Saturday, December 04, 2010

After NaNoWriMo, What's Next?

I finished National Novel Writing Month with 75,000 words of a first draft. Now I have options. Since there's more story to tell, December could be NaNoFiMo (National Novel Finishing Month) in which, despite the holidays, novelers attempt to write an additional 30,000 words. Or, I could partcipate in De-PlotWriMo - December Plot Writing Month and refine the plot arc of my first draft. Come March, there's NaNoEdMo (National Novel Editing Month) in which folks pledge to log 50 hours of editing. And, if I just can't wait until November to take another book writing challenge, I could join JulNoWriMo (July Novel Writing Month).

Fiction isn't the only genre with a NaNoWriMo type event. Want to write a screenplay? There's Script Frenzy. A picture book? National Picture Book Writing Week. The poets have RePoWriMo (National Refrigerator Poetry Writing Month) in April and NEPMo (National Epic Poetry Month) in May. And the songwriters have FAWM (February Album Writing Month) in which they attempt to write fourteen original songs in twenty-eight days.

These challenges create a structure and a supportive environment in which to set aside the inner critic and get the work done. Sure, I can slog it out at home alone in front of the computer with the faithful yellow labrador beside me, but it's more fun to be in a group of people who are all up against the same challenge. We gather on-line and in person. We toss around ideas. We grouse. We celebrate small victories. We go a little nuts.

No matter your preference, there's a writing challenge for you. I've only mentioned a few. For a complete list, go here and scroll down to "NaNoWriMo-style Events On The Horizon." Which challenge will you take?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

NaNoWriMo Yet Again!!!

November is "National Novel Writing Month" and NaNoWriMo provides the perfect structure with which to banish the inner critic and get a whole bunch of words on the page in a short period of time. 50,000 words in 30 days to be precise.

If you've already signed up, drafted your outline, completed your character sketches, and filled your cupboards with easy-to-prepare foodstuffs, way to go! You're light years ahead of me. If, on the other hand, you haven't given NaNoWriMo a thought until this very moment, never fear. The first year I did NaNoWriMo, in 2004, I didn't hear about it until November 6th and still managed to pound out 50,000 words by midnight on the 30th of November. It can be done!

To find out what the fuss is about, head over to NaNoWriMo.org. Visit "What is Nano?" for a full explanation of the contest. Then go to the search box and type willwrite4chocolate. That's me. Friend me and I'll friend you back. That's what NaNo is about. We're all in this together.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Try, try again.

“The road to Wisdom? Well, it's plain. And simple to express. Err and err, and err, again but less and less, and less." - Piet Hein

Last month, in preparation for our trip to Montréal, I polished my rusty high school and college French. I drove the streets of Columbus listening to French speakers inflect perfect sentences and attempted to repeat them. She said, "Bonjour." I said, "Bunnjerrr" with my loose, midwestern lips. While I especially hope to be understood when I want to know "Ou sont les toilettes?" I may never sound like a native speaker. I'm doing my best. I'm making the attempt.

Writing is like that too. The mind is vivid. The images are crisp and clear; the ideas coherent and logical. And then we take out the paper and the pen and it all goes to hell. My attempts may never capture the essence of my thoughts. With practice, however, I might come close. I must make the attempt.

The word "essay" comes from the French essai which means attempt or trial. That's what we do every time we put pen to page. We attempt to convey what's in our minds. We try to capture the character we've imagined. Whether it's the exquisite nutiness of a savory crepe or the way sound reverberates in La basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal, we can only attempt to get it right. What else is there to do but practice? In that way, we continue the attempt.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Clackety Clack Clack Clack

“What I don’t write is as important as what I write.” – Jamaica Kincaid

The first chapter of the memoir I’ve been working on for several years has never pleased me. I set out to revise it, but none of the usual techniques worked. Several people read it and made suggestions which I tried to implement to no avail. I reread the chapter and realized I was still too close to it. I let it sit awhile, but when I picked it up again, it still felt too close. I tried reading it aloud. Still too close. Then I remembered a technique I learned in journalism school in the early 1980's.

