One Writer’s Journey

May 24, 2017

Picture Book Writing: It Started with a Title

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:59 am
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Yesterday I was piddling around doing something else, talking to my teen when a phrase popped into my head.  “Yeti yoga.”

“Sasquatch swimming, what’s your point?”

“I’m not sure.  What would yeti hope to get out of yoga?”

Fortunately he’s grown up with Writer Mom so this didn’t particularly phase him.  I wasn’t sure what if anything would happen with this but it seemed like a fun title so I jotted it down and got back to work on the outline and chapter one of Advertising Overload. I turned those in after dinner and did some yard work.  It wasn’t until I turned off my computer and got in the shower that ideas started popping into my head.

Main Character: Gigi.  Daughter of two explorers.  Home schooled, naturally.

Setting: Himalayas, also naturally.

I knew what specific yoga positions yeti would practice (triangle, downward dog and a high lunge) as well as why (the normal reason, relaxation, and reducing your profile during high winds).  Now to work it into a story.

By the time I got out of the shower I had my chorus, my story problem and several scenes worked out.  Of course I’d already shut the computer off so I quickly drafted the book on a pad of Post-It Notes.  The benefit of a Post-It draft is that it is easy to see how many scenes you have, judge balance and see what, if anything, needs to be shifted.  Normally I do this by putting the POst-Its on the story board but not this time.  It’s still in its hiding place on top of my filing cabinets.

By morning it was obvious that my ending didn’t quite work but I also knew how to fix it.  So I wrote up another post-it and added it to the pile.  It feels kind of odd to be rewriting without actually having a full typed draft of the manuscript, but I’ll take it!  Before I do take the time to type everything out, I’m going to check the balance and make sure the pacing works.

Last but not least, I need to decide if the title gives too much away.  I suspect that it does but it can also easily become a second, shorter, chorus within the text.  I’ve never done this many “drafts” on a picture book while it is still in the Post-It stage but I kind of like it and may very well try it again.

–SueBE

May 4, 2017

Resurrecting an Old Manuscript

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:59 am
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Are you one of those writers, like me, who loves working on a new manuscript?  After all, new manuscripts hold the allure of unexplored territory.  The story, as it emerges, is shiny and new and not goofed up.  Ahhhhhh.

That said, there’s a lot to be said for resurrecting old manuscripts.  Not that I think this very often on my own.  Usually I’ll see a call for something and decide to go through my files.  Do I have something to do with the environment?  An early reader that would be good for an ESL audience?  Something that leans heavily on the scientific method?  When I see a call, I comb through my files, looking for something that with just a little work can be ready to go.

The reality is that it makes sense to go through your old stories every now and again.  After all, these are stories that inspired you to start writing even if you never finished them or finished but never sold them.

Why should you revisit them?  Because now you might have the skills that you need to finish an incomplete manuscript or perfect one that is flawed.  That dialogue that felt choppy and robotic?  Now you know how to make it sound authentic.  Two-dimensional characters?  Easy peasy to flesh them out and make them three-dimensional.  If nothing else, coming at an old manuscript with a fresh perspective might be all that you need to make it work.

Then there is also the reality of the market.  A book that was your manuscript’s principal competition may not seem dated.  Refresh yours and get it ready to go.  A new educational market may have opened up or there’s now a new publisher who is looking at chapter books.  The market is constantly changing and there may now be a place for a manuscript that you couldn’t sell three or four years ago.

For more on my own experience resurrecting old manuscripts, check out today’s post at the Muffin.

–SueBE

April 10, 2017

Deadline Dead Ahead

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:01 am
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I’m doing hard copy edits on the book that’s due today. I have two more chapters and the backmatter to go.  This gizmo to the right has been my best friend.

It is my mom’s typing stand.  Mom was a graduate of Miss Hickey’s Business School. She worked in accounting but, to my knowledge, she was never a secretary which is kind of sad because this is one handy-dandy stand.

I generally only do one hard copy-edit per manuscript, unless a section is giving me troubles.  When that happens, I print it out, go into the dining room and work on paper.  Then I come back into my office and prop the manuscript up on the stand.

I hope that all of you take the time to do a paper edit when you write something.  I’ve already been through the manuscript 3 or so times on-screen.  And I’ve listened to it read by Speak.  I find mistakes via Speak that I don’t find on-screen.  I find mistakes on paper that I didn’t hear and sure didn’t see on-screen.

