Looking Back and Going Forward

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Looking back over your last year of writing, have you made adjustments or have you kept doing whatever it was that you were doing on January 1?

My guess is you’ve made changes along the way, learned things, broke some bad habits, and put into practice new techniques.

You are looking at the craft of writing in a much different way than you did a year ago. 

The overall goal of writing is improvement. So is the goal of revising our manuscript once the draft is complete. 

I view revising as dissecting—just like we did in science class in high school.

It’s taking my story apart and looking at/improving each individual section, and then putting it all back together again.

It may have been impossible to put Humpty Dumpty back together again, but not so with your writing. It can be changed, reworked, rewritten, reordered until it looks much different than it did in draft form.

I begin by either selecting my known weaknesses to work on or, just what I deem important.  I go through the entire book (focusing on one at a time) looking for those things and “fixing” them. In my first book, for instance, I noticed that each chapter began with the main character’s name. So, I rewrote each beginning paragraph.

You’ll need to determine for yourself just what things are necessary. Here is the list of what I go through:

Repetitious words, past tense verbs, emotions, descriptions, flow.

I check each character’s description against my master list. If Sally has green eyes in chapter one, they’d better be the same color in chapter fourteen.

Quotation marks, italics, indentations, misspellings, etc.

Last lines of each scene (I make sure they entice the reader to keep turning the page).

Timeline/order (I once read a book where the girl’s cat died in chapter 14. Then, in chapter 15, the cat was very much alive and purring on her lap!) You don’t want huge mistakes like this to spoil your story.

Seasons/holidays (If these are mentioned in the book, they need to be in sequence) Ages (pay attention to age progression throughout).

As you can see, the list is long. I add to it for each new story, it seems.

No book will be perfect, but look especially for the mistakes you know that you tend to make over and over again. Keep polishing until your story gleams!

Next week, editing. 

 

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Drafting Can Be Rough

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Drafting is the next step in the writing process. Whether you use a computer or a steno pad, whether you write with a pencil or pen, call it a “sloppy copy” or use another form of reference, you cannot escape this step in the writing process.

Using what you’ve accomplished so far in the prewriting process, drafting is the actual writing, chapter by chapter, of your book.

With a few tweaks here and there, all writers vary this stage of writing to end up with what works for them. Whether it is a program, such as Scrivener, or your own version of something else you’ve seen out there, now’s the time to get the old creative juices going. You can use a combination of approaches. After five books, I am still changing mine. 

What I am going to share, now, is how I approach the drafting stage of writing. If it is helpful as a whole, or only in part, use what makes sense according to your writing style, your organizational methods, and so on.

I use my computer at home almost 100% of the time. I found, early on, that using Mac’s “Pages” wasn’t the universally accepted format. You’ll need WORD. You can purchase WORD for Mac from the internet or Apple store, if you, too, own a MAC.

After closing my office door to insure quiet, I consult what I accomplished in my prewriting. I used to use giant Post-it’s of about 18” by 30” or so to keep my timeline,  characters and their descriptions straight. I have recently found it just as effective to use a spiral notebook and list these important details chapter by chapter. Clutter on my walls tended to make me nervous, whereas a simple notebook can be closed and stored in the closet for the next writing day.

Next I write … and write … and write …

I may finish and entire chapter or not, depending on the amount of time I have allotted. But, here is where I differ from most writers. After taking a short break for lunch or even overnight, I re-read my chapter, doing a quick edit of anything that stands out to me. These may be typos, mistakes in point-of-view, changes in scene order, or even sometimes deleting entire sections. These pre-edits serve two purposes: 1) Reading through the chapter gets my head back into the story so that I can continue my writing and 2) Just like the Post-its that previously cluttered my walls, it is a way of reducing what isn’t needed and getting down to story basics. 

(Most writers will tell you to keep writing all the way to the end of the book before going back to tackle any kind of editing. That would be ideal, if I could do it, but I just cannot…sorry, my mind just won’t get going unless everything else is cleared up, first).

Although I might do a little revising in the drafting stage, I find that it is wise to wait to do anything major until I have finished the entire book. Too many things can happen in the course of writing that might seem wise to revise early on; however, lots of difficulties will work themselves out in the course of writing. Save yourself a lot to time and work by sticking to your outline closely. Let your story “simmer” for awhile.

Before closing, I want to mention that I give my book, chapter by chapter, to my critique group. I rely on their comments heavily when editing. If there is something that these other writers do not understand (or like), then I am certain that my readers will not, either.

Next week- revising.

The First Stage of Writing: Prewriting

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So you are a new writer. You sit down at the computer, or you grab a yellow legal pad, and you freeze. “Just how does one get started?”

Well, it’s not as hard as you think. Remember your school days and what you did when given a writing assignment in English Composition class?

There were four basic stages to the writing process that you learned: prewriting, drafting, revising, and editing. (Nowadays, I think we could add publishing, but we will save that topic for another time).

Since prewriting is the “generating ideas” part of the writing process, it just well may be the most important. It is here that the writer determines the topic of the book, the message he/she wants to convey, the characters, the  point-of-view, and so on. 

If we polled authors, we might find that each uses different prewriting methods. They may use what proved to be comfortable in the past, try methods suggested by other authors, or come up with unique methods of their own.

Let’s look, briefly, at various methods and see what might be workable for you.

Prewriting Methods: The following are the methods I use. Remember, writers all work differently. I am simply sharing what works for me.

1-Brainstorming: This is the process of coming up with a list of as many ideas as possible without being worried about whether an idea is realistic or not.

After brainstorming, I go directly into the next pre-writing method. This could be hours—even days—later, however, since this is a long process.

