Back on the Wagon

As most teachers will tell you, August tends to be our version of the new year. Everything starts fresh again: new students, new notebooks, new pens that I don’t need…The summer tends to be a recharging time for me, and while I really thought I’d knock out all of my edits for The Devil Inside Me, I did not. Not even close. But with the beginning of the “new” year, I have reset the clock and calendar, and the edits are calling. It’s interesting how, when you let your work sit for awhile, it often comes calling for you. In my case, it’s getting back into a regular schedule of things, which means regularly scheduled writing time. I’m changing up my schedule though: When actively writing, I try to write as close to daily as possible. However, I’ve discovered that this revision process requires more of my time in one sitting–so rather than block an hour out daily, I’m finding ways to chunk my time a few days a week, such as moving weekly chores onto one night so I have three straight hours to work the next. Knowing that I have a block of time, well, I can’t even tell you how much I looked forward to my dates with my manuscript this week!

Real Life Interferes

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It’s that time again: back-to-school. As a teacher, this middle part of August is a blur of putting a classroom back together, managing all of the new training modules the school/district/state dictates, and making deals with the copy machine that if it will just not jam for the next hundred copies, you’ll be finished. For the day.

Yes, I know. I get ten weeks off in the summer to do whatever I please. I’m (fortunately and gratefully) past the salary range where I no longer have to work a summer job or two to make ends meet. And trust me, I appreciate the time to recharge, relax, and tackle big projects. This year, one big project was gallbladder removal. Ugh.

But every August–and at other points throughout the year–real life rears its head and presents some challenges that simply prevent me from getting everything done that needs to be: sometimes it’s cleaning the house, sometimes it’s yard work, and sometimes, like now, it’s editing The Devil Inside Me.

What I’ve learned over the last two years of writing is that it’s ok. It’s ok if occasionally the project goes on the backburner. I used to feel horribly guilty if I wasn’t “touching” the novel in one way or another, but these breaks can also help reinvigorate the creative brain. So when life gets in the way, let’s cut ourselves some slack. What matters most is getting back at it!

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Why You Should Attend a Writing Conference–part two

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Last week, after my experience at the Writing Workshop of Chicago, I gave you three reasons for attending a writing conference. Today, I’ll give you three more!

4. Confirmation that you’re moving in the right direction

I think for most writers, certainly for me, the doubts creep in continuously. Am I good enough? Is anyone going to like this? What the hell was I thinking? Last year, I participated in PitMad on Twitter and had someone tell me they thought my idea had promise and was marketable. That was enough to propel me to continue. At the Writing Workshop of Chicago, I was able to pitch my concept in person to small press publisher, Emily Clark Victorson of Allium Press. She too said that it was intriguing and asked for my first three chapters. Hearing this not once, but twice, made me feel like I was on the right track. I had a good, marketable idea. The next question would be could I write the story? Remember, I’m an English teacher. I had better have a good command of the English language, grammar, and punctuation–but these things do not a story make.

Last fall, after my PitMad experience, I participated in a writing bootcamp for my first ten pages. The agent and writer I worked with, Paula Munier, showed me that my manuscript was far from perfect, but she did tell me what my strengths were as well as where I’d need to improve. At the Chicago workshop, I submitted my revised ten pages to Lori Rader-Day, author of four mysteries (including Little Pretty Things, which I loved!). My hard work at revisions paid off, as she was very complimentary–but rest assured, I still have a page of revisions to tackle based on her comments.

Aside from the huge boost in my ego and confidence, these experiences confirmed that yes, I could write the story. I could also take revisions and make improvements. Every day that the doubts creep in, I can come back to this and remember that no, it’s not all a pointless waste of time. I’m headed in the right direction–and that provides the impetus for me to continue pursuing this path to publication.

5. Suggestions that you may have never thought of

Chatting with other writers gave us all the opportunity to share our works-in-progress. That resulted in lots of questions–some of which we could answer; some, not so much. Those unanswered questions revealed plot holes, character development needs, and, for some, world-building issues.