In Professor Norman Dohn’s news reporting class, if a story wouldn’t cooperate, he told us to “run it back through the typewriter.” What he meant was, retype it from the beginning. In those days you actually used a typewriter. Since I haven't owned such a machine in more than a decade, I decided retyping it on my laptop would have to do. I printed the first chapter, set up my typing stand, opened a blank document and began retyping the chapter as if it were someone else’s work.

As I typed, Professor Dohn’s advice paid off. If a sentence didn't flow from the one before it, my fingers became unwilling to type it. But here’s the real magic. My fingers wanted to type something else – something better. Of course I could have forced myself to retype the annoying sentence, but I didn't. I let my fingers move as they wished. Also, if a paragraph or sentence seemed out of place, as I typed, I made a note to move it. As I continued typing, the correct place for this bit of text became apparent. In retyping, my fingers found vivid images, lively dialogue, and improved structure. I was revising, just not in the usual way. The chapter still needs work, but I'm making progress.

Do you use any uncommon revision techniques? I'd love to hear what's working for you.

Monday, August 02, 2010

One Space or Two?

There's a discussion over at the ywriter forums about whether to use one period or two after a sentence.

IMHO, one space is correct for manuscripts. The two spaces came from a previous era when we used typewriters and dot matrix printers and nonproportional fonts and two spaces after a period made the documents much easier to read. Nowadays proportional fonts will adjust the space after the period anyway, making it unnecessary to use two spaces. While wikipedia isn't the definitive authority, it does explain it well here.

And here's the MLA ruling on the issue - one space. http://www.mla.org/style_faq3

Having said that, there is still some controversy over the issue. A recent poll by literary agent Nathan Bransford found only a slight majority of his readers in the one space camp:

In a minority view, the APA publication manual blog wants two spaces, but it recognizes that:
. . .the usual convention for published works remains one space after each period, and indeed the decision regarding whether to include one space or two rests, in the end, with the publication designer. . . .

So, I'm in the one space camp.

If you've put two spaces in, it's easy to do a universal find and replace. Just search for ".[space][space]" and replace it with ".[space]" It might take a little while, however for those of you (like myself) who learned to automatically hit the space bar twice after a period, to retrain yourselves to only hit it once. It did me anyway.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Do You Read Writing Blogs?

"Writers should be read, but neither seen nor heard." - Daphne Du Maurier

In 2006, about the time I began writing this blog, I started reading the blogs of other writers. There weren't many. Today, due in part to the increased responsbility for authors to promote their work, thousands of writing blogs exist. You could spend every moment just reading about writing and doing that reading only on the internet.

My current favorites include Nathan Bransford, Rachel Gardner, Query Tracker, and Guide to Literary Agents Editor's Blog. These blogs focus on literary agents and the publishing industry. For a wider variety, see this list published by the directory of universities and colleges of the 2010 Top 100 Writing Blogs.

The bottom line is that we should all spend much more time working on our projects than reading these blogs. The bloggers, if they're worth their salt, would agree. Still, our desire to read about writing persists.

Do you read writing blogs? If so, which ones do you find helpful?

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Summer!

"Three rules for literary success: 1. Read a lot. 2. Write a lot. 3. Read a lot more. 4. Write a lot more." - Robert Silverberg

What if, each September, you still had to write that essay about what you did on your summer vacation? Not taking a vacation? How about an essay on how you spent your summer months? What would you want your essay to include? I'd want mine filled with reading, writing, and revision.

On my summer vacation I'm bringing two projects: Imperfect Endings, a memoir I want to map to see how the author structured the story, and my spiral notebook for writing practice about new ideas on my own memoir. Whether on vacation or at home, I find it helpful to choose specific tasks. If I have a fuzzy intention to "get some writing done," chances are I won't. And, since I'll want to tour and lounge and do other vacationish things besides reading, writing and revision, I'm limiting what I take.

