Oh time…where have you been?

It has been just over a year since I last wrote here. Shortly after posting this we made some very major life changes. I went got hired to teach full time in a small multi-grade classroom. Which meant a major move across state. I’m nearing the end of my first year back teaching (first year teaching in a multi-grade classroom), and Im feeling like I’m returning from the land of the dead into the realm of the living.

I’ve pushed writing workshop with my students. I’ve made the merited more than heave ever written before…but I’ve lost sight of myself as a writer. I did, however, recently have a short story of mine purchased for publication. Hopefully the story will be published this summer and I can share it with you all then. If I remember. It is called ‘Gabby Chooses Bare Feet,’ and is written for kids at church. Thousands from our church could read it. That’s exciting.

Life as a working mom has been a huge life adjustment. The hardest thing I’ve done….much worse than actually giving birth. I’ve struggled with my identity as a writer this past year, and finding not only the time for writing, but the heart for writing.
My old writing group from our last residence and I still communicate frequently. They helped me with my short story. They’ve helped arrange a writing retreat next month, and I am gearing up to get recharged and energized enough to throw myself back into writing again. My book will get published one day…so, first that means I must finish it. . .

‘Ing’ Crazy

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One wise commenter told me to take the judges comments you can use and then ‘leave the rest.’

Great advice. Except, what exactly is ‘the rest’? It’s hard to sort out sometimes – trying to listen to all the advice while still retaining your own unique voice, and writing style. What does that even mean?

“Be careful of the ‘ing’ words,” one judge told me in the comments of my manuscript.

Nothing else, just that simple statement of ‘be careful of the ‘ing’ words.

I re-looked at my writing and discovered that I do, indeed love words that end in ‘ing.’

I blustered. There’s nothing wrong with words that end in ing! In fact, I very much believe that writers who only use ‘ed’ words have a stilted and choppy sounding writing style. I don’t like it. It doesn’t move quickly. It doesn’t make you feel like you are really there, and part of the story. ‘Ing’ words are important!

If you have no idea what I’m talking about – let me take an example from my writing:

“May walked back through the foyer, her boots echoing against the hardwood floors as her heart echoed in her chest.”

If I change the ‘ing’ word – ‘echoing‘ to an ‘ed’ word, it would sound like this:

“May walked back through the foyer. Her boots echoed against the hardwood floors just as her heart echoed in her chest.”

At first I hated the changed it. I thought it sounded all wrong. Now, I can see that it might not sound nearly as stilted as I first thought.

Through my extensive research (by which I mean – lots of websites and many blogs), I discovered a few important things. First, ‘ing’ words have a name. Gerunds. But doesn’t ‘gerund’ just sound boring? Plus, ‘ing’ words is more straightforward.  Second, I learned that  gerunds really can make your writing grammatically incorrect, and yes – even passive. Third, they’re right. At least, they make some a really good points.

Here are a couple sources to check out how to make sure you’re using ‘ing’ words properly in your writing.

Writing World (Handling Gerunds and Their Relatives)

Gerund Verbs – How they hurt or help your fiction

Even still, for those of you who thing there is no place for ‘ing’ words in good writing, all I have to say is: You’re ‘ing’ crazy!

Just don’t over-do it, and it’s all good. Like all things in life, except love and laughing, moderation is key.

The Judge’s Critiques Are In

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After the devastating expected news that I hadn’t made the semi-finals in the ACFW’s Genesis Contest, they tortured me by making me wait a bit for the feedback from the three anonymous judges.

The waiting almost killed me.

Did they completely hate the story and think my plot stunk? Was my voice and characterizations shallow and armature? So many questions swirled around in my mind, paralyzing me from opening the document when they finally sent it.

I thought I’d already developed a thick skin with my writing group. I was sure they had already killed every last shred of my ego. But in that moment I realized that no, I still have an ego to be torn apart. Bollocks.

Luckily, when I opened up those critiques, they weren’t nearly so bad as I imagined. Yes, I have a lot of work to do. But there are some things that I am doing right.

According to the anonymous authors that read the first 15 pages of my WIP, I do have some strengths as an author. Phew!  I have good characterization, they like my main character, I have great conflict that moves the story along, a good handle on showing verses telling, inspirational theme’s worked well and felt natural, and one judge even said ‘you’re a good writer.’ Another judge said I have a truly interesting story and ‘I really hope you see this story through to the end.’