Given the fact that we want to give our editors the best possible work, I would definitely recommend doing a hard copy edit.  But you’re going to have to find your own typing stand.  This one is mine.

–SueBE

 

April 7, 2017

Rewriting, Revising, and Using Things in New Ways

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:38 am
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If you are anything like me, keeping your desk organized is a challenge.  There is no shortage of pens, markers, highlighters and pencils floating around here but finding what I need when I need it is always a challenge.

Given my love of color, your standard desk organizer simply is not sufficient. For quite a while now, I’ve had it all in a ceramic bowl.  Technically it is a planter that my BIL made so that they could share them with people at their wedding.  The plant has long since gone to the great beyond but I loved using the bowl on my desk.  Except for one thing.  It is bowl shaped which means that the markers and pens tend to sprawl.  Eventually they plop out on the desktop.

At right is my new pencil holder.  Technically it too is a planter but this one has straight sides and looks like a pair of books.  The top one is Mark Twain.  My dad is a huge Twain buff and this has been broken and glued back together. I decided that the gaps made it unsuitable to be a planter so – markers!

This week has been spent rewriting.  What does that have to do with a planter serving as a pen holder?  Sometimes things end up serving a different purpose than what was originally intended.  In my editing today:

A sidebar became a paragraph in the body of the chapter.

A pull out quite became the conclusion of the book.

A chapter 7 sidebar became a chapter 2 sidebar and more.

During the rewrite, you need to take a hard look at everything in the manuscript.  You may have meant something to function one way only to discover that that did not work.  Sometimes it functions better as something else or somewhere else.  Sometimes it just has to go.

If you are willing to make these kinds of decisions, you will have a much better manuscript when it is all over.

–SueBE

 

 

April 3, 2017

Fact Checking: Finding Out You Wrote It Wrong

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:06 am
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Even when you are writing fiction, your facts need to be factual.  Fantasy, science fiction, whatever.  Your facts have got to add up.  So we research and write and research some more.

But sometimes it isn’t the research that reveals a mistake in your data.  It’s just life.  Just over a week ago, we sorted out a box of cooking stuff in my dad’s basement.  There were baking pans and skillets, including one that wasn’t cast iron but sure looked a lot like it.  My husband snagged that one and a smaller cast iron, came home and started doing research.

What he found included information on skillet sizing.  This one is clearly a #4.  The number doesn’t have anything to do with inches in diameter.  It corresponded to the key hole size on the wood stoves where these skillet were originally used.  Use the right skillet and it fit perfectly in the key hole.

Oh, snot.  Now I have to rewrite part of that scene.  I had done all kinds of research on wood stoves and I even got to check one out in person.  But I had never seen anyone cook on one.  That skillet goes on that keyhole.  This one goes on this slightly larger keyhole over here.  And the covers?  They have to come off.

It seems obvious in hind sight.  But I still have a scene to rewrite.

Do your research.  Do it as well as you can.  But keep your eyes and ears open.  You never know when you’re going to hear encounter the information you need to make your facts factual.

–SueBE

 

March 15, 2017

Revision: You Gotta Love It

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:00 am
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So many writers I know want to rush through their revisions.  If they get feedback from an editor, they are determined to turn the manuscript around in two weeks, three at most.  Me?  I want to give myself time to internalize the feedback. I also enjoy seeing the manuscript change and grow.  Why rush it?

In truth, writers really need to love revision.  You rough out the manuscript once.  Once you have a manuscript and have given it time to rest, you are ready to revise.  And you aren’t going to do it in one draft.  My process looks something like that.

  1.  Horrible, scary, terrible, no-good first draft.  Okay, maybe it isn’t that bad but I’m often just slapping it down at this stage.  There are even gaps because I don’t take the time to look up missing information.  I just type myself a note.  FIND OUT WHEN THIS WAS AND WHO WAS THERE.  Then I move on.
  2. During this draft, which is the first revision, I fill in gaps.  I also look for things that need to be shifted from one spot to another.
  3. Are any sections slight?  This is when I bulk them up.  Not that I want them to feel bulky but there has to be enough information to justify a stand alone chapter or section.
  4. Can’t manage that?  Then I combine sections or split something too dense in two.  I’m looking to create balance in this draft.
  5. Now is when I smooth things out and check the reading level.  Too high or too low? This is the time to make adjustments and make it flow.
  6. At last, I print it out and my husband reads it.  Then I take care of any issues he spotted and do a hard copy rewrite.  I always do one rewrite on paper because there are problems that I miss until I see them in print.  This is also when I cut excess words.  Again, I spot things on paper that I wouldn’t see on-screen.

