Weasels & Sweat Pants

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Last weekend, I had a mini-reunion with my fellow writing weasels, Jess and Rach. It was so fun to catch up with both of them, as we hadn’t seen each other since Jess got married last year! On Friday, we were able to meet up with our favorite professor, Hillary, for lunch close to Hollins University. As always, it was awesome catching up with Hillary and getting a fresh round of advice and encouragement from her as we move forward in our writing endeavors.

After lunch, we walked to campus and found the perfect spot in the library to do what we do best: we each took turns workshopping our projects that we’ve each been able to read and critique. Before we knew it, a couple hours had passed, and we each had a few pages of notes and suggestions to implement the next time we revise. I’ve started editing, thanks to their awesome feedback, this week. I can’t even begin to describe how much their comments have helped me with my WIP. I was stuck on a couple pesky details before the three of us met, but now, my head is clear and I’ve decided where it needs to go.

And even though they really helped me make a few decisions about the plot, it’s not all squared away quite yet.

One of the things I mentioned to them that I know I’ve blogged about before is how difficult it is to nail the beginning chapters of a novel. The beginning is extremely important for obvious reasons: not only does it set the tone for the rest of the manuscript, it can also make or break whether an agent or editor chooses to keep reading. To put it simply: your beginning better rock a reader’s socks off.

But no pressure, right?

This got me thinking about first dates. When you first meet someone you like, you really try to impress. You want your hair to look its absolute best. You want your make-up to be flawless. You want your outfit to be flattering. Basically, you want to come off as the perfect woman. Maybe even at the beginning, you laugh at jokes you wouldn’t normally find funny. You pretend to be interested when your date tells you all about his work’s softball team, even though you couldn’t care less about going to a game. As in the words of the character of Amy from Gone Girl, you pretend to be the “cool girl.”

For me, that’s how I try to mold the beginning of a manuscript. I want it to be irresistible.

But then, a few months (read: chapters) in, that’s when the metaphorical sweat pants can come out and the make-up wiped right off its face. Not that I don’t want the rest of the story to be as impressive. But my goal is for the reader to want to get comfortable with the protagonist and her whole bag of ridiculous issues – to know enough about her flaws at that point that make her human, and want to hang out with her anyway. To see that she doesn’t have to be the “cool girl” to still be pretty amazing.

So right now, I’m still plugging away at the “cool girl” part of the story, laying the foundation for the shit storm coming her way.

It’s going to be hard, sad, and at times, horrible for my protagonist. But it’s also going to be really fun to get to the heart of the real her.

Sweat pants, and all.

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“…With a Little Help from my Friends”

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Recently, I sent two of my amazing fellow writer friends the first three chapters of my sequel manuscript I am currently working on.

…At least, that’s what I thought I did, when in actuality, I sent them the first three chapters of the first installment instead. *face palm* Yeah. That happened. Sure, it doesn’t sound too bad, because I had to have caught the mistake within a day or two, right? Wrong. I realized it a couple weeks later — after one of said friends sent me long and in-depth feedback for the incorrect pages. Sheesh.

Of course, I apologized for the mix-up, and both of them forgave me (because they’re awesome like that) and I sent them the right chapters. And hey, the upside is I have more feedback for the first book, too. These two ladies’ comments and suggestions are invaluable to me, as we have been writing alongside each other now since our first year in grad school. I’m so grateful to them for their feedback, and even more so for feedback on pages I didn’t even mean to send them this time.

This whole mix-up got me thinking about my writing and how it’s really similar. Sometimes, after I’ve written a chunk of chapters and read back through them, I realize several scenes or even whole chapters are “wrong,” i.e., don’t fit and/or don’t help move the story along at the pace I want them to. Just as I re-sent the pages to my friends, I have to re-write pages, too. Writing a manuscript is truly a long, slow process, just like riding a unicycle up a huge hill. (Random metaphor, I know. Let me explain.)

Riding a unicycle is hard enough as it is. (I’m guessing. I’ve never had the pleasure of riding one. If I’m being honest, I suck at even riding bicycles now.) But then throw in a super steep hill, and you’ve got yourself quite a task. But if you’re lucky like me, you have friends who will be there to help you — to keep your balance steady — so the hill seems smaller and smaller.

That’s how it feels for me with my writing weasels. The hill I have to climb feels so much less scary as it would if I didn’t have them.

Some writers may prefer to create alone, and I get that. But me? I’d rather pedal my unicycle with help. So to Jess and Rach, thank you for helping me keep my balance (i.e., sanity) steady through this writing process, as you always have in the past. Love you girls!

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The Survival Guide to Editing

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Writing a first draft of a novel is what I would deem the honeymoon period. Everything is great, wonderful, and spectacular, not to mention you are positive you are writing the next great American novel. Or at least one of the next great American novels. (Or at least a novel.)

But once the dust settles and the newness wears off and you have to actually reread and then revise the extraordinary piece of literature you created… well, let’s just say you might not feel so strongly about it anymore. Which leads me to the point of this blog entry: every writer needs her own personalized survival guide to editing to keep her sanity (and optimism) intact.