What about you? It's nearly July. How are you going to spend the rest of the summer? If you like, please post a comment below.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Taking a Class; Not Taking a Class

“Love has its own time, its own season, and its own reasons for coming and going. You cannot bribe it or coerce it or reason it into staying. You can only embrace it when it arrives and give it away when it comes to you.” - Kent Nerburn

Write Now Newsletter offers classes, writing groups and other opportunities to learn from and commune with writers. But when is it time to take a class and when is it time to stay home and write? When do we need to hear something new or to hear someone remind us of things we had forgotten? When do we need silence, long walks with the dog, and each of our own voices telling us where to push forward and when to pull back? I ask myself these questions often.

The rhythm of my class taking and time spent with other writers varies. I've enjoyed attending classes with many instructors. It's a pleasure to meet new writers and share time with a professional who's living the life I hope to live. At other times I don't need yet another voice telling me how to write or giving me tips on how to get the writing done. It's a balance. I look inside and see. Is it time to be inspired by someone else or do I need to inspire myself?

Right now I'm taking two on-line classes. I download the self-paced lessons and read them. I post questions on-line for others to answer. And, I do the work. When I’m finished, I go back on-line and let everyone know how I’m doing. Because these courses require actual work on the manuscript, it feels like I’m splitting the difference.

How do you balance taking classes with the pen to paper or fingers to keyboard work of putting words on the page? If you'd like, please leave a comment below.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Who's on the Cutting Edge?

"When screen technology progresses sufficiently, the idea of using paper will become a total anachronism. Paper won’t record and store your notes or annotations; screens will." - Mike Shatzkin from his April 27, 2010 blog post "What I Would Have Said in London, Part 2"

Who's got a kindle? A Nook? A Sony e-reader? A Kobo? Oh, and there's that new thing from Apple everyone's tweeting about. The one with the unfortunate name. Just thought I'd check and see who's on the cutting edge.

Ed got a Nook for his birthday. The other night when he and I headed out for our hot date to a coffeehouse, I packed a few books and my novel manuscript into my backpack and hauled it to the car. When Ed climbed in, he wasn't carrying anything. "No book?" I asked. He said nothing. With a sly grin, he slowly opened his jacket to reveal his Nook tucked in the inside pocket.

When we went to a bed and breakfast a few weeks ago, I piled books and the novel manuscript into my book bag and lugged it to the car with my suitcase. Ed needed only a suitcase. No book bag. At breakfast, Ed took his Nook. He'd been reading a book (on his Nook) but decided he wanted to read a paper. He got up and looked around, but the owner explained that they didn't get the weekly paper. Ed sat back down, picked up his Nook and pushed a few buttons. "There," he said. In less than 30 seconds and for 99 cents he was reading the Wall Street Journal. The owner had to see it. Ed handed him the little machine and pointed out how the screen looks just like the newspaper or the book he's reading. The screen isn't backlit so, while you can't read in the dark without a book light, it's easier on the eyes than a computer. It keeps your place in the book and has a search function in case you want to go back and find something you missed.

I don't own one of these devices -- yet. I still read the old fashioned way. Books. You remember. The smell of paper. The feel of a hardcover in your hand. The sound of pages turning. Some people say they're on the way out. Relics. Antiques. A fad like 8-track tapes or VHS. I'm not quite ready to give it over to the new generation -- yet. Maybe next week.

Raise a hand if you've joined the e-reader clan. How's it working for you? And for the rest of us, what do you think? Will you be joining the e-reader generation anytime soon?

Friday, April 02, 2010

April Means Script Frenzy!!!