Both Paula Munier and Emily Clark Victorson asked if I’d considered making my protagonist a female. You know what they say–if more than one person makes a suggestion, there may be something to it. So I asked Ms. Rader-Day her thoughts, and she asked me it would improve the plot, the conflict, if I changed the gender. In other words, would it make more sense?

Now THAT gave me pause because…well, the answer was yes. Most of H.H. Holmes’ victims were female. Wouldn’t it create more tension to have a female bring down his illustrious descendant?

6. Did I mention networking?

Last week I pointed out that the writers, agents, editors, and publishers you meet may not necessarily become your mentor, agent, editor, or publisher, but you never know who may be the one to open that door for you. And while this was just a one-day workshop, I feel as though I left with the start of some excellent connections. I am already a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America, and both of these groups were represented at the conference. Ms. Rader-Day encouraged me to come to the fall meetings to get to know others, and Ms. Victorson suggested the same–commenting that they are some of the nicest people around. (Ironic, isn’t it, that the nice people are the ones killing off characters?) If you’ve been researching this industry as I did for some time before I took the plunge, I’m sure you’ve noticed the theme that surrounds getting published: it’s about getting your name out there and making connections. If that scares you to near-death, that’s ok. Find a class, or a one-day workshop, near you. Join a group and hang around on the edges until you’re more comfortable–I’m a complete stalker of the Mystery Writers of America’s social media, but I rarely comment. I’m still too in awe of the company! The point is–get out there and do something. Get outside of your comfort zone. The only way you know is if you try.

 

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Why You Should Attend a Writing Workshop–part one

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If you’ve never attending a writing workshop, my first piece of advice is this: DO IT.

So many writers tend to be introverts, and the thought of spending hours alongside total strangers is enough to say, “nah, I’d rather claw my eyes out doing edits.” My experience this past weekend at the Writing Workshop of Chicago was phenomenal, and in addition to the benefits I experienced (Partial manuscript request! Positive feedback from a published author!), I kept thinking about all the reasons why writers should participate in a workshop.

1. Networking with peers

Talking and commiserating with other writers pumps up your motivation and ambition. Don’t believe me? Try it. If, like me, your friend circle does not contain many writers, it’s hard to vent about how you just can’t get that one scene right, or how you feel like you’ll never be done with editing, or how you feel guilty that you’ve only written 300 words in as many days. At a workshop, you are surrounded by like-minded people suffering through the same perils and insecurities. They remind us that we aren’t alone–and that we most certainly are not the only ones wondering if we’ll die on the spot of our first live pitch. While not everyone you meet will be the making of a writing group or even beta readers, it’s still nice to have people who can remind you that you are not crazy. Or, if you are, you’re not alone.

2. Networking with professionals

In addition to workshop sessions being led by agents, publishers, editors, and published authors, the opportunity to converse with those people throughout the day–whether through pitch sessions, query critiques, manuscript critiques, or hanging out at the water cooler–is beyond valuable. In just this one-day workshop, I could discover directly from the professionals what they are looking for in a memoir, how to write a non-fiction proposal and a fiction query, why social media matters, what to look for in an agent, and what to watch out for in the realm of publishing. The most illuminating session I attended was one called “Writers Got Talent.” As the first pages of various novels were read aloud (anonymously), a panel of judges raised their hand to indicate when they would stop reading–in other words, when that manuscript just headed to the rejection pile. Once three hands were raised, the reading ended, and the judges explained why they would have stopped reading. It didn’t matter what genre these first pages were from–the advice was all about writing, period. And good writing is good writing no matter the genre.

Just like with the writers you meet, the professionals may not necessarily become your mentor, agent, editor, or publisher, but you never know who may be the one to open that door for you. More on this aspect later.

