boring and no one cares about excuses.

Let me clarify what I mean by not getting the novel done. I have no doubt I’ll actually finish the story. And I have no doubt I will clean it up the best I personally can. HOWEVER, I believe that when I’ve done everything I can to make it a great story, the story itself is only halfway done.

Next, I need to give the story to a good critique partner who will shred it with a red pen. She’s wicked good with her pen and leaves it all on the field or paper in this case. She tells it too me straight, “That part sucks.” I think she’s the best thing since sliced bread. She’d scribble through that last line and insert something like, “She’s the best things since God said, Let there be light.” Or something more creative.

After I finish rewriting the story that was shredded, I have to find beta readers. People who will read the story and tell me what they didn’t like, where it was slow, places that the wording tripped them up and that sort of thing. Every once in a while I get a comment about something they liked, but it’s all about addressing the negatives. I try to find 3-5 beta readers and make them as varied as possible in personality, interest and what they like to read.

I have to hope that they actually read the book in a timely manner and that they will make notes. At this point in the writing process it is not helpful to have someone say, “It was good.” or even worse “It was really good.” Sometimes I have to go through a lot of beta readers to get a few that are brave enough to point out more than one or two tiny faults.

The book is off to the editor after I made the changes from the beta readers suggestions. I’m okay-ish at grammar. I’m fabulous compared to where I was ten year ago, but I’m never going to be an editor. It isn’t my talent and I’m fine with that. You don’t have to be good at everything. I’ve found that there are two kinds of writers. Those that CAN write great stories and those that KNOW HOW to write a great story. The ones that know how to write a great story are usually the grammar Nazis and they rarely, if ever, get a story finished. The ones who can write a great story and actually do it, rarely, if ever, are super-duper at grammar. They are two very different talents.

When the book has been edited, it can at last be called done. There are writers who don’t have to go through all these steps or don’t think they have too.You can tell who they are because often you put their book down and forget to ever pick it back up. I’m not embarrassed to say, I’m not a good enough writer to write a great novel without help.

Even if I meet my goal of getting the story written, it may not get done on time because when you involve people in the equation it always equals late. That’s why I’m worried. Well, I feel better. Glad I got that off my chest. Time to get back to work writing.

P.S. To the person who asked if they could quote me and reference back to my blog, I think that’s fine, but I’m guessing it was just a spam scam trying to get a response so they could deluge my post with spam. So don’t think I’m being unfriendly, it seems very suspect–I’m really not that cool that someone would want to quote me. I got a good laugh about it though.

…And The Classroom Frogs Went Crazy.

DSC_0026Taking The Mystery Out of Writing – Assembly Notes

  1. I had a blast!DSC_0013
  2. I’m glad I wasn’t getting graded because I made all sorts of mistakes.
  3. It’s going to be way better next time (and shorter). I learned so much.
  4. When I was introduced they made it sound like I was way cooler than I really am.
  5. Kids are awesome noise makers. Especially when classroom frogs go crazy.
  6. When I said PLOT is a four letter word I didn’t mean plots were evil. I really meant it’s a word with four letters. Oops, guess that didn’t come out right.
  7. A few times I could tell the kids got it and had learned something. Those were the best moments.
  8. I look ridiculous in the video. I hope the kids were laughing because they were engaged and having fun, and not because a crazy women was parading around in front.DSC_0024
  9. The pressure of picking volunteers was too much – hundreds of hands waving in the air. I had the teachers pick; smartest thing I did the whole assembly.
  10. I seriously needed a nap afterwards. It took a lot of energy to put on an assembly.

Little reasons to celebrate

A little more than 6 years ago I was in a recliner in the front room and so proud of myself because I had made it to the recliner without any help. I had recently spent time in the hospital for heart issues (sudden onset) and then many more weeks too sick to get out of bed without help.

However, after a while of only making it to the recliner I was seriously depressed. The doctors didn’t give me a very good prognosis for ever returning to a “normal” life. Most of the time I was too sick to even go watch my boys play ball in the front yard. I had been a very active person. Not being able to do much more than sit made me feel worthless. What’s the point of living if everything I loved to do was taken from me?

I made up a story to keep me from thinking about how pathetic my life had become and then start writing the story down. That story gave me a reason to try to continue to make it to the recliner ever day; my boys would come to my room to say hi, but my story notebook stayed by the recliner.

It seemed silly that I would even attempt to write. I’m dyslexic. Reading, spelling and the like was a serious chore for me, but I didn’t have anything better to do.

I have astounded the doctors with my health improvements over the years, but every step has been a struggle. A struggle to keep moving even when I was so out of breath. A struggle to not be depressed. A struggle to not be upset when someone thought I was faking it because they happened to see the one hour that I was up doing something that day. A struggle to accept what my life was. A struggle not to overdo it because I could do a little but wanted to be able to do a lot. A struggle to find something to give meaning to my countless hours sitting.

I decided early on that writing was what I was going to do to bring meaning to my life. Somehow I was able to find enjoyment in writing even though it was not something that came easy to me.

I recently finished a goal I’ve been working towards for many years. I published my first two book and am so proud of myself. I suppose just like when I made it to the recliner all those years ago it seems a bit ludicrous how happy with myself I am, but when you work very  hard for a long time and succeed, even in a small way – it seems like something to celebrate. Because if I don’t celebrate the small things I’d never celebrate and celebrating makes life much better.

