April 29, 2015

Wednesday, April 29

This week has been dedicated to cleaning and organizing my office. When we moved into this older, cottage style house nearly three years ago, the room I chose to be my office had a teeny, tiny closet. (How in the world was it EVER used for clothes storage?) I had deadlines to meet during that move, and after, so I shoved things into the closet until such time I had the nerve to tackle it.  At this moment, my neat little office isn’t so neat.

I’ve found so much old stuff. Old ideas jotted in old notebooks or on old scraps of paper, old short stories (some completed, some left undone for a good reason). A file folder bulging with carbon copies (yes, carbon copies) of query letters. Oh, my, I wish someone would have taught me how to write one back then. They are truly awful, but I’ll keep them to show new writers I made the same mistakes they make now. Maybe they’ll derive some comfort and hope. I have also unearthed enough writing tips to fill a book, discovered several packages of manilla envelopes, new and used file folders, and plenty of dust.

Then there are all those early book manuscripts. The ones where I was just beginning to crawl as a writer. The ones where I was finally able to walk as a writer were marginally better. By books five and six, I more or less knew what I was doing but still needed a lot of work and practice before I could even consider of entering any marathons.

I’m not finished with this cleaning/organizing task, but I know one thing for sure. Never, ever throw away book or story manuscripts. They might be old and dusty, yellowed with age, but they hold a lot of gold. Some of it can be mined. The first April Grace book, In Front of God and Everybody, proves that. It was an old book, chucked away for years.

I have a book coming out soon that was written nearly twenty years ago. It’s been polished and revised, brought up to date, but still, it’s a story salvaged from my desk drawer. Dare I say, it’s really good. I think so, anyway. I hope so.

April 22, 2015

Wednesday, April 22.

Honest to goodness, is there anything more tedious to a writer than final edits? Not the first ones where our editors ask for revisions or rewrites, or even the painful edits where we slash our babies, eviscerating a ton of unnecessary prose. I’m talking about the very last bits and bobs: a comma  here, an extra space there, a word that’s been deleted, a lost ellipsis … all those pesky little varmints that we seem to overlook during the first two or three rounds of editing.

I got up this morning at 5, and here it is, 8:15, and I’m only on page 130 of a 327 page manuscript. My back aches, my eyes crossed a long time ago, and boredom is drilling a hole in my brain. But, it must be done. I am not offering to you, my reader, anything less than the best I can do. If that means suffering through hours of seeking, replacing, deleting, or otherwise cleaning words, then it’s worth it.

Reviewing the Reviews

Reviews.

Oh how we love the good ones! We read them repeatedly. We share them on Facebook; we link them on Twitter. We post them on our blog sites. We read them aloud to our families. Sometimes we print them out.joy

Oh how the bad ones can bring us low! We read them repeatedly. We share snippets of them on Facebook with trusted friends, but we don’t dare link them on Twitter or our blog sites. We cry about them to our families. We wake up in the middle of the night with those unkind words haunting us, causing us to doubt our dream and our calling.despair-and-alone

I don’t care who you are and where you are in your writer’s journey, the good reviews give you a high and the bad reviews bring you low. We are human. Our reactions are normal, natural and expected.

I hear/read from several authors who exhort, “Don’t ever read reviews!”

Oh, please. That’s like saying, “Don’t look in the mirror.”

Do look in the mirror, because you might need to comb your hair or wipe mustard off your chin. Do read reviews, because you might find a comment that actually causes you to craft a better book next time.

What the self-proclaimed but unwise advise-givers should say is, “Don’t obsess over reviews.”

Realize what each reviewer offers, good or bad, is merely opinion. Consider those opinions with an open mind. If you have twenty reviews and eighteen of them say something like, “Too many characters made this story confusing” you should certainly think about why you populated the story so heavily. Maybe in your next book, you can consolidate minor roles into fewer characters. If out of those twenty reviews, seventeen of them say something like, “The cast of characters in this book helped to create a compelling, entertaining story” then you probably hit the right balance. Strive to continue doing that. My point here is this, if more than two or three reviewers point to the same area with basically the same comments, chances are good that area needs work.

