Hoarding on the Bottom Shelf (Rerun)

In lieu of something new and shiny to share with you, today’s mental meandering is a re-run from November 2008 and 2011. I hate to admit publicly that I’ve been contemplating some office tidying. When I say contemplating I mean staring ineffectively at the accumulation of paper that surrounds me in here. It seems nobody else is likely to do anything about the mess, so I guess it’s up to me. I’m not sure I’m up to tackling the task, but I’m contemplating it. That’s a positive step, isn’t it?

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My bedroom closet should be purged. It contains sizes I haven’t worn in a decade. There’s a dresser drawer full of sox I don’t wear, too. They’re in assorted eye-catching colours but I only wear black ones now. (It doesn’t matter what else I’m wearing, black is always chic.) Then there are those kitchen cupboards devoted to empty plastic containers that should be recycled, and gadgets that looked indispensable when demonstrated but have never been used.

You get the picture. I’m a hoarder. This may explain why I have in my office a virtual bottom shelf piled to capacity with printouts of successive drafts of my novels and copies of all the articles I’ve written–kept for what purpose I don’t know. After all, I have clips of the published articles neatly filed away. And you can be sure those early novel drafts will never be offered as reading material, even to uncritical family members. So why haven’t they been tossed out? My theory, if anyone happens to ask, is that writers should keep a record of their journey towards publication.

During the months (and years) while rejection slips accumulate I can take encouragement from the knowledge that what’s been sent out is far superior to the earlier versions. If proof is required I need only browse a few pages of Draft #1 and compare them to Draft #20.

As those pages collect dust on the shelf, however, I wonder if some will outlive me and my publication hopes for them. After I’m gone might someone believe these old manuscripts should be circulated? What a terrifying thought!

“… If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my drafts to take.”

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Do you keep copies of all the old versions of your manuscript(s)? Or are you ruthless in eliminating every trace of them? And, the big question… why?

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#WritersPersevere

Yes, that’s what writers do. Persevere. In order to do so, however, they need regular feeding and nurturing, and that’s one of the main reasons I attended the Surrey International Writers’ Conference last weekend.

Without perseverance novels would never get finished, and they would never get published. In my earlier post I mentioned I’ve been dawdling. I love the writing part, but it’s easy to get bogged down after   reworking the same words over and over again, so I move on. I do finish the first few drafts, but after an initial query and submission I tend to tuck the story on a shelf and begin something new.

My weekend at the conference was another opportunity to approach agents, editors and publishers, but of greater benefit was going to be regaining my enthusiasm…being rejuvenated.

I found that renewal in two workshops, both led by Angela Ackerman, author and writing coach at Writers Helping Writers, who provided inspiration from her just-released book on emotional wounds. The insight hit like the cliched proverbial lightbulb going on. Now I’m delving back into a story whose main characters needed a particular background that I didn’t know how to provide. Until now. It’s all in here:

http://writershelpingwriters.net/2017/10/help-us-celebrate-the-incredible-strength-of-writers-and-a-new-book/

I’ll update once I’ve maneuvered through this revision. I suspect this is going to be where I spend my NaNoWriMo days.

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Angela and Becca have a lot happening on their Writers Helping Writers blog. It’s well worth a visit. 🙂

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#wipMadness Day 12: Revising and Renovating

How is your second week of March Madness progressing, fellow Wipsters? I know some of us are working on new manuscripts this month, while others are revising, reworking or rewriting completed drafts. I’m one who likes the revision process, although I know not everyone does. I like finding ways to make the storytelling more effective even if it involves a lot more effort than writing the first draft.

Some improvements require a rearrangement of scenes, others may be better with some scenes totally eliminated. It’s always difficult making that kind of decision. We work hard for those words and cutting them out can be painful. At this point the unbiased opinion of a professional editor is invaluable.

I liken the process to the impending upheaval in my household — a kitchen renovation. Our house is now twenty-four years old and, while it’s been well maintained, it hasn’t had any updating. A total makeover is out of the question, so my hubby and I had to decide what changes would be the most beneficial to its enjoyment and value. The kitchen is an obvious place to start.

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The view “before”. (Stay tuned for “after”.)

 

The oak cupboards are classic, all three major appliances are quite new and the floor was replaced not that many years ago. They will stay.

QuartzSamplesOn the other hand, the sink and range hood are rusting and need replacing, the island will be rebuilt to one level, counters and backsplash will be replaced, as will cupboard door knobs and hinges. The light fixture will get an update, too. Once all the contractors depart, the walls that I mentioned last month will finally get their coat of fresh white paint (although, admittedly, I still haven’t found just the right shade of white yet!).

Like revising a story, an honest evaluation usually tells us when something needs fixing, but the help of someone more knowledgeable can be invaluable in identifying how the changes should best be implemented. Tackling them piecemeal can result in chaos. In our case, we went to a kitchen consultant, shared our ideas, and received some great advice. Now it’s time to make a start.

My kitchen is going to get very messy before the new improved version emerges. (That’s true with a revision, too.) But a good working plan is in place and I’m confident I’ll like the end result.