2-Mind Maps: This method makes the most sense with the way my own brain works. It is also easy and visual. It also keeps me organized.

You may have learned this as “webbing” in school. It consists of drawing a circle in the middle of a blank sheet of paper. (This is where I write my character’s name, perhaps draw a stick figure, being sure to leave space inside the circle to add characteristics that are dominant). Then, I add lines to other, smaller circles around the main circle. Inside these go supporting characters, and so on. On the lines connecting them, I write the relationships of each one to the main character (hero). 

I actually start writing following mind mapping. However, I do want to share three other methods of prewriting which can be used separately, or in conjunction with each other.

3-Freewriting- This is when you write whatever comes into your mind for a specific amount of time. When using this method, you don’t concern yourself with punctuation, grammar, or even spelling. You just try to get down as many ideas as possible. Then, you choose one and get started writing. (You may need to repeat this process several times until you come up with a winner!)

4-Drawing/Doodling – Sometimes combining words and drawings can really open up lines of creative thought. (I’m no artist, so I often use stick figures with mind mapping).

5-Outlining – Some writers use traditional outlining to organize their ideas (I find this especially useful when planning my chapters). These writers start with their main ideas and list the supporting details underneath. The more detailed the outline, the easier it is when one begins to write.

My next blog post will be on drafting. Writing that rough draft can be just that—rough. The idea is to make it as easy and enjoyable as possible.

New Information on the Ellipsis

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In a much earlier post, we talked about the ellipsis and its function. However, I recently learned a couple of technical points I would like to pass along.

First, to review, an ellipsis ( … ) indicates that something has been omitted in the text, usually because the author doesn’t deem it necessary or in order to save space. (I often use one at the end of a sentence to show that the character’s thoughts are trailing off … ) Sometimes they can be used to show hesitation (I didn’t mean … oh, well, it doesn’t matter) or that the character has lost his train of thought.

Beware, however, that just like the exclamation point, the ellipsis can be overused. And that can annoy the reader.

Recently, I have found that there are rules to the exact placement of the dots.

When using an ellipsis in conjunction with other punctuation (commas, semi-colons, question or exclamation marks) treat the ellipses as if it is just another word in the sentence.

For example: “I didn’t know the iron was hot! … I was fortunate not to get burned.”

Here’s a case of other portions of text being eliminated: “I didn’t see the car coming straight at me. … I turned the wheel just in time.”

So, let’s look at the execution in the last example, above: The end of the sentence gets a period. Then, leave a space. Follow that space with the three dots. Finally, leave a space before starting the last sentence.

Remember, there are really only three dots. In the example above, what is shown may look like four, but in actuality, it is a period, followed by an ellipsis. 

Using an ellipsis is one case where spaces, and their placement, are very important.

Think About It

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One of the things that makes our writing strong is sharing our character’s thoughts with the reader. This is done in two main ways: by indirect and direct thoughts.

Thoughts are simply a character talking to themselves. We show this inner speech by using italics instead of quotation marks.

For example,

Indirect: He thought his friend’s remark was funny.

Direct: Now, that’s funny!

Most narrative writing is in the past tense.

But, characters’ inner thoughts are written in the present tense.

Here is an example:

Indirect:  He refused to give up.  (This comes from the narrator. Past tense- third person.)

Direct: I refuse to give up.  (This thought comes directly from the character. Present tense- first person.)

So, when should you use indirect thoughts and when should you choose to include direct thoughts?

Ask yourself two questions:

1) Does it feel like it’s in third or first person?

2) Does it feel like the character is saying this?

It’s just that simple. 

Or, at least I think so…

Love Me, Love Me Not

 

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I remember as a child, plucking petals from daisies and saying, “He loves me. He loves me not” until the stem was bare.

Today, I plucked petals from a sunflower. I repeated,  “Shopping. Writing. Shopping. Writing.” 

Do you sometimes need motivation to get down to work?

Even if writing is your passion, like it is mine, do you still find there are times we need to give ourselves a little nudge?

For instance, “If I write for two hours, I can watch my favorite television show, or if I write today, I will let myself go out for coffee with a friend this evening.” And so on.

Are we losing our interest in—or desire to—write? Are we abandoning our dream…our goal?

The holidays are busy with decorating, shopping and celebrating. It’s only natural that there is less time for writing, laundry, and cleaning. 

This season, I’m giving myself permission to spend time with family and friends. I may even go to a holiday movie.

 I’m not going to make myself feel guilty if I don’t get much writing accomplished. 

The computer will still be there when the holidays are over. And, who knows? When I reread what I last wrote, I may see it with a fresh set of eyes. My edits may come faster and easier.

I may end up with a better finished product.

I remember that when I was a teacher, I did my best teaching after Christmas break. I was refreshed and ready to tackle the second semester.

What will you do? Motivate yourself by plucking petals off a rose? Or call a friend and suggest you meet at the mall?

I’m Thankful For YOU

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How can I turn a writing blog into an occasion for Thanksgiving?

The most obvious way is to write something about giving Thanks—related to writing.

I have several things/people to be thankful for this year:

  1. I am thankful for authors/writers who share what they know. I learn either from individuals, speakers, books, podcasts, blogs–any way I can.
  1. I am thankful for my readers, and my critique group whose kind comments encourage me to keep writing.
  1. I am thankful for those who pray for my writing.
  1. Foremost, I thank God for increasing my desire to write, my talent, and His leading as I write. Every day, I am aware of His awesomeness in allowing me to pour out His love and provision to others through the written word.

Thank YOU for reading week after week, sending in your comments, and following this blog. I want to write about what you’d like to know, so please send me requests at any time. I can almost guarantee you that I will need to do a little research to provide what you need—but I love it–because I enjoy learning “write” along with you!