Ignore these statements: “This is absolutely the best story ever written!! Not one word should be changed! I loved it from the beginning to end!!!! This author is pure genius!!” The person who wrote this adulation is probably your mother, sister, cousin, or best friend. SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA As much as you love these people, their reviews can’t be trusted as Absolute Truth, so appreciate and enjoy their praise, but don’t let it go to your head.

Also ignore these kinds of proclamations: “I hated this book. I absolutely detest Western romances set on an Idaho potato farm. I will never in my life ever buy another book by the author of Spuds and Love Near Boise. If I could give this book minus 5-stars, I would.” This is not a review. This is merely someone’s taste in books. And as funny as it seems here, I’ve read “reviews” like it. Books should not be reviewed on the merit of personal taste in reading material. If someone dislikes zombie detectives, he should never read books about undead private investigators. And he certainly should never, ever write reviews about those books.

I’ve noticed there are some reviewers who don’t like anything. I don’t know why they spend time reading because they obviously hate every book that comes into their hands. burn books If you look at their other reviews and notice this trend, roll your eyes at their ignorance and obvious lack of class, then get back to writing.

Another thing. If you have nothing but 5-star reviews, it looks like the only ones who read your stories are your family and best friends. Nothing but glowing, positive reviews are huge red flags to discerning readers. You don’t have to like or even desire 1-, 2- or 3-star reviews, but they are a sign your book is getting into the hands of the reading public, and we all want that. Chances are, for everyone who posts something negative, there is someone else who enjoyed your story and did not bother to post anything.

Reviews are not fatal. The negative ones just make you feel that way sometimes. And, please understand that the glowing ones do not mean you are God’s gift to the literary world, so try to keep a level head on your shoulders. bighead There is always someone whose books are better than yours.

That thought should keep you well-grounded and humble and still able to move forward in your writing career.

Slogging Through the Mire of the Unnecessary, Unneeded and Unwanted

I am slogging my way through a novel to glean a few necessary tidbits of information buried somewhere within the text. When I say slogging, I mean slogging. I’m forced to read things like, “She turned on the light. Then she turned on the furnace.” OK, not so bad, really, but then the author shows the character doing every little detail when simply writing She got the house ready for company would have been far shorter than the two pages of dish-washing, bed-making, vegetable-chopping, table-setting, etc etc etc.

There is also a lot of this type of snooze-fest:
“Hello.”
“Hello.”
“How are you?”
“I’m fine. How are you?”
“I’m fine.”
“Please come in.”
“Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Please sit down.”
“Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.”

 

This is not what you want your reader to do when he’s reading your book.

None of this led to anything other than a guest coming into the house. If you are going to go to this much trouble with so many mundane bits and pieces, there needs to be poison in the soup, or a long-lost relative waiting on the sofa, or some other reason to build tension. If you’re going to spend time turning on each light and the furnace (and I mean more than a passing mention) then the furnace needs to blow up or in the now well-lit room we should see something significant, new, or frightening.

Most of us write this way, especially when we are first finding our way. I am guilty of it myself from time to time. And there is nothing wrong with it in a first draft. But if you leave these details in rather than edit them out, you will bore, bore, bore your reader until they put your book away, never to pick it up again – or anything else you ever write. When you edit, please think of your reader and double-think these details.

What’s Wrong With Right Now?

Tomorrow.

Next week.

By spring.

Weekend after next.

Pretty soon.

Later.

So often we put off our lives until those magical days or times appear: We will be happy tomorrow. Pretty soon things will be better. By spring, we’ll have more resources. We’ll take off a few days weekend after next. Later, we can stop worrying and start living.

What is wrong with right now?

It is always right now, today, this moment. That magical perfect time will never appear. We must create it, and the only time to create it is right now.

What have you been putting off? A chore? Spending time with a loved one? Indulging in some comfort? Writing that story? My challenge: do it now, because later will never get here. Time will, always and forever, be Right Now.