What’s your usual process for manuscript revisions? Do you follow a plan or go through and fix things as you encounter them?

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Are you happy with the progress you’re making towards your March goals? What, you haven’t set any goals yet??? It’s not too late. Head on over to co-ordinator Denise Jaden’s introductory post (here) and add yours in the comment section. While you’re there, check out all the great prizes being offered this month, too. Then tomorrow, be sure to stop by Tonette’s blog for a Friday dose of inspiration and encouragement.

Happy writing (or revising), Wipsters!

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From the Archives: New Perspectives

While visiting one of my favourite blogs one Thursday back in November 2011 — Susan Atole’s Just… a Moment — I was intrigued by the unusual perspective in her featured photos. I learned she had been challenged by someone to lay on her back for taking photo shots, and I decided to try it, too.

This unusual perspective offered design and reflections, glimmers of colours and shapes not previously noticed. The ordinary became extraordinary.

There’s something to be said for lifting our eyes beyond the obvious. If we always look at things from the same perspective, we’re going to keep seeing the same things in the same way. It’s true in life, and it’s true in writing.

I’ve been doing some editing for a friend, and am appalled at how often I’ve found an error in sections already line edited several times. “How could I possibly have missed that?” Every time I read through a chapter on the computer my brain insisted on reading what it expected to find, not necessarily what my eyes were seeing. It wasn’t until I printed the manuscript and read it in the new format that more errors popped out at me. For the final proofing I printed it again, but in a different font, and found still more.

A new perspective provides fresh inspiration when we’re bogged down writing a scene, too. Where do we go when our only idea keeps leading us to a proverbial brick wall? Sometimes we need to take the story on the road … write in a different environment, use different tools, maybe give the scene to a different character.

A different perspective tricks the brain into shifting its thinking. And that new viewpoint may be all that’s needed to stimulate the mind and send it off in a fresh direction.

Besides laying on your back, how might you achieve a new perspective for an existing project? Has a new perspective ever helped you out of a dilemma? 

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(A click on the photo will enlarge it so you can see the source of my camera’s focus.)

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The day this was originally posted (in 2011) I was also talking about Dealing with Transitions over at The Pastor’s Wife Speaks Blog. Please consider clicking on over there if you’d like to read what I said on that topic. [The Pastor’s Wife Speaks blog was discontinued at the end of November 2011, so it was my final post there.]

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Blame everything on the weather!

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Streaks of clouds in pre-sunset peach and charcoal-purple cut through a cerulean sky. The weather is changing. There’s been intermittent light rain interspersed with brief sunny breaks through much of the past few days, but flurries are in today’s forecast.

I don’t fuss over the weather. There’s a saying here on the west coast, “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” Some folks also say, “If you can’t see the mountains, it’s raining. If you can, it’s going to rain.” The more optimistic of us point to how green everything is, thanks to the rain.

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My mood isn’t affected, whatever the colour of the sky. There are people whose mood is, and some who even experience S.A.D. — Seasonal Affective Disorder — during low light seasons. I tend to forget that it’s a very real, clinical disorder, and I can sometimes be insensitive to those who complain about the weather, or display negativity, discouragement and depression because of it.

During November’s NaNoWriMo my project was to rewrite the ending of a recently completed manuscript. As I rushed headlong through the words, instead of resolving my protagonist’s dilemmas, I ended up heaping more upon her. Nothing seems to go right for her, and I’ve realized a lot of the time it’s because of her negative perspective. The story happens between November and February. I’m beginning to wonder if she has S.A.D. That would explain a lot, but it complicates the plot.

The story is taking off in a direction I didn’t intend, and I’m not sure I like this feeling of losing control.

If you’re a writer, are you always in control of your story and its characters? What happens when your control slips away?

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Are you motivated by the destination or the journey?

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There were just two daffodils in our entire yard. I know better than to plant tulips because the deer consider them a gourmet salad mix. But I’ve planted dozens of deer-resistant daffs and narcissus through the years, carefully selecting varieties said to be good naturalizers. The first year several bloom; the next only a few; and from then on I’m lucky if there are any. I just don’t seem to have any luck with them. But I noticed these two daffodils a couple days ago, gamely working their way up through the protection of a rhododendron branch, and I smiled.

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Yesterday my hubby handed them to me. We’d had an exceptionally heavy rainstorm, and he found both of them broken, with their sunny faces resting on the ground. I rinsed them off and tucked them into a vase. The sun came out briefly during the afternoon and shone through the window. I couldn’t stop admiring how the flowers looked, basking in the glow. Naturally I reached for my camera and took shots from every angle.

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It was only as I reviewed the photos on my computer that I noticed something. I had selected a vase based on its appropriate size, and not paid a lot of attention to which one it was. But the sun’s rays made it glisten, and now my attention was drawn to the beauty I’d overlooked.

We often chuckle at young children who get more pleasure from the box than from the gift inside. Other times we may go overboard and labour over gift wrapping until the exterior of a package is worth more than its contents. In my case, I found joy in sunshine through petals, and only later gleaned equal pleasure from the casually chosen container.