3. Total immersion in Writingland

So many writers have day jobs. Most writers have day jobs. If you’re like me, being able to focus on my writing for one entire day is next to impossible. This workshop was from 9am to 5pm on a Saturday. I was able to immerse myself for one. whole. day. No, I wasn’t writing, but I was learning about it, and that counts to me. I was fortunate enough to be able to make a weekend of it–I took the train up on Friday and didn’t come home until Sunday. That gave me Friday night and Saturday night to work on my novel, plus the train ride there and back to read and write. That’s even more than next to impossible, and I treasured the time I had available. Did it cost money? Yes. I’ve discussed before how investing in my writing and myself was an important step in taking this writing gig seriously, and as I’ve progressed, I’ve allowed myself a little more–because I’ve been getting positive feedback on my work. In other words, I don’t feel like I’m just tossing my hard-earned money out the tenth floor window of the hotel.

Want more reasons? Check out next week’s blog post!

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How Many Rejections Can You Take?

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Comparison is the thief of joy. I’m positive Teddy Roosevelt wasn’t talking about writers when he said that, but for those of us still in the aspiring-to-be-published category, it most definitely rings true.

When you’re the person still wondering if you can ever complete your first draft, or considering stabbing your eyes out during your first round of edits, or questioning if it’s your query letter or manuscript that is the cause of multiple rejections, seeing others’ success stories can make you doubt yourself. Why haven’t you gotten that far? Why aren’t you published? Scratch that–why is it taking so long to finish the first draft?

These doubts can quickly shift to negative thoughts. You know, the I’m-not-really-a-writer thoughts. The I’m-not-good-enough thoughts. The why-is-it-so-easy-for-everyone-else thoughts. It’s like a disease that spreads in your brain, doubt. But fear not! There is an antidote.

At the end of April, Caitlin LaRue started a #authorstats Twitter thread asking published authors to share their stats: how long it took to get an agent or deal, how many rounds of revisions, how many manuscripts, etc. The responses were eye-opening and ranged from a year to a lifetime. In other words, there is no timeline. The path is sometimes circuitous. No two journeys are the same. And for the love of all that is holy in Writing Land, don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle. Don’t let all that comparing take your joy.

What if you need a boost? Something to give you some confidence?

Submit something–just don’t forget that your timeline is your own.

When I first sat down and seriously decided I was going to write The Devil Inside Me, I learned as much as I could about the industry. One recommendation suggested writing and submitting short stories (or articles for you non-fiction writers) to build your publishing resume. My initial response was why? I didn’t want to be a short story writer; I wanted to be a novelist. And then, as I mentioned in “Just Submit the Story Already,” @HollyWrites13 and @AvrinKelly tweeted about #52weeks52stories, and I relented–mostly because I thought it would be fun to write a few exploring the backgrounds of my novel’s characters. I had no real plan to submit them–I wanted them to be exploratory and add some back story.

So I wrote a few, and, to my surprise, I genuinely loved one of them. “What have you got to lose?” became my mantra, and I submitted it. Repeatedly. And the rejections came, and they did indeed sting, but I remembered Stephen King. As a kid, long before he was published (in anything, not just his novels), he put all of his rejection letters on a nail in the wall. In his book On Writing, he said, “the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.” If repeated rejections were good enough for Stephen King, they’re good enough for me.

So, my #authorstats? In April, my short story “Downright Devilish” was published in Fourth & Sycamore’s online literary journal. I wrote it in a couple of days but revised it over a couple of weeks. I submitted it to nine different places via Submittable and received four rejections and four non-responses (typically equated with rejections in the publishing world).

I was so excited that someone liked it that I submitted another. My short story “Fiendish” will be published in a traditional print anthology (I can announce where later in May!). I wrote it in a couple of days and revised over a couple of weeks. I submitted that short story to twenty-three different places and contests via Submittable. This garnered ten rejections and four non-response/rejections. (The remainder are still in-process.)

I am far from what I would consider a published author. For me, that will be a published full-length novel with some respectable sales. And I haven’t won a Glimmer Train contest nor am I published in Strand. (Yet.) BUT, my writerly friends, I can not tell you how indescribable it is to see a YES! We love your work! email.