Ah, praise – a nice stroke to the ego.

However. Why does there always have to be a ‘however’?

However. I have a few craft skill that I need to get command of before I’m ready to sell this story.

#1. Stop burying the (often stilted, sometimes good) dialogue. I have a habit of writing dialogue, and then burying it between exposition. It’s just the natural way that I think. So, this one is going to be challenging to fix and keep from happening in my future writing. I think I need to read up more on writing good dialogue.

#2. Move the story along quicker in the beginning. The manuscript is too ‘quiet’ – too much walking, standing, sitting, not enough emotion and action. I get it, something more needs to be happening, even if the conflict is there to keep the story moving as a whole.

#3. Weed Out the Weasel Words. My first reaction was: What are weasel words? The judge didn’t explain beyond saying to steer clear of ‘know/knew’ and ‘feel/felt.’ I’ve had enough trouble with the weeding out the passive voice, now they’re telling me I have to change more about the way that I write? NO!!
So, I did the only thing I could do – hunted the internet for the answer. After much searching, I discovered the problem. My story needs to be in deep POV (Point of View) Here is an excerpt from a writer about the deep POV and words to avoid:
‘avoid using “telling” words and phrases: felt, saw, heard, just as, plus, because, knew, little does she know, without thinking, however, she continued, he thought, she realized, couldn’t help but, can’t help noticing.’ (Seekerville)

So yes. After reading up on the “Deep POV,” I’ve seen the light. Changing the way I write and getting deeper into my characters voice will help with some of the other area’s I struggled with, like:

#4. Find a unique voice. When you get into the deep POV writing mode, this unique voice is suppose to follow much easier. I’m still working on editing with the deep POV mode, so we’ll see how this goes. I’d thought my writing voice wasn’t bad. But apparently it’s not great either. Must. Work. On. This.

#5. Get rid of the passive voice. Now, this one hurt. I really thought I’d been mindful of that evil passive voice. I’ll keep on keeping on with this. Passive voice, you are my nemesis!

#6. Add more description. The only thing that the judges knew about how May looked was that she is fair skinned. Whoops.

So for now, I am whittling out the weasel words and hoping for magic to happen.

Not Giving Up

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I can’t be the only writer with this pesky voice in my head:

If X happens, that must be a sign from God saying you should not be writing this book.

If Y happens, that’s God telling me not to write at all.

Why did you ever think you could be a writer?
Just stop wasting your time.

We all have insecurities that like to raise their ugly heads and tell us that we’re not good enough, why do we even bother?

We just have to keep punching those voices in the face and keep plugging ahead.

Even when faced with rejection. (If you remember I entered the Genesis Contest and they just published their semi-final list this week. I never expected to be on that list – but still, I suppose I was hanging onto to a small glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe I’d make it. I didn’t. Yes, even though I told myself not to get my hopes up, it still hurt a little. Now I can’t wait to see what all they have to say about what I can do to make it better.)

My mind is still not my own. I’m having a hard time concentrating on writing – but I’m doing it. In little tiny bits. I’m not cranking out 2,000 words a day – or even 20 some days. I’ve been known to open my Scrivener document and take more words out than I’ve put in. But it’s all part of the writing process. No matter if my word count is still hovering around 87,000.

I’m not giving up. No matter what the voices in my head try to tell me. No matter the many different directions life is pulling me.

So instead of the other voices trying to gain control of my mind, I try to drown them out with my own mantra:

I am a writer. I am a writer. I am a writer. I am a writer.

Maybe one day I’ll actually believe it.

Lucky 7

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Laura Stanfill tagged me in a popular meme going around the writing blogosphere recently, and I have been severely slacking in playing along. My apologies, Laura! Part of my problem is that I write in Scrivener (which, really – everyone should write in) and it doesn’t give me page numbers. At least, none that I could find. However, tonight my husband took our girls to his brother’s house for a slumber party with their cousin and I have had the night free to tinker with figuring out a way to find page 77 of my manuscript.

The rules of the game ask you to open up your work-in-progress and then:

  1. Go to page 77.
  2. Go to line 7.
  3. Copy down the next 7 lines, sentences, or paragraphs as they are written.
  4. Tag 7 new authors.

