Sep 06

Two Small Words Say it All

I’ve just completed the final edits on the first draft of my second novel. With pleasure filling the back of my throat, and yet tears filling my eyes, I wrote the two words that every writer either looks forward to or dreads. I wrote, “The End.”

For this particular manuscript, it was a sprint to the finish. My process is generally to edit a section (maybe 50 pages) on screen, then print the section for hand edits. I place those 50 or so pages in a folder, then trot them off to my nearest coffee shop. I’m ruthless when editing, but I don’t feel quite so mean to myself if I’m sipping a nice latte or some otherwise caffeine-loaded concoction. I then incorporate the first edits on screen, print out the section again, and give it to my husband for his eagle-eyed scrutiny. He’s the Comma King. Once again, I incorporate his edits (provided I agree with him, of course), and print it out once more for a final look-through.

This process takes time and lots and lots of paper. For this first draft work, I ended with a twelve-inch high stack of marked-up paper. It’s all worth it. I get plenty of face-time with my manuscript … and quite a few lovely lattes in the bargain.

Now, it’s back to the computer to compose the all-important cover letter. Wish me luck as I prepare to send out requested material to some very nice agents I met at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference.

Aug 04

From Synopsis to Synapses

After an extended absence in which my husband suffered the indignity of cancer surgery involving his nether region, here is what has transpired: Dan attempted to embrace the healing, lush greenery of the pacific northwest (which he discovered was too rainy for him to recover properly on the golf course); we sold our house and, in an abrupt about-face, bought in the desert southwest (where my husband now happily ponders putts rather than prostates); I finished the first draft of a manuscript (which won a finalist spot in the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Contest); and my beloved Lily the Cat (who the vet said was too delicate to make the long trip and wild climate change) now graces another woman’s life and lap.

I’ve just returned from the PNWA annual conference, my head filled with information and assignments. The dreaded synopsis I fretted over in my last post turned out not to be so dreaded after all, and now will serve me well as I contact the agents and editors I met who indicated an interest in seeing my winning manuscript. But first, I’ll conduct a careful reading and an even more careful editing of the manuscript, I’ll prepare the perfect cover and/or query letter, and grind out a personal plan for a bit of shameless self-promotion. Can anyone say, Press Release?

There’s no hurry-worry over any of it. More important than rushing to present a first draft manuscript is making certain that every word, every sentence, every paragraph is precise and well-considered. The story I’ve written may be delicious to me, but will it make an agent’s or editor’s mouth water as well? I’ll spend the next two weeks cloistered over my manuscript making certain that each word makes a reader’s eye hungry for the next word, the next sentence, the next paragraph, and so on.

Just as Dan and I endured the painful decision of location, location, location to locate the best place for his recovery, I’m of the school of thought that good writing takes practice, practice, practice to find its best chance for publication. It takes firing up those brain synapses every day in the practice of writing. It takes reading the best work of other authors in your genre. It takes finding your own voice, and then warming up that voice every day until your writing sings! Natural desire and talent is one thing, but part of writing also entails precise and specific knowledge that only comes from the doing of it. I heard somewhere that if you want to be an author, you must first learn to be a writer. That’s good advice for the likes of me.

So it’s on now to my first grande latte stop of the day, manuscript under the arm, reading glasses on the face, and a ruthless red pen in hand. Wish me luck with my writing, and say a prayer that I’ll soon stop missing my Lily the Cat!

Feb 03

On writing the (dreaded) synopsis

Love to write … hate to synopsize? You’ll have to stand in line behind me. I’m now at day ten in creating the perfect synopsis … just in case an agent or editor should request one. Here’s how I’m doing:

  1. I’ve filled my shredder twice.
  2. My brave and stalwart husband has taken refuge on the golf course.
  3. It’s dawned on me that there isn’t enough chocolate in the world to get me through this.
  4. Lily the Cat isn’t sure whether to comfort me or take to her bed.
  5. After ten days, I can identify only one good sentence.
  6. I think my hair is thinning.

Glory be, how a simple writing task can turn one into a simpering, sniveling child! But there is hope in the form of two books I can greatly recommend. The first is The Sell Your Novel Toolkit by Elizabeth Lyon. The second is Christopher Volger’s The Writer’s Journey.

I think that given enough time, some good instruction, a few glasses of wine, or at the very least, a strong antidepressant, and many, many hours experimenting with words and their effects, a reasonable synopsis will be born.

In the meantime, it’s off to my neighborhood Internet Cafe for another day of sobbing my woes into a Grande Latte and hoping for just one more lovely sentence.

Jan 22

Blue Monday

Today is Blue Monday – supposedly, the bluest day of the year. Defined by Dr. Cliff Arnall of Cardiff University, today is mathematically the day that factors in such depressors as the impact of post-Christmas fatigue, those New Year’s resolutions that have already fallen by the wayside, and the everlasting winter that makes springtime seem ages away. Even for the sunniest of us, today is figured to be our saddest day of the year. This feeling of blueness is supposed to last the entire week.

I take that as a challenge.