And now I get it. Those emails, those glorious people who read your work and say hey, I like what you’ve done here–they don’t just add to your publishing bio. They bolster your esteem. They’re a reminder that it’s not a race, that it’s ok to be on your own path. And that, writers, makes you want to write more. The more you write, the better you’ll get. 

Plotting vs. Pantsing

nanowrimo.jpgIt’s April, and that can only mean one thing: Camp NaNoWriMo! National Novel Writing Month is technically November, when crazy ambitious writers all around the world strive to “win” NaNoWriMo by writing 50,000 words in that one month. April’s Camp NaNoWriMo is similar, but each writer sets an individual goal. Some may stick with 50,000 words; some may be trying for writing ten minutes a day. The camaraderie is beyond inspirational!

One of the quintessential questions of NaNoWriMo is this: Are you a plotter or a pantser–or the combination of plantser? When I did NaNoWriMo the first time, I was a *pantser: a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer. 

In my defense, I had already started that novel prior to NaNoWriMo. I knew where it began, I thought I knew where it was going, and I had a rough idea of how it would get there, so writing out a plot line seemed overkill. I mean, it was all in my brain. And writing is a creative endeavor, not one to plot out, right?

Sort of. Depends. Kinda.

The problem: I hadn’t thought through how some of my plot points would connect (or not). I had a couple of endings in mind, but they seemed impossible to get to, even once I was 50,000+ words in. I didn’t give up right away. I went back and re-worked scenes, moved scenes around (shout out to Novelize), edited, edited, edited. I just couldn’t get it right. So I shelved it. (You can read more about that here.) I do think it’s salvageable, but I think it will need to sit for awhile–and likely, I’ll start pretty much all over. Except this time I’ll plot before I start. This was a lesson I took with me into my current WIP.

I was about 4,000 words in The Devil Inside Me before I did any major plot sketching. I had my idea–then the idea for making it a trilogy–but thanks to my previous experience, I wanted to know where I was going with it before I was 50,000 words in. 

I did some research and came across the “snowflake” method for planning. I loved the idea of taking a one sentence summary of my story and expanding from there. I came up with my suspects and how they’d fit. I decided upon the locations of the murders–and the order in which they’d occur. I gave my poor protagonist a fatal flaw from hell. And I determined which Chicagoans were going to bite the proverbial bullet.

Magically, plot holes appeared. Shouldn’t I have this murder occur at that location? Shouldn’t I have this person die instead of that one? This non-linear method worked so well for me that before long, I was ready for the linear. I created a spreadsheet of scenes. More plot holes. I could see where the story became protagonist-heavy and antagonist-heavy, where I’d need to do some more research. Other obvious issues made themselves known, including my favorite: person A could not have been 18 during a crime committed ten years ago if they are only 21 today. (Did I mention I teach English and not math?)

Knowing these gaps in the beginning made writing that much easier. I still don’t want to try to control every detail because not doing so will allow some spontaneity and creativity to live in the process.  Has it been perfect? Not on your life. But has it given me direction and the freedom to sit down and pound out some good word counts? You bet, especially when you’re working full-time and trying to cram in 2000 words a day. If you’ve tried plotting and failed miserably, give the snowflake method a try. There is no one-size-fits-all writing handbook, after all.

Writers, who has NaNoWriMo’d? Did you love it? Hate it? Win? Fail miserably? Are you a plotter, pantser, or plantser? Share your strategies!

Readers, what are some stories you’ve read that have an impeccable plot that seems perfectly planned? Writers would love to read your well-loved examples!

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*Confession: Not having a plan is completely and utterly counterintuitive to who I am as a person, but for some reason, writing does not fit into that order for me. As a teacher, my lesson plan units for every class are all tabbed, labeled, divided, and in the same size, color, and brand of binders.  My clothes hang in rainbow (and sleeve-length) order in my closet. I once had a co-worker move everything on my desk to see if I could work without changing everything back first. I couldn’t. I’m that person.