"I procrastinate to a point where I'm filled with self-loathing and then I start writing. It's usually a state of self-loathing that gets me going." - Michael Lewis

As any of you who've read my newsletter essays for long know, I'm a big fan of National Novel Writing Month. But did you know there's a corollary for playwrights, screenwriters, and graphic novelists? It's called ScriptFrenzy and, like NaNoWriMo, it's a month-long slog to the finish. In this free, website supported contest, crazy writers from all over the world attempt the nearly impossible. They have 30 days to write 100 scripted pages of a screenplay, stage play, TV show, short film, or graphic novel. If you're worried about the wacky formatting required of the form, never fear, software can be found here! There are also instructions in formatting and a forum of other writers who can help when you get stuck.

While I'm still deep in the revision of last year's NaNo novel and so won't be participating, I'll be cheering on the Scripters. If you plan to give Script Frenzy a try, let me know by a leaving a comment below.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Holly Lisle Courses Now Open!

I don't write much about the two courses I'm taking from novelist Holly Lisle because, until today, they were closed. But now THEY'RE OPEN!!!

Holly's course "How To Think Sideways: Career Survival School for Writers" is nothing if not comprehensive. It starts by examining our limiting beliefs as writers and continues through writing a book and on to the marketing phases. This includes how to generate ideas, how to narrow those ideas to the ones that are most marketable, how to outline a book, how to write a book, how to revise a book (it includes a very streamlined version of her other course "How to Revise Your Novel"), and includes how to market a book. At present there are 26 chapters and you can either sign up to receive the lessons weekly or every other week. If you want more information, here's my affiliate link for How To Think Sideways.

Additionally, "How To Revise Your Novel" is opening too. Admission is limited to those people who have a completed first draft of a novel and the class usually fills quickly. It's only offered a few times a year. It runs twenty-one weeks (five months). Although, I warn you, it is taking me much longer to do this thorough of a revision. And that's okay. Many others are moving slowly through it with me. This class is so much more in depth than any work I've done so far, even in MFA school. Craft is the focus, but that's what I needed. If you're interested in getting more information about this course, here's my affiliate link for How to Revise Your Novel.

Please note that these courses assume a lot of responsibility on the part of the student. You are left to do the work on your own. It's like being a "real" writer!!! You get the lessons that she's written based on her many years of novel writing and you get the forums. She has published at least 30 novels - mostly fantasy and romance. While you get minimal direct attention from Holly herself, you get attention from the moderators on the forums who are students Holly has chosen to assist her. And you get the wisdom of all the other writers who are doing the course at the same time. Every question I've had has been answered on the forums. It's sort of like MFA school without the cost and with most folks writing genre novels. There's interesting discussions on and off-topic and helpful feedback on your work and on the lessons. It has been exactly what I needed to continue what I started at Goddard.

If you decide to take either course, I'll see you in the forums.

Regardless, continued good luck with your writing!

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

When All Else Fails

"Well, I don't know exactly how it's done. I let it alone a good deal." - Saul Bellow

It happened again this month. I spent two days gathering, organizing, html-ing, and posting events to the website. I updated the mailing list to prune all the spammers and bouncers and that guy named John who keeps signing up six or seven times a month each time using a different fake email address. I'd even finished crafting this month's "Paranoid Ex-Lawyer's Release." This left only one thing to do. The essay. The fun part, right? You'd think so. But this is usually when Miss Muse decides to go on vacation. This month was no different.

So, following Jack London's writing advice, I pulled out my club and prepared to beat Inspiration into submission. I did several rounds of writing practice. I surfed the internet for ideas. I skimmed several books. I whined to my dog and, when he didn't respond, I whined to my husband. And, Ta-Da! I got, you guessed it. Nothing! Zippo. Nada. Zilch. Not so much as a dribble from the rusty faucet of creativity.

It was late and I had no choice. There was nothing left to do but call in the cavalry, the cannons, the stealth fighters. I summoned the only resource that works when all else fails. I went to bed.

Any mother of a three-year-old knows the syndrome. Little Elphaba sits quietly before her Dr. Hammer workbench enthusiastically pounding nails into a board. Mommy thinks, "I'll just give Galinda a call while she's busy." She dials. The phone rings. Before Galinda can answer, tiny Elphaba is at Mommy's side tugging at her capris. "Mommy! Mommy! Come play with me." Fortunately, Her Majesty the Muse is also a three-year-old. If I turn my back on her, she's sure to come.