 

It’s my book, I can cry if I want to

When I received the proof copies of Paragon I pictured myself doing a happy dance. I’d heard other authors talk about the first time they saw their book in print. How glorious it was, like there were beams of light radiating from the pages themselves and a choir of angels singing. Imagine my surprise when I opened the box, pulled out a copy of my book, and burst into tears. I proceeded to bawl for the next two hours straight. I suppose if they had been tears of joy it would have been okay, but they weren’t.

I can sum up the reason for my tears with one thought: the first look at my book was a proof copy and I had made several formatting mistakes. Most people probably wouldn’t even notice the things that brought me to tear, but I had a moment of perfection planned and dang it, I didn’t get it right the first time. Not that that should have surprised me, I don’t think I’ve managed to get a single thing right the first time with anything related to writing (something I love), let alone publishing (something I don’t love).

After I cried, threw a fit and vowed never to do anything remotely related to publishing ever again, I picked myself up, dried my tears and got to work fixing the mistakes. A little side note-I followed the same pattern the entire rest of the day. I vowed to quit at least a dozen times as I worked to fix problems. Which means two things: don’t believe me when I’m beat and say I’m going to quit and unless you plan on being trampled stay out of my way because I will succeed.

Here are three big things I learned when I saw my book in print the first time.

  1. Golden rectangles are important
  2. Serif fonts look better in print
  3. Don’t open the box until you are ready

1. Did you know there is something called a golden rectangle? My son has talked to me about them many times, totaling up to several hours worth of information about golden rectangles that obviously didn’t sink in. So here’s what you need to know about golden rectangles if you are publishing a book: there is a certain height to width ratio that makes some rectangles more pleasing to the eye. Case in point-my book. The difference between my book and paperbacks on my shelf was tiny. Mine was 5 x 8. The ones on the shelf were 5.06 x 7.81 but I could tell instantly that my book was not a golden rectangle. Somehow that tiny amount (.06 x .19) made my book look long and too skinny.

2. A serif font is like Times New Roman or Garamond. A serif is a small line attached to the end of a stroke in a letter. Sans means ‘without’ so a sans serif font does not have the small lines attached to the end strokes in letters. What kind of font you like is a personal choice, but there is a reason most books are printed in a serif font. It is easier to read on the printed page. However, on a screen like an e-reader or computer a sans serif font tends to works better. If you want your book to look professional, use a serif font in your printed book.

Of course now I have to make a disclosure statement about how it is possible to have a book look professional and not use a serif font. It is also possible to rake fall leaves on a unicycle but I wouldn’t recommend that either. Unless you are a professional leaf raker with tons of experience don’t get fancy and try to do it on a  unicycle. You’ll just look silly. Same principle applies to picking fonts; don’t get fancy the first time you do it or the second or third… My problem came because the sans serif font I chose looked fine on the computer screen (refer to what I said earlier about how sans serif fonts look better on a screen). The font did not look so great when I opened the printed proof.

3. Think for a moment about watching TV. It’s been a long day, you want to turn your brain off and be entertained. You plop down in your favorite spot, wiggle around until you’ve sunk in just right and sigh. Then you realize you don’t have the remote. So you hop up, snag the clicker and settle in again. Then you realize you’re hungry, but you don’t want to get back up so you holler into the other room, “Hey, grab the chips and a soda for me.”

Nothing happens.

“Please.”

They bring you chips and a soda but you wanted rootbeer and Doritos and they brought Sprite and the last crumbs in a stale bag of potato chips that had been lost in the back of the pantry for three years.

Moral of the story is plan ahead. Grab the remote and get your own snack before you sit down, then you won’t be disappointed. In the same way, if you want angels singing in the background and beams of light surrounding your book the first time you see it, put on music and get a spot light before you open the box. And that’s exactly what I plan on doing from now on.

 

 

I’m a Writer, NOT a Blogger

I realized a while back that I’m a writer, an author, but not a blogger. What’s the difference? I cannot spout creative, fabulous first drafts and interesting columns several times a week or even several times a month. If I did, it would take all my writing time and I wouldn’t get any work done on my books.

Writing novels is the kind of writing I really love. For me the excitement in writing happens as I take a wisp of an idea, something intriguing, but not necessarily thought clear through, and I let the idea talk and shape itself. I’m constantly asking the character’s why. Why are you doing that? Why do you care? Why does your story matter? The list of questions stretches out for miles.

When creating a story I’m so interested to find out what’s going to happen next. I usually have a vague idea where the story is going, but no clue what kind of people, towns, houses or flowers we are going to pass to get there. I love it when someone in a story does something out of character and later I find out their actions made complete sense; I just didn’t know all the facts before. It makes the writing process very interesting for me.

However, my very favorite part of writing is the rewrite. My rough drafts are never very good, but I can see the potential. To me it’s like when you find something in the attic, at a garage sale, or in the very back, most dusty part of a shop. You look at the thing you found and can see it’s real value, even though to everyone else it’s just a piece of junk. You know it just needs to be dusted off, fixed, and given a fresh coat of paint. When I get critique pages back covered in red with notes scribbled everywhere I  want to sit down right then and start fixing things. I might not take every suggestion given to me, but when I can take a suggestion and use it to make the story better, even in a small way, that’s very exciting to me. I love the feeling when I’ve finished reworking a scene and I can say, this is tons better than it was to begin with.

Previously, I had what I call a fake blog. I wrote things once in a while, however, no one could comment. I wondered whether having a real blog was a good idea since I knew it wouldn’t be my main focus. I love writing way more than blogging, so I probably wouldn’t post things often enough to keep it interesting. I decided I wanted to be able to hear from my readers. I’ll never be a real blogger, which I’m fine with, but a blog seemed like a good way to let you know what I’ve been doing and hear from you.