Fresh Perspectives

I’ve finally finished the latest revision of my manuscript, having sliced out 32,000 words.  And while I know it’s a far better story than it was a few weeks ago, I really need to gain a fresh perspective.  Now there are lots of different ways to do this.  (Not including beta readers.  I’m not yet ready to hand this off to anyone else.)

STEP AWAY FROM YOUR WORK

Have you ever read or edited something that you wrote so long ago you don’t even remember writing it?  It’s the coolest feeling, because you get to read your writing exactly as an outsider would.

Now obviously I don’t recommend walking away from something for so long that you forget about it.  But it does help to take a break for several days, or even several weeks.  I know when I’m editing something over and over again, I begin to subconsciously anticipate what’s coming up: “Okay, Bobby is going to say such-and-such to Sally, and then Sally is going to smack Bobby in the head and say such-and-such back to him.”  This mode of thinking dulls your reading senses, and hinders your ability to edit objectively.

PRINT THAT SUCKER OUT

I don’t know why, but for me writing feels different when I switch to reading it off of paper.  The words somehow look different, and that causes them to sound different as well.  Sometimes a particular word or sentence will leap out as sounding wonky, despite it never having done so from the computer screen.

GET OUT OF YOUR SEAT

Or at least move your seat into another room.  I like to take my hard copy manuscript to Starbucks, because looking at strangers, a street, cars, dogs, etc. rather than the typical apartment setting I’m used to is a great way to gain new perspective.  Simply being in new surroundings can help you view your writing in a new way.

 

The Joy of Deleting

When I began editing my historical young adult manuscript a few weeks ago, I was facing a document that was over 116,000 words.  Now, the accepted length of YA novels these days is under 80,000 (although obviously some books exceed that, and there’s no hard-set rule.)  So to at least be in the ballpark, I was faced with the daunting task of cutting nearly 40,000 words.  In other words, a third of my manuscript.

Now I’m a firm believer in including everything in a first draft.  If I think it maybe, might, possibly be a good idea to include it, I do – because you never know which of those little details might ultimately strengthen your story, or even take on a life of their own later.

So if it pops into my head, I use it.  What’s the worst that can happen, besides ultimately having to cut a third of your manuscript?  At least then you know that everything worthwhile is probably already in there, and it’s just a matter of organizing and trimming the fat.

SO WHAT TO CUT?

I originally thought that foregoing contractions was a good idea, despite its wreaking havoc on the word count, because it made the language sound more antiquated.  But after further contemplation, I feel that contractions make the story read faster and more smoothly – and that, I believe, is paramount, especially when writing for a young audience.  So I added back all the contractions, and slashed a couple thousand words in the process.

Now some people hate deleting what they’ve written, but I recommend learning to love it.  Then, rather than feeling pained when that huge paragraph that took two hours to write disappears, it’ll feel like an equally-huge weight off your shoulders.  Plus, the more you delete, the less you have to wade through during your next revision.  Less is always more, shorter is (nearly) always better.

(Of course don’t ever permanently throw away large chunks of your writing; save them in a separate document.)

Ask yourself for every paragraph, every sentence: “What does this contribute to my story?”  If the answer is “Nothing,” or even “I’m not sure,” lose it.  It’s extra fat that will slow your pace and quite possibly bore your reader.  And that’s not what you want after all of your hard work.

Conference!

I had often heard – as I’m sure most aspiring writers have – that writing conferences are an invaluable resource for having face-to-face time with editors and agents, getting feedback on your work, and just learning some good old tricks of the writing trade.  And I was lucky enough to spend this past weekend at the Southern California Writers’ Conference, courtesy of director (and author in his own right) Wes Albers.

And I now understand what all the fuss was about.  This was a three-day writing extravaganza, packed with opportunities, information and advice.  There were agents and editors on hand, doing one-on-one critiques with authors.  Read-and-critique sessions ran throughout each day, and there were even overnight rogue critique sessions, which lasted as long as the participants remained awake.

There were workshops on every writing topic imaginable – plotting, pitches, editing, women’s fiction, memoir, bang-up first pages, graphic novels, building platforms, micropresses, nonfiction, hooks, genres, screenplays.  If it involved writing, they discussed it.

At these conferences you’re surrounded by talented writers, all serious about their craft.  (The admission fees for most conferences aren’t cheap, so it’s safe to assume that most people willing to shell out several hundred dollars to be there aren’t joking around.)  With the presence of so many writers in one place, there developed a unique energy – something that made you just want to be creative.

There were numerous speakers as well, including Selden Edwards, whose thirty-year quest to get his first novel published ended in a two-book, high-six-figure deal with Dutton.  (That novel, by the way is The Little Book, and its sequel, The Lost Prince is now available as well.)

   

So between the chance to meet agents and editors, the plethora of information available, and the human embodiment of why you should never give up, the conference was more than worth it.

The next Southern California Writers’ Conference will be in San Diego during President’s Day weekend, February 13-18, 2013.

New Story – The Blank Page!

Oh my gosh, it’s been FOREVER since I posted but I haven’t been idle!  I finished a new short story, which is now available for FREE on Smashwords.  (As of right now it’s even on the home page, but that’ll probably change before the night is out as it gets pushed further down the queue.)

Check it out here!

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/216915

Now I feel content, and ready to eat some bacon and drink some wine.  Much more to do tomorrow!

Create Cliffhangers

I’m sitting here this morning with some serious ADD.  I wouldn’t call it writer’s block, but more that I have things to tweet and emails to send, and interview questions to come up with for Scripts and Scribes.  Oh, and the farmer’s market is going on, but I really shouldn’t take all that time to walk down there, although I barely left my chair yesterday and it would be nice to get out in the fresh air and stretch my legs.

But then I’ll just end up buying overpriced hummus, and too many underpriced vegetables and baguettes that will go rotten and stale, respectively, before I can eat them all.  But, on the other hand, I could get my weekly dose of fruit, since (I’m ashamed to admit) the sun-warmed free samples at the farmer’s market are the only fruit I eat on a regular basis.

But then I wouldn’t be writing.

I’ve found the best way to combat the ADD (I don’t actually have ADD by the way – just an innate desire to multitask rather than to deal with things one at a time) is to leave off in your writing right at the beginning or in the middle of a juicy scene.  I know it’s tempting, when you’re on a roll, to plow through and write such scenes to completion – and if you’re smack in the middle of your allotted writing time, by all means keep going.  But if it’s getting late and you need to get off the computer, don’t bother working into the wee hours to finish the scene; leave your characters hanging, so the next time you sit down you can jump right back into it.  Then you won’t even be tempted to think about emails and baguettes, and your weekly attempt to ward off scurvy; you’ll only be concerned with what’s going to happen next in your story.

All right, now I’m going to go take my own advice.