The Great Printout

This was quite the momentous weekend for me.

On Saturday, I sat down at the computer in our kitchen, opened my MS, and edited.  Got some coffee and edited some more.  Refilled my coffee and edited some more.

For about two and a half hours.

All the way

To the end

Of the story.

Which means that I’m done.  Done with the big plot-edits.  Done with the trying to figure out where my plot was going.  Done with the first round of edits!

And ready for the next step.

On Sunday, I went to Kinkos with my MS on a flashdrive.

Twenty dollars, ten minutes, and one smiling employee later, I walked out with 135 pages of my soul printed out and hidden inside a little brown box.

I’m so excited that I’ve been able to get my MS this far.  So grateful to God for allowing me to have this amazing experience, to meet so many amazing people, to fall so deeply in love with a hobby.

I mean, look.  Just over two years ago, I had this:  Handwritten Six hand-written pages, the very poor start to a story that I didn’t know the ending to.  I never dreamed the journey it would take me on.  I never dreamed that I’d pour two and a half years into turning them into this:

CollageA hundred and thirty-five polished, proof-read, exciting pages that make up a complete book.

Now, I did have a purpose behind those twenty dollars I spent.  My plan is to go through my MS and mark it up with pen, paying closer attention to pacing, paragraph style, transitions, and even sentence structure.  But first, I’m taking a week off.  I’m letting my brain rest for a week and letting my mom read it.  Then I’ll spend the next two weeks reading through and giving it the second round of edits.  And then, on October 31st, I will share it with some of my friends via dropbox.  I will let my brother and father read it.  I will send it to my aunt.  And then I will write my NaNoNovel in November while my MS is out being read by my friends.

I think it’s crucial to print out one’s work at some point in the process.  Our minds see things differently on paper than they do on the screen.  Plus, it allows me to read it more as a reader than as a writer.  That’s what I’m going for.

I know I still have a lot of work ahead of me – especially if I pursue getting it published – but this is just a really cool milestone.

To see one’s work in print for the first time.  It’s a cool feeling.

Words & The End

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Five Things That Made Me a Better Writer

The other day, I was thinking about my writing journey.  What got me from beginner to where I am now.  So, without further ado, here’s Five Things That Made Me a Better Writer.

1) Writing.  The first step to being a good writer is to just be a writer.  The simple act of writing, playing around with stories and characters – it’s taught me a lot.  I’ve learned by doing.  However, my progress would have been a ton slower if not for outside help.  Which brings me to my next point.

2) Getting Critiqued.  One of the best writing-related decisions I’ve ever made was to join Critique Circle, an amazing online writing group.  I learned so much by people telling me – in a constructive way – the things that I needed to fix.  But also, the things that I was doing well.  The boost of encouragement that I got every time someone said “hang in there” helped me to keep writing.

Now, if you think that’s the only benefit of something like CC, you are sadly mistaken.  Take a look at my next point:

3) Giving Critiques.  On CC, you have to give at least 3 critiques in order to submit a story for review.  Which means I spent lots of time critiquing.  Lots of time spent staring at words, figuring out what made me stumble over words.  Observing what makes a sentence work and what kills it.  The act of getting my hands dirty in other people’s work really helped me to see the issues in my own.  It taught me to be a better proof-reader of my own work, and it taught me to write better and avoid certain mistakes altogether.

Each time I give a critique on CC, I also look to see what other people have said about the piece of work.  I love seeing the things that other people caught that I missed, hearing other people’s opinions about how to fix something, and smiling at the typos I caught that no one else did.  🙂

4) Reading Books on the Craft of Writing.  One in particular really helped me early on: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.  It has everything you need to turn your WIP into an amazing work of art.  I’m sure there are tons of other writing books out there that are just as good.  The main point is: get some professional help from a book on the craft of writing. (I’ve also heard tons of good things about Steven King’s On Writing.)