Editing, aka Negative Word Count

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Editing. The bane of some writers’ existence. This week I’ve been editing my most recent chapter in The Devil Inside Me, and I’ve been having a hard time following my own advice. In some ways I enjoy editing because it means I get to tighten everything up from character descriptions to plot lines. But what I hate about it, I truly hate: the disappearance of words from my beautiful word counter on the screen.

Logically, I know that is nonsensical. If I’m to tighten up my text, words will have to go. That doesn’t mean that I enjoy the feeling of work escaping into the ether. It’s been especially hard the last two weeks for me to go into editor mode from the must-get-butt-in-seat-and-words-on-page mindset that I mentioned in my post, “Finding Time to Write (and Read!)”.

And then, as if the writing gods could read my mind, Lauren Sapala’s blog post arrived in my inbox. All I saw was the subject line, and my gut heaved a sigh of relief: “Writing Progress Does Not Always Equal Word Count.”

Like the writing gods could read my mind, I tell you.

Guest blogger Anna-Marie O’Brien is behind this nugget of truth. Progress is more than just a word count. Sometimes you have to just let the book take you where you need to go. She says, “I’ve come to find that there is a push and a pull to writing…You have to go with the flow. But then, you also have to steer the ship.” Amen. For those of us who struggle with getting a word count in every single day and feel guilty when we don’t, this is a beautiful reminder that sometimes that’s not what it’s about. Sometimes you might need to get lost in research for a couple of hours. Sometimes you might just need to noodle over a character’s situation for a few days. And if that’s your way, that’s your way. Much gratitude to Anna-Marie for penning this post and to Lauren for sharing it!

Writers, do any of you fall in this category? Do you struggle with not fitting in the write-X-number-of-words-every-day form? How do you deal?

Readers, last week I shared a snippet of The Devil Inside Me. If you’d like to read even more, please sign up for my emailing list here!

 

 

Bootcamp for Writers!

A few people inquired about the bootcamp I mentioned in a previous post, so here are a few details!

Once I decided to treat this writing endeavor seriously, I knew I would have to push myself outside of my comfort zone. Way outside of my comfort zone. I would have to do the unthinkable: share my writing. Gasp! The horror! I would have to seek advice from professionals. I would have to give myself permission to try, to fail, to succeed.

When I was first brave enough to share my writing, I chose with intention: our librarian, who is a former English teacher. My first comment was “be gentle.” Then I turned around and said, “Scratch that. Be brutal.” She was both–and I’m grateful.

Back when the idea for The Devil Inside Me arrived in my head, I genuinely thought I had a good premise that people would enjoy to read and publishers would see as potentially profitable–but, I wanted some type of acknowledgement of that. One day while perusing the blogs on Writer’s Digest, I stumbled across this gem: Agent One-on-One Bootcamp–Your First Ten Pages. Yes, it cost money. No, Writer’s Digest is not paying me for this commentary. Yes, it was worth every penny. (Please note they do not have an active version of this bootcamp at the moment, but I included a link for the description.)

Here’s how it was shaped: You watch a couple of webinars. You edit your first ten pages of your manuscript according to those general-but-detailed how-to-write-a-novel videos. You submit those ten pages to a participating agent. The agent provides you with detailed revision notes. You revise and resubmit. The agent provides you with a last commentary on your revisions.

Why is this valuable? First, I was able to get the confirmation that, yes, I had a sale-able concept. Yes, I have some writing skill–and perhaps more importantly, I was able to revise according to the agent’s suggestions. No one was knocking down my door asking me to send them more, but it did give me the confidence I needed to make sure that I wasn’t on some crazy train to deluded-land.

Furthermore, the agents available were reputable and well-known. Writer’s Digest made it clear who they were in advance, so I was able to research the agency and the agents themselves. I was also able to select which agent I wanted to submit to–who happens to represent (and write) in the mystery genre. 

Clicking send was simultaneously nightmarish and euphoric. Receiving her revision notes was simultaneously defeating and anti-climactic. I must have read the email fourteen times and went through something that felt like the stages of grief in a matter of hours. (Apparently I am not alone: Check out Janelle Drumwright’s Carve post on the very topic.)

