What are your favourites?

The Different Lives of Dogs by Ida Waugh

The editing process has shown me that I favour certain words and expressions. I don’t notice them when I’m capturing the story for the SFD. But when I go back and revise, I’m astonished at how certain phrases are repeated many times. Even though many eyes will pore over my book before it goes to print I’m nervous that I’m going to bore my readers by my favouritism.

Word count: 442  Reading time: 1-2 minutes

Because I’ve seen this kind of tic in other writers’ work, I know it happens, even after the most meticulous editing. A couple of years ago I read a memoir where the author loved the verb schlep; he used it in almost every chapter. Recently I read a book by a different author where his characters frequently ‘bellied up’ to the table. The first time I read that it was a unique and fun image. By the third time, it jumped out like someone had underlined it.

I’m not casting stones here – I know all too well how easily my darlings slip into my writing. I let them curl up in front of the warm winter fire and shut the rest out. Sometimes this is the right thing to do. It shows I’m comfortable with my vocabulary as Stephen King (On Writing) encourages writers to be. By sticking with words we know, he says, we find our own voices. 

Then I think of my own exasperation when authors fixate on an odd word like the two examples above and I read my draft one more time. In spite of all the dissenting opinions on this question, I even reach for the thesaurus when I’m stuck. It’s a valuable writing tool. Like any tool though, it has to be used with discretion. Not all synonyms are created equal and I hesitate if I find one that is unfamiliar. If I trip across an unknown word that sounds wonderful, I look it up in several dictionaries. If it means what I need it to, I happily use it. But I have to be comfortable with context. A thesaurus is a tool to keep the engine running, to push through vocabulary block; it's important not to let it misguide me.

Until then, I’ll try to stop myself from incessant use of xxx, xxx, and xxx. I’m not actually sharing my sins because I hope to be free of them before the end of this summer. At least in this manuscript.

Do you have favourite words that crop up in your manuscript no matter how hard you try to banish them? Do you find them for yourself or do you have a critique partner who keeps you honest?

***

Image from Wikimedia Commons: Different Lives of Dogs by Ida Waugh

 

Thanks for Judy Mayhew for pointing me to this valuable tool: WordCloud

Are you a fair weather writer?

Word count: 374            Read time: 1-2 minutes

The skies over Vancouver cleared last week and the rainforest deluge stopped. These sunny winter days are stunning but I miss the downpour that traps me inside. Dark wet weather is the perfect backdrop for my writing. Regardless, I work every day because, A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” E.B. White

Today’s blinding sunshine didn't keep me from my novel even though I wanted to lace on my boots and hike through the forest. Instead I struck a compromise: once I’d broken through the rock wall in the plot in front of me - okay maybe chipped a little hole in it - I could go for a walk. But first I worked. "The fact is that writing is hard work, and sometimes you don't want to do it, and you can't think of what to write next, and you're fed up with the whole damn business. Of course there will be days when the stuff is not flowing freely. What you do then is MAKE IT UP. I like the reply of the composer Shostakovich to a student who complained that he couldn't find a theme for his second movement. 'Never mind the theme! Just write the movement!' he said." Philip Pullman

In our last seven weeks as residents of Australia, the LM and I toured our favourite spots, spending a few days here, a fortnight there, ten days with friends in the Hunter Valley. That was when I wrote my first YA novel. The weather was heavenly, the beaches were seductive and the wine flowed; it was Australia after all. Yet every day, no matter what distractions beckoned, I wrote for at least an hour. By the time we got on the plane to Canada, I had a viable first draft; it was that easy. Of course it would have been even easier not to have bothered but then I would only have had memories of those last weeks, not a SFD.

What propels you to stay on course with your project? When does the weather help you write and when does it offer a reason to play hooky? What deals do you make with yourself when temptation calls?

Across the line

Word count: 258        Reading time: 1-2 mins 

I typed the last word into my NaNoWriMo document a week ago. Once I was in the habit of writing 2,000 words a day, it surprised me (yet again) how easy that exercise was. In fact it was very much like physical exercise: much easier when done on a regular basis. Also like physical exercise, one day’s finish line was the next day’s starting block.  

Around the middle of November I saw a tweet from a literary agent cautioning writers against querying her with their new novels in December. I laughed at the idea that the final period in my manuscript might signal anything like a finished work. During NaNoWriMo, I follow Tara Moss’s rule: Don’t write it right, just write it—and then make it right later.

