7 Stages of ‘Done’

Writing in 1830Stage 1: When I wrote the first draft, I thought I was done with the story.

I mean, it was perfect, right?

Then I came back to it after a few weeks and decided that I had only two choices: delete this complete waste of kilobytes or rewrite it.

Stage 2: After the second draft, I knew I needed to come back and look at the story again, but it was almost done. Like Kubler-Ross and her stages of grief, I was bargaining by this point. I wanted to believe that ‘good enough’ was acceptable.

Stage 3: After the polish draft, I reached a stage where I couldn’t look at the manuscript any longer. I could not tell if it was good or bad, I just know I couldn’t rewrite it any longer. So I called that done and sent it off.

Stages 4-6: After I received the revision notes, I had to revise several chapters. Back to the old routine, but with new material: first revision, second revision, polish revision.

And today it went back to the editor.

Stage 7: Write the next story.

Albert Anker Schreibendes Mädchen 1902

“All right, Mr. de Mille, I’m ready for my close up.”

I should probably make a confession. IMG_1515

That headshot of a kitten?

Not what I really look like.

It seems that authors need to promote themselves, not just their books. So when my local chapter of the Romance Writers of America offered a photo shoot opportunity, with professional hair, makeup, and photography, I decided to go for it.

I had my hair done, then makeup was applied. Finally, a photographer put me under the spotlight and Took My Picture. Argh.

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Um… I wasn’t argh-ing the photographer or the make up and hair stylists. All were very professional. But I HATE HAVING MY PICTURE TAKEN. Plus, it was about 90 degrees outside, and with all the bright lights in the room it was hotter than that inside. And makeup always makes my eyes turn bloodshot, which is not my favorite look. I kept the Visine handy.

This is a necessary part of my transition from a hermit, who sits in her cave typing up words that no one has ever read, and an author, who wants people to read her book. So it’s something I’m going to have to get used to. Eventually.

Maybe I should try channeling my inner Drama Queen.

Things I Accomplished Today

Sad Clown - Occupy Wall St

  1. Wrote 2000 words in my new story.
  2. Read blogs by talented, funny, charming authors.
  3. Drank several cups of coffee.
  4. Revised a couple more chapters in the story I’m editing.
  5. Read Twitter.
  6. Re-read the email about winning the contest that I Cannot Mention.
  7. Sketched out a revised outline for a totally different story that’s sitting on the Rewrite bench.
  8. Did everything on my To Do list.
  9. Did anything on my To Do list.
  10. Wrote a blog post.

In a situation like this, there’s only one thing to do. Get the heck out of here. I’m going to go find me a Starbucks, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, and revise some more chapters.  And then I’m going to come back here and update this post with a report of my success. That way, I will have to get it done.

Yes, I am using you. Shamelessly.

Update: Two more chapters revised. At least I got something done today.

Good news… but you didn’t hear it from me

Confetti in Toronto
Good: I just learned that I won a contest.

Bad: I can’t tell anyone about it, not the name of the contest, nor the editor who was the final judge, nothing.

Good: The editor requested the full manuscript.

Better: She is the second editor to request a full for this manuscript.

Bad: I need to rewrite it before I can show the whole thing to anyone besides a cat.

img_1605
Critic Cat Is Not Impressed

On the plus side, I should finish the final read through of the manuscript I wrote for the Manuscript Matchmaker contest by Sunday. I think I got all the requested tweaks revised the way they should be, but I am trusting my kind editor to tell me if I need to go back in and revise some more. Knowing that I have another editor waiting for another manuscript is good motivation to not slack off on the current work.

Writer’s Block: Tips and Tricks

“I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, ‘Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’ So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say.”
-Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

I haven’t had writer’s block for a while now.

I really, really hope that I didn’t just jinx things by writing that. Looks nervously over her shoulder to make sure the muse is still occupied playing bubble shooter. Types faster.

writers_blockNote: I define writer’s block as a state of mind where I really want to write, but I look at the blank screen and the words aren’t there in my mind. I stare at the screen and can’t think of anything to write. I may not end up writing as many words as I want on a day like that, but it doesn’t stop me writing. In order, these are the things I try.