That makes for six drafts total although sometimes I can do it in four.  Either way, that’s one first draft and three to five revisions.  You really need to love revision to make your writing work.

–SueBE

 

December 14, 2016

The Balancing Act that Is Nonfiction

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:45 am
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balanceHopefully when you read this I’ll have a full draft done on my next book.  Hopefully.  I’m only about 1/3 of the way through my last chapter and my willpower is more like won’t-power at the moment.

In this first draft, I do try to get everything in the right order but I don’t worry about things being smooth and perfect.  Or not.

I also don’t worry too much about whether or not I have enough information.  That’s something I’m going to address in the next draft.

When I prepared chapter 1 and my outline last week, my chapter was way too long.  This wasn’t a problem that I could correct by cutting a word here and a word there.  I had to eliminate entire paragraphs.  This meant less background information and fewer examples.

As I draft chapters 2 through 5, I’ve noticed that my word count is very close to perfect.  The reason that this worries me is that I should have to edit a paper draft to tighten things up.  This should be when I get rid of those extra words especially -ly adverbs or replacing a weak verb with two adverbs with a single strong verb.

I suspect that, as I worry about surpassing my word count yet again, I’m being too cautious.

I always have to add more information when I write the second draft.  That’s when I fill in the blanks — things that weren’t in my notes or that obviously need clarification with another example.  Instead of spending the time to do a great deal of research, I simply type a question or comment in CAPS and then highlight it.  When completing draft 2, I go back and do the research needed to fill these blanks in.  This time around I’ll be rereading each chapter and looking for places that the information isn’t dense enough.  I’ll add to any area that seems a bit weak.  Then I’ll cut to make it all fit.

I want to give my readers as much information as possible without overwhelming them.  As are so many things with writing, its a balancing act.  Here’s to leveling things out in the next draft!

–SueBE

December 7, 2016

Rewriting: Working from my Editor’s comments

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:06 am
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wondering-and-wanderingAbout two weeks ago, I got a rewrite request from an editor.  She had some comments and would be willing to take another look at my manuscript.  I sent out a note saying I would make the changes and then put it off.

In part, that was intentional.  I’m the kind of person who needs to let these things gel a bit.  It makes the rewrite that much easier.

But it wasn’t entirely intentional.  I also landed a contract with the first chapter and outline due tomorrow.  Obviously, that has been my first priority.  I also got sick.  Let’s just say that sneezing etc can be very time-consuming and leave it at that.

Today I set about making the changes. Part of the reason that I like to let things sit is because it gives me time to really consider the editor’s comments.  If I don’t, I make the changes in the simplest, most straightforward way possible.  There’s nothing wrong with that but these kinds of changes often feel cosmetic and superficial.

When I take the time to think about the changes, I can think of how they would ripple throughout the story.  I can consider what existing elements I can pull into these new sections to make them appear original.  My first set of changes were amended to eliminate one of the new settings.  Why?  Because it seemed to spread things out too much.  The rewrite led me to do a bit of research on traditional house design.  My first set of changes sent the characters in one direction and then another.  It terms of illustration and overall story flow, it seemed like a single path would be more easily understood.  I just needed to lengthen the path.

Their journey which wanders a bit more than before led to wondering between the characters.  Why do you think this?  Because of that?  This in turn made the characters seem more 3-D.

I’m going to let the story sit again and take it to my critique group before it send it back in.  I’m hoping that taking a bit more time with it will enable me to complete a manuscript that is whole and hearty and able to please young readers and editors alike.

–SueBE

 

December 6, 2016

Where Should You Focus: Marketing or Craft?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:36 am
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focusWhere should you be focusing your energies and time as a writer?  Should you be working on craft or marketing?

I’m going to tell you right now, my answer is not the popular one.  My favorite retreats and conference sessions have always been those led by my fellow writers and illustrators. I want to hear how other people work.  What takes them from fizzy new idea to finished manuscript?  How do they focus their rewrites?