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How often do we miss seeing the obvious? And when we miss seeing, we forget thankfulness. And without thankfulness there is no joy.

Not long ago I printed out “A Year of Graces” from Ann Voskamp’s website — a perpetual calendar with lines on which to record those things for which I am thankful each day. On the first page is this statement:

“Joy is always a function of gratitude —
and gratitude is always a function of perspective.
If we are going to change our lives,
what we’re going to have to change
is the way we see.”

Later there is this:

“No one gets to joy by trying to make everything perfect.
One only arrives there by seeing in every imperfection
all that is joy.”

And in that was my analogy, just waiting to be found… the link to writing. I have always affirmed that I enjoy revising my writing. There is such satisfaction in refining to bring forward the best a story can be. Yet many times I struggle with revisions, trying unsuccessfully to find exactly the right words, too often becoming frustrated and disheartened. In retrospect, I think it’s because I’m seeing my failure and overlooking the process… focusing on the results instead of how I achieve them.

I love writing. The thought of not writing fills me with anxiety. I’ve always been better at putting words on paper than in speaking them. How would I express the chaos of unuttered thoughts if not on paper? What would I do with all the story ideas and blog posts if I didn’t let them flow out through my fingertips? Fulfillment comes from the doing, from creative expression, in wrestling thoughts out of the void into a finite place. I’m grateful for the ideas, for the ability to put them into words — however imperfect they may be — for the desire to communicate and the freedom and time to keep trying.

My gratitude prompts thankfulness, which in turn encourages joy to blossom. In those moments when I gather together my efforts and raise cupped hands in a gesture of thankful praise, it is the uplifted hands that are important, not the quality of their less-than-praiseworthy contents.

I have a new work-in-progress that I put aside in favour of revising something older. Lately both have been preempted by a church history project, but it doesn’t matter what I’m working on as long as I approach the task with that attitude of gratitude. There will be joy in the doing.

What small everyday joy will bring thankfulness to your heart today?

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“I will praise God’s name in song and glorify Him with thanksgiving.”

Psalm 69:30

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Revisions: How complicated can they be?

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A cedar arbour has stood in our back yard for some fifteen years, supporting a climbing white hydrangea for the past ten. The hydrangea wasn’t blooming, but I was told it could take many years to get started. Finally, two years ago, the first couple blooms appeared, and then last year there were a half dozen. Halleluia!

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Last summer we noticed the arbour was listing to starboard, and by fall it was threatening to fall over. The wood was rotten and the hydrangea pushed vigorously from the one side. My hubby nailed supports on to prop it in place over the winter and last week we began the task of replacing it. We didn’t expect it to be much of a challenge. Just get a new arbour ready, ease the hydrangea branches off the old one and take it out, slide the new one into place, anchor it, and presto… replacement complete. Except I wanted to salvage that hydrangea, and we discovered its woody stems were tightly entwined through the latticework. Thus we had to undertake the huge job of cutting the lattice on either side of every branch, and wiggling the loose pieces free. It ended up taking the better part of three days.

I don’t know if we stressed the hydrangea so it won’t bloom this year, but we’ve done our best to save it and (I think) it’s still alive. I did some judicious pruning, also trimming the rhododendron beside it to give it some room, and cutting back hemlock branches that wanted to rest across the top. All we can do now is wait to see what happens this summer.

DSC01211The process reminded me a little of manuscript revisions. The hardest part of writing a novel is getting the first draft in place, right? The revisions just require some reorganizing, checking for continuity, maybe shifting the occasional scene, and, of course, fixing lots of typos and grammatical errors. That’s what I thought until I began revising my first novel. How could it take me so long? Every slight change I made required subsequent changes somewhere else. The main character was wimpy; the antagonist was unbelievable; there was too much backstory. I cut, changed and corrected, but the resulting narrative was choppy, and I ended up doing a total rewrite from the beginning. A year later it still didn’t feel right.

That manuscript has long since been shelved and I’ve learned a lot as I’ve written my way through several more. I enjoy doing revisions, but I understand now that there is much more to them than implementing a few quick changes. As we gain experience and knowledge some of how we write becomes instinctive, but a good revision checklist is still desirable. I keep one handy that I found years ago on Nathan Bransford’s site. It’s still there if you’d like to check it out. There are undoubtedly lots of others.

Getting it right the first time would be nice. If I were a planner and plotted out the story in detail before starting, I would undoubtedly cut down on the amount of time I spend on revisions, but I don’t think I will ever be one those writers who thinks everything out first, ponders the words as they hit the paper, and never has to look at them again after typing ‘The End’.

Revisions shouldn’t be complicated, and if we have the basics right, they won’t be. I highly recommend reading PLOT AND STRUCTURE by James Scott Bell, and WRITING 21st CENTURY FICTION by Donald Maass for an understanding of what good writing is all about… and the groundwork that goes along with the gruntwork.

Do you delight in revisions, or dread them, or do you sit somewhere in between? How do you tackle them?

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