Monday, March 29, 2010

Finishing what You Start: The Writing Process

A few weeks ago, Sandi asked me, “How do you manage to write so many books? How fast do you usually write them?” She suggested I blog about the process.

For about ten years, I managed to write one Heartsong-length book (45-50,000 words) in a year. If I wrote a longer book, it took me longer to write it. My primary motivator (since I wasn’t selling anything yet, understand) was to have a new chapter to bring to my critique group that met twice a month.

When I sold my first mystery, Gunfight at Grace Gulch, on the basis of a synopsis and three chapters, I had to learn how to write by the editor’s deadline. For the first time, I had to make goals work (see my January 3rd blog on Goals.) I wrote four novels and two novellas (as well as several nonfiction writing assignments) in a two year period before I made the jump to writing full time. Now I have more time to write. . .but praise God, I also have more I need to write, so the process hasn’t changed much.

I already have a detailed (chapter-by-chapter) synopsis before I begin the writing process detailed below.

I write in three drafts. My rough draft is just that: as the words trip from my fingers, no rewriting at all, full of inconsistences, research points, and notes to myself. I turn off the internal editor and simply plow through. That comes in the second draft, when I do major revisions. I research any questions, polish my writing, make sure the characters keep the same names and hair color all the way through, before sending out chapters to my critique partners. After I receive their comments, I do a final run through. Of course, before I send it in I do a final spell check.

Theoretically, each draft takes less time than the one before. In creating goals, I give a value of “1” to first draft, “1.5” to the second draft, and “2” to the final draft. That is, I hope to double my daily word count between the first draft and the final draft. Since I generally lose about 10% of my manuscript during the revision phase, I plan to write my first draft 10% longer than the final manuscript needs to be. (This isn’t true of everyone. You’ll know your own style.)

With all of that in mind, what does it look like with a real book? Let’s look at my next project, my third Vermont book, Love’s Raid, due to the editor on August 1st. I plan to finish the final edits by July 24, to allow for unexpected delays. Since writing full time, I plan on daily goals of 3,000/4,500/6,000 words five days a week (with a smaller amount on Saturdays and none on Sundays). I also let the manuscript sit for about a week between each phase. If I stick to that schedule, I can begin writing Love’s Raid on June 4th and finish on July 24th. I will try to start around June 1st, “just in case:”

June 1st-21st: Rough draft

June 28th-July 3rd: Major revisions

July 12th-24th: Final edits

This schedule allows me to focus on a different manuscript requested (but not contracted) between now and June 1st.

As I’ve focused more on writing, my writing has improved in the first draft. My revisions no longer take as longer. I’m writing faster and cleaner. I have no magic pills to offer to speed the process. Know your own limits, plan accordingly, and you will find yourself doing more with less as you grow.

What does your writing process look like? Have you finished a manuscript? Tell me more.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Farewell to Tracy Ruckman

Dear fellow writers and editors,

I'm sad to say, Tracy will no longer be able to grace us with her knowledge and wisdom. She had too much on her plate and needed to cut back.

Tracy, you will be greatly missed! Thank you for all your insight into editing and improving our prose. Thank you for all the feedback you've given to us on our works in progress. We wish you much success and hope you'll stop by and visit us as often as you can.

We'll miss you, Tracy!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Showing versus Telling

Show and tell. This is one of the most important rules in writing fiction. Always “show” the story, never “tell” it. Of course, there are times when passages of “telling” are necessary (i.e. in narrative summary). There are some incidences where it’s acceptable, such as in transitions. Or perhaps there’s a jump in time that needs to be conveyed. But for the most part, the more a writer “shows,” the better.

What is showing? Showing takes place in real time; we see things unfold as they happen. Showing shows us where we are, gives us a location we can picture. Then there’s action, something that happens, and with that comes dialogue.

Ever hear the saying: Actions speak louder than words? The same rule applies to writing. Actions bring characters to life, it makes your characters believable, and it makes us a part of the story and a part of them. We’ll learn more about a character and become more connected to them by what they do, rather than by what the narrator “tells” us they do. It also brings in the five senses: touch, taste, see, smell, and feel.