In November I wrote. Later I’ll right. The NaNo effort has been buried in my electronic crypt. Now I’m revising something different, which is a fresh start  - and much more fun in its own way. Rose Tremain explains: The process of rewriting is enjoyable, because you’re not in that existential panic when you don’t have a novel at all.

Last week’s dash across the finish line left me perfectly poised for this week’s race. Practice makes the whole thing easier.

Did you finish a first draft recently, what Anne Lamott calls a SFD? Do you need the distance of time before you can start the process of ruthless self-editing? Or are you able to type ‘the end’ one week and revise the next?

***

What I meant to say was...

 

Word count: 428                         Reading time: 1-2 minutes

I’ve been told – and found it on the internet so it must be true – that the best way to wash a car is to do it twice. I don’t have a lot of patience with cars so mine’s lucky if it gets a single wash every couple of months. I’m like that with a lot of jobs. I’ll never create a dessert so beautiful that guests won’t want to eat it. I’ll never produce an awesome needlepoint or restore an old piece of furniture. I know. I’ve tried. These are all endeavours where the that-will-do-factor cuts in really early.

But writing? A different story: the more I do it, the greater my patience is for rewriting and the easier I accept other people’s input. So I  understand what Bernard Malamud meant when he said, “I would write a book, or a short story, at least three times--once to understand it, the second time to improve the prose, and a third to compel it to say what it still must say.”

When writers forget this essential part of the writing process and rush to bring their work to the world by way of poorly-edited self-pubbed books they risk terrible remorse down the road as discussed by Suw Charman-Anderson of Forbes. They risk alienating readers who might have enjoyed their work if they had just given it a little more patience.

I'm sure there are writers whose flawless first drafts are ready for global release but John Irving’s words resonated with me: “More than a half, maybe as much as two-thirds of my life as a writer is rewriting. I wouldn't say I have a talent that's special. It strikes me that I have an unusual kind of stamina. I can rewrite sentences over and over again, and I do. . . . And I think what I've always recognized about writing is that I don't put much value in so-called inspiration. The value is in how many times you can redo something.”

I’d be delighted if I only had to write things three times like Malamud or was even close to Irving’s talent. But still, I do have the stamina to rewrite often, very often. And I hope, at the end of the process, whatever I offer the world shines like it’s been washed twice and well polished.

How do you feel about rewriting? Have you written your story at least three times? Does it finally say what it must?

***

Photos:      Junkyard Car by Melissa M. Morris

                 Old Truck by Ron Hilton

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

Word count: 437                                                           Reading time: 1-2 minutes 

How to get a book deal:

  • write a novel
  • give it to a few friends to read
  • revise accordingly
  • send a submission to an agent or publisher
  • sign the contract.

That’s how it works for some authors and there is an entire chapter devoted to them in the book Life’s Not Fair. If you google “how to get a book deal” (over a billion hits) you’ll quickly realize how elusive a contract can be.

Four weeks ago, on a cold, grey morning that was more like January than June, my phone rang as I was coming out of the dentist. When Anita Daher said that Great Plains Publications wanted to offer me a contract on my most recently-completed YA novel (tentatively titled Lockdown), I looked up at the cloud-shrouded mountains and decided that the weather had never been finer. Two nail-biting weeks later a soft copy of the contract arrived and there was my name, Maggie Bolitho, hereinafter called the Author.

 Last week, more thrilling still, the hard copy of the contract arrived. After another read, front-to-back, I signed page 8 and returned it. Scheduled release date for the book: Spring 2014.

I wrote the SFD of Lockdown just over 18 months ago (NaNoWritMo 2010). Unlike the lucky authors who hit their stride right out of the gate, it’s taken a while for me to get this manuscript ready for prime time. My warm-up included three or four dozen short stories, two other YA novels, two adult novels, and I even experimented with futuristic Sci Fi (the less said bout that, the better). When my energy stalled, I took courses and joined online and R/L groups. I paired up with a tireless writing partner who is both forthright with her insightful critiques as well as encouraging. For over a year I worked with writing coach, Bruce McAllister, who helped me polish my work and hone my query letter to the point where it finally became market-ready. I’ve scaled stout walls over the past few years. 

So now I’m at the next bend in the road and I can see a few hurdles ahead. I’m primed and ready. I’ve been preparing for this part of the adventure for a few years now.

Where are you in your writer’s journey? Are you laying track and looking forward to pulling the entire novel together? Are you finished and revising, getting as much feedback as you can before you submit the work to the market? Or are you in the arduous process called submission, waiting for your phone call?

Maggie Bolitho, Author