If you don’t have your own just yet, feel free to borrow from mine.

1. First, above all else, a writer needs motivators, aka, a cheering section. You know, the kind of person that constantly asks, “Did you edit today?” and stays on you. The kind of person that reminds you if getting published is going to happen for you, then you have to work at it and never stop! I saw a meme the other day that changed the old saying, “Good things come to those who wait,” to a much more appropriate, “Good things come to those who work hard.” To be a successful writer, if you can’t give it your all, there’s no point in trying. Thankfully, I have two motivators in my corner, cheering me on daily – my mom and my husband. I’m more grateful for their constant support and encouragement than I could probably ever express.

2. I get by with a little help from my friends. To be more accurate, my writing weasels, Jess & Rach. When you’re a writer, it pays to be friends with other writers who will read your work and give you honest feedback. Both of these fabulous ladies do this for me, and thank God, because having not one, but two extra pairs of eyes reading over my stories helps me tremendously. You see, they’re able to pick up on issues that, a lot of times, I don’t even notice are there. In other words, they’re awesome, which means my stories become more awesome by proximity.

3. Every girl needs her accessories. Pretty sure that’s a random quote from a Katherine Heigl movie, but let’s move on. For me, the accessories I need to edit are pictured below:

I know what you’re thinking. This girl needs a few more pens. I know, right? Anyway, besides my collection of colorful writing utensils (and believe it or not, I use different colors to distinguish categories of revision), also pictured is a copy of my manuscript (I cannot edit well just staring at my computer screen), “Hold that thought” stickies (which are also color-coded), a colorful pencil case, and a fun Vera Bradley notebook gifted by Jess, which I use to record what revisions I make when and what needs to be done next.

Wow, I’m a nerd.

4. Treat yo’ self. I find that rewarding myself with sweets or wine (or both!) at the end of a successful day of revising really helps motivate me. Today’s treat: cinnamon rolls.*

But anyway, there you have it – my survival guide to the dreaded task of editing a manuscript. If you’re about to embark on your own editing adventure, make up your own. It may seem like colorful pens and stickies won’t make it any less daunting, but I assure you, they will! (And if not, you can always skip to #4 and try again tomorrow.)

*Cinnamon rolls aren’t pictured because I ate them.

Quickly.

 

Setting a Deadline (& Sticking to It)

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“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”
― Douglas AdamsThe Salmon of Doubt

The beauty of grad school (well, one of them, anyway) is deadlines. And at Hollins, especially during summer term which only lasted six weeks, there was no time to procrastinate. Or, in my case, worry and stress over what I did crank out – is it good enough? Is it long enough? Should I start over? OMG, this is terrible! What was I thinking? This doesn’t even make sense!

My fellow weasels get what I’m saying here. Basically, during school, we’d write something, turn it in, and hold our breath. That’s all there was time to do.

And I really, really miss that aspect of school – having a strict deadline that was unbendable – that couldn’t just “whoosh” by like Douglas Adams said. Now that I’ve graduated, the deadlines that are set for me are set by myself. And I admit a lot of them have whooshed by and sheesh, were they easy to bend before said whooshing.

But I’ve recently set a new deadline on the horizon that I’m going to try my hardest to meet. In my last entry, I talked about revising my manuscript. Well, I got it printed at FedEx and I have no excuses now not to work on it. So, I’m posting this deadline on the interwebs so that I’m held more accountable: I will finish this draft by April 15th.

Notice I didn’t say “I plan to” or “I hope to” – I said I will. And even though this isn’t like with school and I do have time to worry about whether or not it’s good enough, I’m very lucky to still have in my possession another beauty of grad school that I didn’t have to leave behind at Hollins: fantastic friends/weasels who will both compliment my work and tell me the truth about what needs to be fixed. (Jess & Rach, I’m lookin’ at you!)

So, cheers to ALL deadlines – the ones made for us and the ones we set for ourselves. May we catch up to them before they whoosh past us.

And luckily, I don’t have to be in shape to meet this one. My exercise goals, on the other hand… they’ve been whooshing past with their tongues out, laughing their butts off at me for years.

Revising: a Writer’s Never-ending Story

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A few days ago, on Facebook I stumbled upon a quote posted to a fellow writer’s timeline: “How a novel finishes, is there’s a moment when you know it has problems, and you don’t know how to fix them. That’s when you’re done.” – Lorrie Moore

Recently, my friend & fellow writer, Rachel, did me a humongous favor and read my entire manuscript. I asked her specifically to read the ending, as I’m having trouble figuring out how it should end exactly; I know how it currently ends isn’t working. But, being the fabulous friend she is, she read the entire thing instead. Once she finished, she emailed me some global feedback from start to finish, but mainly for the last half (which I knew needed the most attention anyway). As soon as I read her email, I grabbed a notebook and jotted down what all she recommended, while feelings of excitement swam through me. Why, you ask? Why would I be excited to give this manuscript – which has already been completely overhauled twice now (the latter time, I basically scrapped most of the previous draft. Ouch, I know, but it had to be done) – yet another go? That’s a question my past self would’ve definitely scratched her head over – the past self that thought she had finished this bad boy in the summer of 2012 and was convinced there was absolutely NO MORE EDITING needed. But, my present self knows better.