Here’s a brief example below. Both lines are saying the same thing, only one is “telling” and the other is “showing:”

TELLING: Michael was scared. But he tried to hide it.

SHOWING: Michael took a deep breath and puffed up his chest. But his hand trembled when he reached for the doorknob. He stuffed it in his pocket, then turned to his companion and chuckled.

Which lines engage you more as a reader? Notice the second lines show “action,” whereas the first lines “tell” what he’s feeling.

One tip I always give to clients on how to show and not tell is to start with the object and have it "do something." Another key is to cut the "was" phrases.

BEFORE: It was early in the morning. The sun was coming up over the horizon and shining on the crops of flax.

Here, the object is the sun. In the second sentence we begin with the "object," but we have that troublesome "was" phrase, which makes this passage "telling."

AFTER: The morning sun cast lances of light over the blue and purple valleys. A breeze carried the scent of flaxen crops and manure to the early risers.

Notice the deleted "was" phrases and how we start with the object and we have that object "do something." Also, notice how we had room to add more from the five senses, such as smell.

That example was a bit complicated, so let's break it down into something more simple.

BEFORE: The breeze was cold.

AFTER: The Canadian breeze sliced through his coat and nipped his skin.

Now, I'm not saying these can't be worded better, but the idea is to have the breeze "do something." In this case, the breeze is slicing and nipping.

Hope this has been helpful, and if anyone has something to add, please do!

Happy writing!


Monday, March 8, 2010

Preparing for a Writer's Conference

Spring ushers in the year's "conference season." Here's an article published a couple of years ago, but I hope it will be helpful to anyone going to conference this year - for the first time or the tenth.

Preparing for Your First Writer’s Conference

Conference season has arrived, and so have the nerves. The reservations are made, but your first writer’s conference is still weeks away. Utilize this time to make your first conference experience the most enjoyable, and the most useful.

1) Write two pitches for your project. Whether you’re writing the all-American novel, or a short magazine article, you need an “elevator” pitch and a longer one, usually called a “back cover blurb.” Condense your project into 25- and 50-word pitches. It’s not an easy task; take your time to get it right.

2) Practice giving the pitches. If you have critique partners, practice on each other. If not, practice with your spouse, your kids, your dog. Get so comfortable giving your pitch that it becomes a natural response when an editor asks, “What are you working on?”

3) Create a “one-sheet” to use as handouts to editors and publishers. If you have access to Microsoft Publisher, or any other type of graphic arts program, you can create a crisp layout conveying your ideas. You’ll find a One-Sheet handout on the Web site.

4) Order business cards. Several companies offer affordable options for cards so you won’t have to break the bank. Ordering two sets of cards provides a safety measure - you can give out the cards with your complete information to editors and business contacts who need all that information; distribute the more generic cards, with your email address and website, but no other personal information, to strangers who ask about your work.

5) Research the publishers and editors who’ll be attending the conference. Most conferences provide a list of professionals giving workshops, keynotes, appointments, and critiques so make use of the information. The conference may also provide a “most wanted” list from each participant, so you’ll know in advance who’s looking for your type of manuscript. Visit websites to learn about their current authors and projects, what types of projects they may be seeking and to get a general feel for the company.

6) Keep writing. A daily writing schedule - working on the project you’re pitching or a new one - will keep you focused.

7) Prepare your wardrobe. Check the conference information to determine how formal or how casual the event will be, and then make sure your wardrobe matches. You want to appear professional and together; others will get their first impression of you from your wardrobe so you don’t want to over- or under-dress. Some conferences host an awards banquet; find out if it’s a formal occasion before you arrive.

8) Keep your expectations in check. You’ll probably have time with agents, editors, and publishers and some may even be interested in your work. But if they aren’t interested, this isn’t the end of your career. Attend workshops and seminars, take notes, and seek advice. Learn as much as you can about the craft of writing, and know that the education never ends.

9) Stock up on thank-you cards. Immediately after the conference, you’ll want to send notes to all who helped you, advised you, offered critiques or assistance.

10) Most of all - enjoy the experience. Know this is a time to learn, listen, study, but it’s also a time to make new friends and contacts for the future.

post signature