First thing: I back away from the keyboard and pick up the pen. I like love my fine-nib Lamy fountain pen. I used to suffer from tendinitis and played around with different pens to see if that helped. With a good fountain pen, the ink flows easily, without having to press down or use any force, and I love using them. But more than that, my brain is old enough to remember life before computers. Heck, when I was growing up, not only did we walk to school up hill both ways, a typewriter was something you didn’t tackle until you were in middle school. So I learned to write with a pen in my hand, and somehow going back to that can make it easier to write when I’m staring at a blank screen and the blinking cursor taunts me with my futility.

Second thing: If I’m still having problems, I look at the scene immediately before the one I’m stuck on. (I’m assuming you’re not having writer’s block in the opening scene. If you are, either a)try writing a later scene or b) try writing a different story. Don’t bang your head against that particular wall.)

Most of the time, if I have problems with the current scene, it’s because of how I ended the one before it. I usually get back into writing the current scene if I change how the previous one ends. Or I add a transition sentence to get me into the new scene. Usually, I change how it ends. If you get off course a little bit, it’s easy to correct. But if you don’t correct your course, the story can veer off into a direction that leads nowhere.

Did I mention all of this is advice that applies to me? Your mileage may vary. Try it. If it doesn’t work, aim an opprobrious epithet in my direction and try something else.

Third thing: If revising the previous scene doesn’t work, then I pick up my toys and go home. Or, if I’m at home, I go to the library. Or the park. Somewhere that’s not where I was when I was stuck. Sometimes, I’ve written great scenes in a busy sports bar with twelve different televisions blasting out different games. Sometimes, I need to write in the quietest corner of the quiet room at my local library. Changing my location can shake something loose if I’m stuck.

Fourth thing: Change the POV. Instead of writing the scene from the heroine’s point of view, try writing it from the hero’s. Or the antagonist’s. Often writer’s block can strike when the middle of the story starts to sag. Hilari Bell wrote a great blog post about villains, and how their arc affects the middle of the story.

Fifth thing: I write one sentence. Hemingway’s advice when stuck was to “write the truest sentence you know.” I often find that what I’m blocked about is not the next sentence I have to write, it’s something that happens farther on in the scene and I’m proactively stressing about it. I usually can write one single dratted sentence. And then I can write another one. They add up.

TL;DR, all of the above boils down to this: if you’re stuck, change something. If that doesn’t work, change something else. Lather, rinse, repeat. If something sparks the writing to flow again, you’re set. If not, then at least you made some use of your time by learning what tricks don’t work for you, so you can avoid trying them next time. It beats looking at a blank screen.

Characters, Secrets, & Discovery

I am taking a few days off from revisions. I needed to walk away from the manuscript so that I could see it clearly again. I am almost at the stage where I think I’m ready to send the revisions back to my editor, but I want to go through the ms. one more time to make sure that the changes I’ve introduced flow smoothly with the rest of the story.

Conformal Cats (8074241727)As a change of pace, I’ve gone back to a story that I was developing when I got The Call. There are still some secrets that my characters are hiding from me.

In the first draft, I discover the characters. In the second draft, I refine the scenes to make the story clearer. That approach doesn’t work for everyone, but I like finding out about the characters as I write the story. That makes it fun.

To hook the reader, you need to make it clear what the characters want — not just what their goal is, but what happens if they don’t achieve the goal. The reader wants to root for the protagonist, but they need to know what they’re rooting for. What is at stake for the character? What are the consequences if they fail? That’s what I’m trying to discover.

In a romance novel, the characters have to change before they can accept the love of their life. At the beginning of the story, the character does not want to change. They resist it. It’s comfortable to stay who you are. The person Lia is at the start of the story would never have been able to endure the crisis.  But because she has changed by the end, she can make the choice that leads her to accept that Geoff’s love for her is real and enduring.

I’m trying to figure out what change the heroine is most reluctant to make. What is it, what is the one thing about herself that she doesn’t want to change? What is the worst thing that could happen to her if she does change? Or if she doesn’t?

Do you have any favorite techniques to uncover your characters? Maybe this is all old hat to you. If so, here’s a link so you can go play free rice.