You see, it’s taken me a long time to realize this, but at least as far as my writing is concerned, there’s ALWAYS room for improvement. Sure, it can be frustrating when I want to move on to something new. But if I don’t edit and revise until I’m blue in the face my previous manuscript, all the past time and effort I’ve put into it would’ve been for nothing. And I love my characters too damn much to leave them hanging.

So, back to the quote. I know I’m not there yet, because as Rachel helped me realize, there are problems with my story that need fixing – and, thanks to her, I have a much better idea on how to fix them. That doesn’t mean I’ll fix every single problem, of course. But I’m confident I can now eliminate those that have solutions.

And that, my friends, is why I’m excited to tackle yet another editing session – because every problem I fix makes my story that much stronger.

Slacking: Contagious as the Common Cold

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Last week, I got a sore throat. For the first couple days, it would only hurt for a few hours then go away. At that point, I chalked it up to some sort of allergic reaction. But then, that sore throat decided to set up camp for good. Of course, this had to happen during my Weasel reunion with two of my very favorite people, Jess & Rach, but I sucked it up and dealt because I hadn’t seen them in forever and it was so great to catch up, get pedicures, eat, and most importantly, chat about writing. But once they were both gone, my attention refocused on my throat situation, who decided at that point to bring its friend, congestion, into the mix as well.

Now, the sore throat’s gone, but congestion is hanging around like the unwelcome guest it always is. And being sick for the past few days served as the perfect excuse to lie around, watch TV, and not do what I should always be doing: writing and revising.

Which brings me to slacking. Today I got to thinking how it’s not so different from a cold in that it’s easy to be lazy and procrastinate, even though deep down you know you should get your butt off that couch and into your computer chair. But sometimes, it’s impossible to make that argument against slacking, when you’re so comfy and hey, you don’t even remember the last time you saw that rerun of “Seinfield” and oh, a snack might be nice and ooh, this Snuggie is so toasty and…

You get the gist. But fellow slackers, I’m here to tell you that you can break out of this sickness. All it takes is a little push.

And in my case, that push came today from my lovely friend, Jess, who served as the reminder I needed that if I want to finish revising my manuscript, it’s time to get off my butt and do it. I’m proud to say I got back to work today, and I have some ideas on what I want to work on tomorrow, too.

Now, if I could just convince my pal congestion to get lost, everything would be peachy.

Master of my Domain!

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Borrowing my title of this post from “Seinfeld,” after walking in my graduation this past Sunday, I now feel like a Master of my Domain – which is Fine Arts of Children’s Literature, to be exact. Technically I’ve been a Master since October, as I was a fall graduate. But Hollins only has one ceremony, so I decided to walk in May. And like my friend and fellow October graduate, Jess, my reaction to graduating was delayed until I actually walked across the stage, shook President Gray’s hand, and walked away with a green Hollins diploma folder. Mind you, my diploma has been framed and displayed in my house since October, but the commencement actually made everything feel real. Not just that I’m done with school (Hallelujah!), but also that I won’t have any reason to visit the Hollins campus anymore. Okay, so maybe that’s not exactly true, as I hope to sit in on one of my advisor’s classes this summer. But I will no longer visit the campus as a student or attend classes there. I no longer have a 6-week block in the summer dedicated to graduate school. And even though these are all good things, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad once graduation was over.

I’m really going to miss certain aspects of my grad school, mainly my close friends and fave professors. But I’ll also miss having so many different pairs of eyes read my work and give me feedback on a constant basis. Sure, workshopping one WIP over and over and having to sort through so many unique opinions about what I need to work on could get old and frustrating. But it also helped me polish my thesis manuscript tremendously. Without the feedback and critiques of my fellow classmates and professors, I doubt it would’ve turned out even half as good.

Even though I’m sad that part of my writing career is over, at the same time I’m now even more determined to be a great writer. At the turn of the new year, I emailed my advisor, who has been very encouraging and supportive of my writing from the beginning. In her response back to me, she said I was to not think of her as my professor anymore – that I’m graduated now, so that makes us colleagues. In no means do I consider myself to be her equal at this point – she has published several books, after all, and I’ve not yet published one – but her words made me realize that it’s now up to me to try to remember everything I learned about writing during my time at Hollins so that I can implement it on my own. I’m not completely alone, of course. I still have my Weasels to send my WIP’s to critique. But for the most part, at least in the initial creating process, it’ll just be me from now on. A scary fact, yes, but also exhilarating!

So here’s to standing on my own two feet – something any Master of her Domain ought to be able to do, right?

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