5) The Online Presence.  Probably top of this list is a blog called Crackin The WIP – it’s a blog by seven different writers, and it’s glorious.  There have been so many posts that have changed the way I thought about something (dialogue, characters, plot, etc) – and often times, just reading a post on that blog gives me the push of motivation to dive into my own writing once again.

But there are other blogs, too, that have helped me.  And forums on CC are a great place for information.  And sometimes, just Googling a question leads to a great article that helps my writing.

And that concludes my list!

What are some things that got you where you are today?  Have you used all of these resources?  Are there any important ones that I left out?  Drop me a comment and let me know.  Happy writing!

Six Mixed Critiques and Two Weeks Away

Just in case y’all are wondering, I wasn’t eaten by sharks.  Or attacked by hippos.  Or chased by an armed gunman.

The reason for my long absence (of TWO WEEKS!) is one word: school.

Summer is almost here.

But I haven’t been entirely futile these weeks away.  I kept writing in Camp Nano (reaching a grand total of 15,000 words) and I’ve posted chapter 1 & 2 of my re-write on CC.

Chapter 1 has gotten six reviews.  There has been much crying and celebrating.  (Well, no actual tears.)

Here’s some of the feedback I got:

I like the atmosphere you create with your opening paragraph.

Thank you!  That’s what I was going for.

There are a lot of adverbs in just these few paragraphs. Eliminate the adverbs.

Thanks, I’ll keep an eye out for un-needed adverbs that creep into my writing.  LATER – okay, that adverb was needed… huh, so was that one.  And this one.  Umm… most of my adverbs are fine.  Thanks though?

Beware overusing exclamation marks. It can blunt them.

True!  Right you are!  Thanks for pointing that out!!!!!!

Star immediately felt bad for her accusation.

Oh, it’s the adverb police again.  Run quickly away.  Quietly!  Less loudly!

Thankyou Thank you.

Okay, typo.  But… is that all you have to say?  (That was literally all he had to say.  Almost.) So THANKYOU for your time, but didn’t you notice anything else about my story?

You write well. I’m very impressed. Especially considering your age.

Thank you!  That means a lot!

I don’t know if you need without a trace.

Eh, you’re right.  I can take that out.  I’ll make it vanish without a trace.

Great. Conflict.

*pats self on back*

Closing Comments:

Wow, Beth. You are good.

Thank (space) you!  That means more than you know.

I like Irsong and Emmella’s development as well. Irsong is brusk. Emmella gentle.

HAHA!  SUCCESS!  JUST WHAT I WAS GOING FOR!

Yes, I do want to read what’s going to happen next. I wouldn’t want to say the story is well polished.

Well, I’m working on it, okay?!  I mean, uh, yeah, I agree.  It needs a little work.

I do want to read the next chapter and I hope this doesn’t fall into another cliche Tolkien plot.

Um, no worries.  I love LOTR, but it’s nothing like that.  Kay?

And last but not least,

Stop posting here and submit to a publisher.

Does this leave you wanting to read the next chapter?

Hell, yes!

That one right there made my day.  Possibly my week.  Possibly my life.

Well, that’s all for now.  See you in less than two weeks, hopefully!  Unless I get chased by dinosaurs… attacked by whales… (or hunted by the adverb police).

Critiquing the Pros? Oh yeah.

This week, I gave a critique on CC for the first time in close to a month.  It was the greatest moment of my day.

This author handled themselves with confidence and grace, balancing action and emotion, suspense and humor (lots of humor), and overall clean, crisp writing.  Sure, there were a few errors – typos, minor craft problems – but overall, this story was a pure joy to read.

As I concluded my critique, I made a point of saying, “I’ve critiqued close to 50 stories here on CC – and yours is one of the best I’ve seen.”

Of course, then I was curious.  How many critiques had I actually given since I started on CC?  I went back and counted.  One, two, three… forty-nine, fifty, fifty-one… sixty-nine, seventy.  I’ve given seventy critiques.  Wowzer.  Perhaps that’s why I’m now suffering from CSCS.  What’s that, you ask?

