Writer’s High

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When people tell you to exercise, they often talk about how you’ll feel better about yourself afterwards. It’s true…you generally do. There’s the rush of endorphins and the pride of sore muscles.

But what makes me prouder than a runner’s high, is the writer’s high. After struggling with a particular scene for about a month, I finally got it right last night. I did a little dance in my chair, patted myself on the back and reread it. Yup. That was exactly what needed to happen. I didn’t just feel proud; after days of walking away from the keyboard feeling aggravated and unsettled, I felt calm and almost peaceful.

I jumped to another piece that had been giving me problems and *bam* suddenly I knew how to solve it. Talk about floating on endorphins!

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Ideas and Organization and Edits, Oh My!

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So, I was quiet on Thursday. The 9-5 is becoming the 9-6 and the 9-7. That’s still a bad excuse for skipping my writing (blog or current projects), but I do have a good excuse: I was also prepping for an exciting event on Friday.

One of my high school friends is now a special education teacher. Her 5th graders were feeling down and out about their writing, and she wanted them to talk to a real writer about editing. For some reason, they talked to me.

My friend sent me the kids’ questions ahead of time. In class, they’re learning about how to come up with ideas, how to organize those ideas, how to choose “sparkle” words, how to (and why you’d) change up your sentences, and what is voice.

They had great questions. In fact, the questions about how I came up with ideas had the same flavor as questions beginning writers ask on Twitter, blogs and other forums.

Lined notebook paper with writing and mark ups. Photo has a blue tint to it.

My Edits

One of the students asked why I used so many exclamation marks in the piece that I sent them as an example of writing (so they could see the end result and I could show them the early, marked up drafts). I was a little horrified that I used so many exclamation marks. For some reason, my first drafts are plagued by !!!!, so I always make a concerted effort to cut them out.

I had fun and I think the kids learned something…although, I’m pretty sure that I played second fiddle to the wonder that is Skype and being able to put bunny ears on your classmates.

If you’re interested in what it’s like to be a first-year teacher, check out Ms. C’s blog.

Killing the Perfect Scene

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Piggy bank - orange with blue flowers and cartoony eyes - is broken into several large pieces to reveal a handful of pound and pence coins.

Broken Piggy Bank by Images_of_Money CC 3.0 http://www.flickr.com/photos/59937401@N07/5857473535

I follow romance, YA, mystery writer blogs. Even though I don’t write in those genres, the authors still have interesting points that can translate to my own work. I feel the same way about medium as I do genre, which is why I love Screenwriting Tips…You Hack.

I’ve been working on a subplot for Julia and incorporating parts of it have tripped me up. Mostly because it means that I would have to tear apart a scene that I think is perfect. It was one of the early scenes I visualized and one of the first to come together easily. And here I am thinking of destroying it. Screenwriting Tips to the rescue:

Screenwriting Tip #835
If it ain’t broke… sometimes it’s worth fixing it anyway. Rewriting even your good scenes can help you stay invested when working on draft after draft. Plus, who says there isn’t a better version that you haven’t found yet?

Time to suck it up and break the scene.

Back to School

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Shot looking down at photographers open-toes sandals (pink toe nails) on a green welcome mat that read "Welcome to [word obscured] Lane School."

Back to School by slightly everything CC 3.0 http://www.flickr.com/photos/slightlyeverything/6115575283

Well, for one Saturday anyway…and no, it’s not detention.

Northwestern’s MA/MFA program is offering “Apprentices–7th annual community writing workshops, Sat. and Sun.,Dec. 3 & 4, Evanston campus” (their blog is here). It is free. I just had to email them to reserve a spot…and I could only sign up for five of the 12 or so courses they were offering.

For a while I toyed with the idea of grad school for writing, but since I was in writing groups and was writing on my own (even sporadically), I couldn’t bring myself to contemplate the expense. So, I went to the other extreme and thought conferences might be what I was looking for. Again there was expense, but significantly less than school AND there would be editors and agents there. But I went back and forth on that as well. I’m not anything if not a waffler…I mean a person who considers all sides.