You know, denial: She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. I’m the next William Shakespeare. Anger: But that point-of-view is an absolute must-have! See denial. Bargaining: Well, maybe if I had… Depression: She’s right. She knows what she’s talking about. I will never be a writer. Acceptance: Hey, she had some positive comments–maybe I should just try revising according to what she wants.

I got over myself. I made the revisions (though I especially despised the point-of-view change) and murdered my darlings. And what do you know? Praise and a comment of “you have a good chance of selling this once you’ve polished” was worth my warp-speed grieving process.

What did I learn?

INVEST A LITTLE

I balked a little at spending the money. I’ve read that you need to invest in yourself and your endeavors, no matter what they are, if you want to move forward and improve. This was well worth the money to give me the boost of confidence that I wasn’t completely out of left field.

I have since invested in paid memberships for several groups that will provide me with networking and conferencing opportunities: The Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Chicago Writers Association, Indiana Writers’ Consortium, and Writers Guild of Indiana. I’ve also invested serious time in prepping this website and blog in the hopes that it will help me spread the word of my endeavors and help others who are on the same path. 

LISTEN TO THE EXPERTS

I also balked a little at the agent’s suggestions. Couldn’t she see my vision? Once I got to the stage where I believed there was no harm in trying, I did just that–and as I made those revisions, I could see what she meant. Furthermore, after the bootcamp, I read my manuscript (still a WIP) from start to finish and was able to revise more problem areas.

DO YOUR RESEARCH–ON EVERYTHING

One of the most important take-aways from this experience was to make yourself as knowledgeable as possible. The internet is a magnificent beast–use it. From creating a website to what to include on blog posts to how to utilize social media to finding an agent to novel length to how to self-publish without getting taken…it’s all out there. I had read reviews on other bootcamps where the agents weren’t known, or they weren’t responsive, or their advice was canned. I dug around until I felt confident that the agents at this particular bootcamp would be what I needed. The more information you can arm yourself with, the better. Just don’t research so much you stop writing!

Writers, what types of classes, bootcamps, or conferences have you attended? What value did they provide you?

Readers, every time we edit and revise, we are doing it with you in mind. What are the most important features of a story for you? Is it the characters? The plot? The writing style? Why?

Sign up for my mailing list HERE to receive a snippet of my current project: The Devil Inside Me. I’d love to hear your comments!

My Writing Is a Mess–and So Am I

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We interrupt this regularly-scheduled blog post to share a must-read from Lauren Sapala: “Writing Is Messy. That’s Just the Way It Is.” Lauren is the author of The INFJ Writer, a writing guide for introverts, as well as an autobiography, Between the Shadow and Lo. She is also a writing coach whose About Me page says her “blog is meant to nourish, heal, spark, and empower your creative flame,” and she does just that with blog posts such as “Why It’s No Coincidence So Many INFJs (and INFPs) Are Also Writers” and “Coping With Feeling Like You’re Never Good Enough.” How many people–writers or not–need to read that last one?

I had something different planned for a post today, but Lauren’s blog, in conjunction with various writer complaints about motivation and rejection I watched pop up this week on social media, made me feel as if I needed to share this. Right. Now.

First, let me say that I do not know Lauren in any way, short of following her blog for the past couple of months. I also didn’t share with her in advance that I was going to write this post because, well, read on.

In my very first blog post, I shared that I shelved my last attempt at a novel. If I weren’t head-over-heels in love with the current WIP (work-in-progress), I probably would have done the same with it a couple of months ago. I had reached a sticky point–I needed to go back and re-read, find the holes, discover where I was missing some clues, and gasp in horror that I changed the name of a character’s dog three times without ever noticing. (He also went from being a German Shepherd to a black Labrador Retriever in the same space.)

I could go on, but you really don’t want to know. Just ask my critique partner.