Critiqing the Pros

Well, check out this Poll that was on CC recently.  I found it fascinating because it addresses a phenomenon I’d discovered a few months ago.

I’m calling it Can’t Stop Crit-ing Syndrome. That’s CSCS for short.  If you are actively writing, editing, or critiquing, you are in danger of getting this.  Unfortunately, there is no known cure, but there are things you can do to address the symptoms.  First, let’s look at what some of the symptoms are:

* Flinching when you catch a typo in a published book

* Groaning when a published author breaks a “rule” for no reason (ie, when they info-dump, use passive voice, or forget a comma)

* Automatically correcting your friends’ and family’s grammar, despite the fact that your own grammar isn’t always perfect

* Not being able to read articles in the Washington Post Magazine anymore without wanting to yell at the author, because OH MY GOSH, DONT YOU KNOW WHAT A RUN-ON SENTENCE IS?

* Looking at a sign in a store that says “Get You’re Flowers Here” and asking to speak to the manager

While there is no official cure for CSCS, there are some suggestions for those suffering from it.  These include:

* Zoning out when around people who frequently misuse grammar

* Focusing on what magazine writers did well, not what they messed up on

* Not forcing yourself to labor through books with so many issues that you get yourself worked up

* Telling yourself that not everyone can be as good at English as you

Despite these negative symptoms that can sometimes inhibit your reading (and living) enjoyment, it can be helpful to look at the few positives that come with CSCS:

* Editing your own work is easier – I mean harder – I mean you catch more of your own mistakes

* If you suffer from long-term CSCS, you may even get to the point where you make less mistakes in your rough-drafts, because the thought of seeing those mistakes in your own writing is enough to make you poke your eyes out

* You become a better critique-er for other peoples’ stories – at least I hope

Do you, too, suffer from CSCS?  Leave me a comment and let me know I’m not the only one.

Too Much Distance, or Why My Writing Stinks

I recently discovered why my writing stinks.  The issue is that my POV isn’t deep enough.  (For the newbies: POV = Point of View)

Often when speaking of POV, we talk about first person versus third person and that whole debate.  But not today.

Today, I’m talking about how shallow POV kills your story and how deep POV can give it that jolt of energy it lacks.

Here’s the deal.  You have an interesting story, awesome characters, and great setting.  And to tell a story, you start reporting it.  And suddenly your reader gets to be a fly on the wall in your awesome story.

But that’s WRONG.

Readers don’t want to be a fly on the wall.  They want to be LIVE the story themselves.  So if your writing has too much distance – if there’s an unplanned narrator between the reader and the MC – you’re doing it wrong.

Let me give you some examples:

DISTANT:

Emily walked down the stairs and saw blood all over the kitchen.  She felt like she was going to be sick.  She ran from the room, her face the picture of distress.

CLOSE:

Emily walked down the stairs and gasped.  There was blood all over the kitchen.  She was going to puke.  She ran, her heartbeat thudding in her ears.

By taking out words such as felt, saw, tasted, thought, etc, and simply WRITING what the character felt, saw, tasted, etc, we take out the distance and get our reader right there with the MC.

Another issue in the “close” version was actually a POV break: her face a picture of distress is not something Emily would say about herself in this moment.  Therefore, if she’s not thinking those words, then who is?  The invisible narrator.  Often times I’ll see new writers say things like “Emily looked at him, her blue eyes like fire.”  Well, if it’s from Emily’s POV, then how does she know what her eyes looked like?  The invisible narrator strikes again.  We don’t want him!

That’s my point.  If you want a better-told, faster-paced, more emotionally compelling story, then don’t tell me what the character felt, looked like, saw, whatever.  Let me see it, feel it, taste it, with them.

(I must give credit in this post to a CCer who gave me an amazing crit that pointed this out to me.  Thanks Jayg!)