This weekend seems to fit nicely between full grad program and conference.

I’m only attending three: Capturing Character In Creative Nonfiction, Kicking Writer’s Block In The Butt: Writing About An Image and Start Strong, End Stronger: The Importance Of Endings In Short Stories.

And I’m trying to go in as a blank slate. I haven’t worked on Julia in a few days and I think I’ll hold off until after the courses. I don’t want to go in and try to shoehorn Julia into what I’m learning and if my brain is all-Julia-all-the-time, I’m afraid that’s what will happen.

Have any of you gone into a situation like this? Did you find it was better to go in a blank slate, or should I consider bringing my Julia baggage and keeping it front and center?

Paranoia

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Girl shooting a shotgun riding piggyback. Both people are doused in multiple colors from the Indian festival of Holi

Standford holi festival : water gun fun by tibchris CC 3.0 http://www.flickr.com/photos/arcticpuppy/4474732172

In the comments of a blog post I read many moons ago, someone casually mentioned that she had written her first novel by hand in a notebook that she carried with her at all times. When she was almost done, someone stole her bag.

In addition to the lesson of always guarding your bag on public transportation, I gained a paranoia that the notebook of Julia, the one that I carry with me everywhere, the one that has all my handwritten edits, will be stolen. In my more dramatic moments, it’s at gun point.

I usually like handwriting edits and typing them into the computer at a later date because that gives me multiple passes at the same passage. If my red penned edit still makes sense a week later, in it goes. If I need to edit my edit, that’s easy enough to do.

However, I may have gone to extremes this time. Over 100 pages of edits is REALLY tedious to type in. Since my paranoia was convinced that someone was going to steal all my pages of work and force me to edit from scratch, I decided to spend last Sunday afternoon entering as much as I could into my computer.

I managed just over 100 pages (couple dozen to go) but for most of that I stopped editing my edits because it was just too much.

Which mean they probably weren’t right. Which means another round of editing…sometime later.

I’d still recommend my process to someone. I’d just emphasis small doses. What about you? Any favorite editing tips you want to share?

Reading List

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Even as I wrapped up draft 3 of Julia, I was already looking at what needed strengthening in draft 4. I decided this called for more research. Not the detail-important research like learning why planes crash or going through the steps of getting a will, but the how-the-whole-thing-comes-together research. This means reading!

I bugged friends, found bibliographies of authors who I’d heard wrote similar stories, and scoured my memory for books I’d read that were similar in tone and theme. How did I want to deal with a sibling…there’s a book for that. How do I keep the pace…there’s a book for that.

I thought I’d tear through these books, soak up the knowledge and be on my merry drafting way.

Sadly, no. I did tear through the first book on my list. But I abandoned my second and stalled on the third. I was approaching this a little too much like school and my brain was rebelling. After a week away, I was able to get back into book three. I’m thinking of taking a break and going with something completely off-list before going back to book two.

Do you read for specific writing tips/help? Do you ever struggle with it?

Talk to Me

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I like reading my writing out loud. Um, let me clarify. I hate reading in public and I don’t like the sound of my voice. However, I find that reading a scene out loud helps identify problem areas and shows where the writing shines.

When I’m alone, I read without a problem. No stumbling or stuttering. I read and reread a phrase or sentence, changing it as I go, until it sounds right and I don’t care…until I realize that someone (usually my husband) can actually hear me. Then I start to whisper. It works, but is less effective.

That’s why text-to-speech is awesome. I put on headphones, highlight the scene and let the computer do the talking. Granted, the voices are jerky, can put the wrong em-phasis on the wrong syl-able or pause…inappropriately. But it works and I’m not reduced to a mumbling nut hiding in the corner.

That’s why I’m so excited that Mac’s latest operating system has released new, more natural text-to-speech voices! Awesome voices. Accented voices. Not me voices! Listen to some sample here.

There are Irish and Scottish English accents as well, but I couldn’t find a sample to share. Perhaps there’s an accent to match your setting…or to match your mood. I think Serena will have the honor of reading Julia after my next round of changes.