I’ve decided to go with the first seven sentences. Here they are, without further ado:

            May laid back the thick tissue paper and pulled out her silk and velvet crazy quilt. A project she had worked on together with Mother  for months during her illness.

“Sister Campbell really is very good to Mrs. White,” Maude tried to reassure her as she admired the intricate pattern on the quilt. “She is always there for Mrs. White when she needs someone. She gives, and gives, and gives of herself, and is sure to never let Mrs. White see her haughty airs and bossy ways.”

May let down her guard with her new friends enough to brave a question that had nagged at her from her the moment she stepped through Norfolk Villa’s doors. “Then can you tell me why Sister Campbell has taken such an instant dislike to me?”

I don’t have seven people to tag – so I’m going to just not tag anyone. If you follow my blog – please consider yourself tagged! There are seven of you after all . . .

Life Has Gotten in the Way

Its been almost a two and a half weeks and I haven’t been able to write a single new word in my WIP. I haven’t been able to open and read many of the writing blogs and articles I normally devour. Thinking about writing makes me depressed and listless. I’m not sure I can explain why – other than sometimes life just gets in the way of the creative writing process. Everyone tells you ‘real writers keep writing no matter what happens in your life.’ And maybe you should – if you can. But I don’t agree. Sometimes I think it’s important to take the break that you need from writing when life just gets too hard, when other things take precedence in your life. It is not as though I will never write again – although trust me, the thought has crossed my mind. I admit it, I may be a bit of a drama queen. I try to embrace my faults rather than ignore them.

Then I read I Was Wrong! When Life Gets in the Way, by Lillian Duncan and I felt such a load lifted from my shoulders I hadn’t realized was there. I felt free to give myself the distance that I know right now I need. Sometimes the creative mind is repressed by things that do get in the way. Not everyone is the same. Maybe others would be in my situation and it would fuel their creativity and write uninhibited, but I am not that person.

Life has gotten in the way of my writing. I don’t know when I’ll have the creative ability or desire to continue writing my novel. But for now – I’ve been catching up on some much needed reading. I discovered what the fuss was about the series The Hunger Games, and I get it. The books have a way of burrowing under your skin. I was up until 3 and 4 a.m. reading the books because I just had to know what was going to happen. I thought I wouldn’t be ‘one of those’ but alas – I am.  And now I’m reading the other books that I’ve had on my shelf that I’ve been wanting to read for a long time.

 

It’s good to escape with words, even if they aren’t mine.

Line of the Week

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Author Laura Stanfill hosted a “Line of the Week” a few weeks ago on her blog, asking us fellow authors to post their favorite sentence or paragraph on her comments so we can all get a piece of each other’s writing, and appreciate the work each other has put into crafting beautiful/funny/interesting/sad/compelling/etc. sentences that would otherwise go unnoticed by anyone but ourselves.

I thought the idea was brilliant, so I played along. She posted another “Line of the Week” today, and I decided to play along, but why not share the fun with all of you too?

Here is part of a paragraph from chapter 16 of my WIP. On a walk through the forest west of Sydney in 1894, the point of view character, May has discovered a tree that has been carved by the Aborigine’s that live in the area – it’s bark taken for containers, utensils, or any number of things they use the bark for.

May cast her eye’s one last time on the scarred tree. It’s vibrant red bark contrasting sharply to the elaborate patterns of dark brown dead heartwood exposed to the elements. That’s how she felt. As though someone had taken a knife and carved out pieces of her, exposing her heart to the unstoppable forces of the wind, rain, insects, and birds.

If you have a favorite sentence from your current WIP I’d love to hear it here – or go over to Laura Stanfill’s blog and post there too.

Almost Finished

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At my writing group meeting last week my group asked me where I was at in my story.

“80,000 words in!” I declared a bit triumphantly. 80,000 words sounds like an awful lot, doesn’t it? I mean some completed novels are only 50,000?

“How much more do you have to go?”

“I don’t know? Maybe 15,000? Maybe more, maybe less.”

“Ok,” they said. “Write 15,000 in two weeks. Finish your book by April 1st.”

“But! But I’m going on vacation – and we’ll be gone, and it’ll all be crazy – I can’t possibly. I’ve only been writing 100-200 words a day . . . “

“No but’s -we don’t care. Finish it.”  Man, my writing group is tough.