For those of you who don’t know, for 10 years I was Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Regional Advisor for Missouri.  That means that I was responsible for sending out the quarterly newsletter and scheduling writing events.  At the end of an event, I would pass out a questionnaire.  What did you think of today and what do you want to see tomorrow?  Even if they loved learning about poetry from Constance Levy or mystery writing from Vicki Erwin, they also wanted to see the same things at future events.  Agents and editors.  They wanted access to markets. Craft might have been what they needed but it isn’t what they wanted.

And to a point, I see the logic in this.  Even if you write like Hemingway, you need to do who wants to publish Hemingway.

But the problem is that you first need to learn to write like Hemingway.  Really.  You need to study your craft. Here are five tips for my fellow craft hungry writers.

Read.  Read works that are similar to what you want to write and those that are not.  What do these writers do well?  Study those techniques.  What doesn’t quite work?  Take a hard look a these pieces too and figure out what you would do differently.

Study how-tos.  Check out some of the best how-tos on writing.  Everyone has their favorites and mine include Writing Picture Books, Writing Metrical Poetry, The Plot Whisperer, The Emotion Thesaurus, and Novel Metamorphosis. It doesn’t do any good to just gather such books.  Read them. Apply the techniques. If they include exercises, do them.

Write.  The only way to figure out if you’ve learned anything is to write.  Writing is a practice intensive vocation.  Write, write and write some more.  You’ll either figure out that you don’t really like to do it or that you are getting better.

Rewrite.  It doesn’t do any good to write one story after another.  Although some first drafts are really good, none are perfect.  You have to learn to compare the story you intended to create with the one you got down on paper.  Darcy Pattison’s Novel Metamorphosis is a great tool for accomplishing this.

Rinse, lather, repeat.  That’s my quirky way of telling you that step #5 is to keep doing steps 1 through 4 again and again and again.  When you’ve honed your craft, you’ll actually be ready to take advantage of any market news that comes your way.  Until then?  You may have a market, but you won’t have a market worthy manuscript.

–SueBE

October 13, 2016

Editing Your Manuscript: Reading Level

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 12:43 am
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reading-dog

Why oh why can’t I get the reading level down?

Remember that optimistic estimate I had that it would take me three hours to finish the manuscript?  It was a lot closer to five. The biggest problem that I faced was bringing things to the correct reading level.

When I write for Red Line, I use the ATOS grade level calculator.  My goal for this book was a reading level of 7.0 to 8.5.  I don’t test the entire manuscript, preferring to test each chapter.  I do it this way because my Red Line editors are really good at spotting reading level problems.  If one chapter is off, they will catch it.  I’d much rather spot the problem without any help.

Yesterday I had finished the hard copy edits and just needed to make the changes and then test each chapter.  The first one was 8.8.  The second one was 9.0.  Thankfully the third one was 8.5.

How was I so off in one chapter.  In part because it had a section on Colin Kaepernick.  It wouldn’t be so bad if his last name was Colin because I could use that throughout most of the section.  But oh, no.  Kaepernick.  Kaepernick does frightening things to your reading level.  Not as frightening as Maya place names but bad enough.

I’ve seen some people recommend substituting Bob for such a name.  Bob is a nice low reading level.  The problem is that Kaepernick is going to be in the book.  It has to work with Keapernick in the manuscript.

Fortunately, there are several  ways to bring down the reading level.

First things first, look at your sentence structure.  No semicolons.  None.  Break down compound sentences.  Phrases are okay but don’t join two perfectly legitimate sentences with AND or BUT.  You don’t want the entire manuscript to be composed of simple sentences but if you can get rid of a complex sentence per page, that will drop the reading level by .2 or .3.

Second, don’t forget to look for passive construction.  That tends to make your sentences wordier.  “The boy hit the ball” vs “The ball was hit by the boy.”

Third, simplify some of the vocabulary.  Look for multisyllable words that can be replaced by shorter words.  Want replaces prefer.  Use takes the place of operate.

Of course, if your reading level is too low, you do the opposite, except for the semicolon (publisher’s preference).

And whenever you’ve been tinkering with the reading level, reread the section out loud.  You want to be certain it is still a smooth read.

–SueBE

 

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