I fly in the face of an equation that tells me how I’m supposed to feel. Instead, I’ve made this the Monday when I mailed off 124 brilliant pages to my editor for her excellent and critical eye before I proceed further. I’ve made this the day that laundry got done and the house was tidied. It’s the day that I revisited the synopsis of my previous book in preparation of offering it to my future agent. Blue Monday is the day I noticed how handsome my husband has lately become, and the day I found time to play with Lily the Cat.

I’ve made a friend of Blue Monday.

Now if I can just make it all the way through Woebegone Wednesday, I’ll consider this week a wild success.

Jan 20

A birthday to write about

Yesterday was my birthday. I never expected I’d grow so old. Twelve and a half years ago, after a brain tumor nearly took my life, and at the very least, threatened to invalidate my legs and my speech, I’ve been a pretty lucky cookie. I lived. I learned to walk again, and my husband can attest to my quite excellent ability to talk … and talk. Life is good! Forget the Botox. Every new wrinkle is welcome. In fact, those lines can have their way with my face and the character they provide. Of course, I might have to put my foot down with those wispy little gray hairs that have suddenly threatened to invade my hair, but that’s what hairdressers are for.

The most tenuous and amazing thing to a brain tumor survivor, though, concerns our ability to think, reason, articulate. To communicate. For this writer, a 6.5 cm thingy squatting deep in the lower reaches of my brain was especially frightful. The very nature of a craniotomy with hands and tools reaching far into one’s brain is nearly more than can be accepted.

I remember, with tears in my eyes, asking the Neurosurgeon to please play beautiful, soothing music when he was inside my brain. The surgeon took hold of my shoulders and promised me he would fill the surgery with the most beautiful music he could find.

I think he must have.

For I’m one more bonus day now past yesterday’s birthday, and amazingly today on page 124 in the writing of my second novel. Life is most certainly good!

Jan 17

Snowless in Seattle?

I took a snow walk today. Actually, I went with my husband, our neighbors, and their two dogs, Dillon and Sammy. (I invited Lily the Cat, but she declined – something about needing to attend to her third beauty sleep in her daily series of twelve.) We threw snowballs and snapped pictures of each other dressed up in pants and sweaters and coats that made our arms stick out and our legs look fat. I regretted not dragging out my grandfather’s Flexible Flyer sled, if nothing more than to say that I did.

As we crunched our feet through the snow making footprints that may or may not last through the next day or two, it occurred to me how much writing is like a footprint in snow. I know if I don’t capture my ideas soon after they come to me, they quickly go away and don’t leave much more than a brown, slushy suggestion of thought. I remember once reading about a man who wrote all his little thoughts down during the day. He then tossed his captured ideas into a shoebox every night. At the end of a year, he pulled out all his scraps of paper, and the volume of his words were enough to complete a book. A clever man!

The snow will leave Seattle. My footprints are doomed.

Nevertheless, a cup of hot chocolate laced with a bit of Bailey’s after our walk helped me feel better about our disappearing footprints and all the thoughts I neglected to capture today. Sometimes to remember the urgency of words, a writer just has to take a day off and play in some improbable snow. Today I experienced life and truth and a snow walk with our friends and their doggies.

Tomorrow I write.

Jan 15

Drifting toward a story

Orthodoxy has never been my strong suit. Complex outlines and detailed character sketches, although vital for some, only serve to annoy me. Rather than a reasoned, calculated story approach, my writing takes more of a slash and burn course. I don’t spend much time in discussion with my muse. I simply turn off the “editor in my head” and let the words be what they will. This may not be the best approach, but it seems to end up consistently as the Auburn McCanta Theory of Words and Work.

In Natalie Goldberg’s grief-saving book for writers, Writing Down the Bones, she tells us that when our writing feels good, there is a vitality that sings and an honesty that makes her want to cry. I know what she means. For me, I need to let a story just come and sit down with me for a while. We need to become acquainted with each other. I allow my characters to approach me as they choose. No hurry, worry. I spend a lot of time just being with a story, its characters, its tone. Then, when the time is right, the story tells itself to me … and I write it down.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t spend hours upon hours researching, “Googling,” and considering various paths and structures. On the contrary! I’m a research dog and love the process. Still, when it comes time for telling the story, you’ll not find an outline on my desk.

Oh, there’s one other thing I should mention – I also spend a good deal of quality time at Starbucks with a Mocha in one hand and a dream in the other.

Sep 22

Hello

Sunday is my day to read, gather clouds, make wishes, light candles. It’s my Starbucks-Grandé Latte-No-Foam-Please day. It’s also my day to think. To rest my fingers from the other days of sitting at my keyboard tapping out strings of words that may or may not make the cut for my next book or treatise or corporate-commissioned bullet list. I guess it’s good to rest once a week. My cat, Lily, an improbable tortie, rests probably 23 hours a day. She needs her rest after spending her one awake hour a day snuggling on my lap during our morning coffee and paper reading event. It must be exhausting, poor thing.

For anyone who may happen across this page, I welcome you. If you want to comment, please feel free. Ask me questions if you wish. I’ll try to answer … or I’ll be honest and tell you that I don’t know. I’ll do my best to respond with comments on the process of writing, the missteps, the possibilities, the ah-hahs that come in the middle of the night. In the meantime, know that I think of you (whoever you are) as I’m writing my next book. I’ll confess, though, that I’m hardly a good source of knowledge. I’m just a simple person with a desire to write things.