So – here I am, in the race to finish my full-length historical inspirational fiction novel (phew – what a mouthful!). Scrivener has my daily writing target 1,081 words from now until April 1. I started out Sunday at needing to write only 989 a day, but . . . well, I’ve gotten a little behind. That’s okay. The weekend is coming and I can surely make up for it then.

Less than two weeks and I’ll have a completed – very rough – first draft. Hopefully.

A week and a half, really.

Hold me to it, ‘k?

Contests, Writing While Editing, and More

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February sucked the life out of me. March is breathing life back in.

Deep in editing my first chapter mode for the Genesis contest for the ACFW, I found little time for blogging, or much of anything else. With my first 15 pages and a one page synopsis of my book submitted and my youngest daughters 2nd birthday behind us, I feel room to breathe a little.  But let me get this straight: I have no hopes or aspirations of actually moving forward and ‘winning’ anything with the Genesis contest. I mean, of course I wanted to make it the best that I could, but my hope for the contest is simple to receive feedback. How can I make my work better? Of course, I am looking forward to the middle of April now on pins and needles . . .  there is at least a chance I can move to the semi-final round. Yeah, probably not, but a girl can dream.

In February, I also entered a giveaway from the very talented Julie Jarnagin, and won! I haven’t had a chance to read her books, Canyon Walls and  Canyon Crossing yet, but my Grandma has. According to her, they kept her gripped to the story and she couldn’t let go until she finished. After reading the first few pages, I can’t wait to have enough free time to indulge in pleasure reading again! As it is, I have stacks of research books I need to finish, and so many chapters to write for my own novel-in-progress.

Yesterday, I entered another contest at author Wendy Paine Miller’s blog. The challenge was to have the most correct guesses of popular book covers she and her daughter’s re-enacted. I guessed five of the eight correct, and won a critique on the first chapter of my WIP. Wahoo! I also now want to read all the books she highlighted with their beautiful covers, especially:  Into the Free, A Grown Up Kind of Pretty, The Tigers Wife, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

After deep in editing mode on my first chapter it has been difficult to get back to writing the middle of my book. My ‘muse’ ‘inspiration’ or whatever you want to call it is missing-in-action.  Perhaps it wouldn’t be so difficult to find if I would just plan out what I want to write before I write it. But I don’t. I’m a little bit of a ‘off the seat of my pants’ writer. I know where the story is going, and I know who my characters are – so I let that drive the scenes I write. I’m not exactly sure it’s working. I just don’t know that I have the patience to painstakingly outline each chapter and scene that I write. I love discovering what comes to me when I least expect it. Really, it’s part of why I love the writing process so much. However, sometimes nothing comes to me when I most desire it. I am close to finishing my WIP, nearing 80,000 words and only about 4 chapters with nothing written in them of my first draft. I may add more chapters later as I work on revisions – but then again, I may have to take some out as well. There’s a lot of work left to do still – but I feel like if I really sat down and focused on the book like I did back in November, I’d have the first draft finished in a week.

Now, if I can just find my inspiration around here somewhere . . .

When you write – how much do you rely on ‘inspiration’? Or do you have everything plotted out, down to the last shadow on the wall?

Goodbye morning, hello night

I don’t know why I set myself up for failure so often. I knew I was not a morning person when I decided to try to force myself to wake up at 5 and be peppy and ready to write. I tried. I really did. Honest.  But I am not a morning person. Never have been.

So, goodbye 5 A.M. wake-up call, hello bed at 2 a.m. Yup, staying up later than I normally do to write, and thats okay. I’m giving in to fact that its my precious writing time, and my creative writing part of brain doesn’t activate until the children are all in bed asleep.  I really do get some of my best writing done in the quiet of the night, when I’m not stressed that any noise I make will wake the little people. And I can function off of 5 hours of sleep no problem when I wake up, as long as I don’t have to sit and focus on creating dynamic, likable characters with an interesting plot and storyline.

I am much happier now that I’ve given in to defeat of my 5 a.m. wake-up challenge for the month of February.  I guess you could say the moral of the story is this: as long as you’re writing –  in the morning or at night, whichever is best for you – do what works for you and not someone else.

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