The key for me is that I believe in this novel. I believe in the story. I believe in the stories that will come from it. But if I didn’t, I could very easily have said forget it. I know that the writing process is just that–a process, yet mine seemed so very, well, unprofessional. Like I was just piecing things together. Or, as Lauren points out in her blog post: “Finally, I stitched all the pieces together and what I was left with resembled Frankenstein’s monster.”

I re-read, I made copious margin notes, and I started editing. I have finished the first third, which was my stopping point because of a big, gaping hole (and next on my list to write, right after this blog post).

So when Lauren’s glorious blog post arrived in my inbox this week, I read it with my jaw dropped the entire time. It was so incredibly spot on. It wasn’t just me. I wasn’t alone.

Writers–especially those of you who, like me, are unpublished, struggling, questioning yourselves–if you read only one thing today or even this week, please read Lauren’s blog post. She speaks the truth about just how messy writing can be, and how we don’t need to doubt ourselves: “…because I had never written a book before, the whole time I was going through this experience I assumed I was doing something seriously wrong…I chalked my struggles up to…being somehow vaguely ‘stupid’.” 

Isn’t it as if she were reading our minds?!?

Which leads me to why I didn’t contact her about this post: I believe that in this world of people trying to sell their services everywhere, it’s hard to ferret out a genuine compliment, a sincere nod of appreciation. I was so touched and empowered by her post that just sharing the link wasn’t enough–I had to share its impact in the hopes it would reach others as it did me. I’m positive that if you read it, it will do the same to you. Share your thoughts with me–and with Lauren!

Murder Your Darlings

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Earlier this week, I focused on the argument of editing while writing versus writing without stopping. Part of that struggle includes editing out pieces that you love but just don’t fit.

I first stumbled across that concept in Stephen King’s book On Writing: “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

That phrase has been attributed to numerous writers over the years, from Eudora Welty to William Faulkner and, of course, Stephen King, but the true credit goes to one Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, an editor and writer, who presented a series of lectures in 1913-1914 at Cambridge University about writing (which Bartleby has lovingly preserved here). He said, “To begin with, let me plead that you have been told of one or two things which Style is not; which have little or nothing to do with Style, though sometimes vulgarly mistaken for it. Style, for example, is not—can never be—extraneous Ornament.”

In other words, just because something sounds fancy does not mean it’s good writing (or good reading). He continued with this snarky gem: “Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.”

I’d heard the concept, but I really hadn’t been forced to put it into practice until I signed up for a writing bootcamp. One of the comments from a published author and reputed agent on my writing:? “Too dense.” Dense as in too thick with those $5 words and crafted phrases. My darlings. I was immediately transported back to my sophomore year in college when my novels professor gave me my first (but not last) B on an essay. One word sat in red ink next to the offensive letter: “Wordy.” I had never received that kind of feedback, and the sting was palpable. My bootcamp mentor and novel prof were effectively saying what Mr. Quiller-Couch had: Write it how you want to write it, but then murder those darlings. Or, as legend Elmore Leonard put it, “If it sounds like writing, rewrite it.”

Don’t despair! You can always resurrect those murdered darlings. Cut and paste them all into one place so that, if you find you wished you hadn’t murdered one after all, you can bring it to life again. Mine now reside in a folder punnily named The Dead Files. That file made it so much easier to let go–because I wasn’t really letting go. Resurrection is right around the corner thanks to technology. (Doesn’t that just beg for a post about Battlestar Galactica?) 

Need some help on how to do away with those darlings? Ruthanne Reid shares lovely advice on The Write Practice.  (You should also read her post about Neil Gaiman’s rules of writing.)

Writers, is this your process too, or do you do something altogether different with those darlings when you cut swaths of your work? Comment and let me know!

Readers, have you ever wondered if a piece was cut from your favorite novel? Would you want to read those cut pieces? I’m toying with the idea of releasing some of mine here on the blog. Please comment if that’s something you’d like to see!

To get a free sneak-preview of my work-in-progress, The Devil Inside Me, please sign up for my mailing list here. Email subscribers will receive extras along the way!