I don't understand this phenomenon. I'm sure there's some scientific explanation, but in those moments before sleep and in those moments before waking, magical things happen. They also happen on slow walks with the dog and sometimes in the shower, often, unfortunately, when I don't have a pen. But they do happen. I only need to engage the part of my mind that wants so badly to come up with an answer in some other, non-writing activity. I'm reminded of something Natalie Goldberg said often. "Let the world come home to you."

Do you let your writing alone? What you do when all else fails? If you'd like, please leave a comment below.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Do you (book) journal?

They're fancy talkers about themselves, writers. If I had to give young writers advice, I would say don't listen to writers talk about writing or themselves. - Lillian Hellman

When you're working on a book, do you keep a journal of your progress? On one of the forums I follow, the topic of book journals decidedly divided the audience. I'm in the pro-journal camp. I keep a separate journal for each book. (Currently three, or is it four?) Each journal consists of loose blank paper kept in a two-pocket folder. I hand number the pages and write what I did each day. When the journal gets too big for the two-pocket folder, the older portion goes into a three-ring binder.

The entires are concise. For the memoir, which has evolved over six years, I record which version I'm working from and what changes I've made to that draft. On the novel, I'm using worksheets and index cards as I revise so I write down how many worksheets I've done that day or what page I'm on or how many index cards I've done. Whatever the project, when I'm stuck, I do timed writing practice or mind-mapping on the issue. I usually do that in a separate place and often on my computer. In the journal for that day I write, "Mind-mapped sub-plot about Sarah's parents moving to WA. See file '2010-01-31 Sarah's Parents'" to reference the computer file.

It doesn't take much time and it feels good to be able to look in the journal and know exactly where I am. I'm kind of OCD that way. A friend of mine does her book journal using a database program and tags each entry so she can easily search them. I still like the feel of real paper and haven't been able to give that up yet.

The hazard, of course, is that I will spend more time writing about writing than actually writing. That's why I keep my entries short. What do you think? Who keeps a journal? Who doesn't?

Monday, January 04, 2010

O-H-I-O

“There’s two things that you don’t listen to: flattery, which can’t help you, and abuse, which can’t hurt you. You have to look at the facts.” - Jim Tressel

Happy 2010! We write hard. We play hard. No essay this month. To learn why, read “The Paranoid Ex-Lawyer’s Release” which you can find at http://www.nitasweeney.com/newsletter/the-fine-print/.

For your convenience, here’s what it says:

PARANOID EX-LAWYER’S RELEASE: This month there was the matter of that little football game in Pasadena. In those moments of Buckeye insanity immediately following the Ohio State/Iowa game, my sister, Amy, and I decided we must go to the Rose Bowl. (Mid-December she whined that I was dragging her there, but now she’s thanking me.) A few weeks after Iowa, my brother scored tickets too. We’re all three Ohio State alums. December became a haze of washing Buckeye garb, buying Buckeye paraphernalia, and figuring out which suitcase was large enough to carry all the Buckeye garb and paraphernalia. On December 30th, we hauled that luggage to our 15th floor hotel room and looked out upon a spectacular view of the city. Then, I glanced down to the parking area. TBDBITL and the OSU cheerleaders were climbing out of their white buses. We were staying in the same hotel!

No matter where we went in LA (and we did a bit of driving on those wacky freeways), if my sister yelled “O-H!” (which she is prone to do at random intervals) someone responded, “I-O!” For a few days LA glowed scarlet and gray. Santa Monica Pier? Scarlet and gray. Universal City? Scarlet and gray. Disneyland? Scarlet and gray. Rose Parade? Scarlet and gray. The game? Well. Having been to both the USC and Iowa games, I didn’t believe we’d won until the clock read 0:59. But our football team turned the Rose Bowl scarlet and gray too! GO BUCKS!