Last Minute Stories and Editing: A Tuesday Post of Accountability

It’s Spring Break, so I almost forgot it was Tuesday. Time to be held accountable!

Here is what I did last week:

1. As Ali posted on Saturday, Hayden’s Ferry Review has put out the call for their “In the Dark” issue. Oliver and I decided that would be a fun experiment for our writer’s group and extended it as a challenge…which Ali then passed on to you guys here.

At first, I wasn’t going to do it. I didn’t have an idea. But then Oliver threw down and I can’t just send out a challenge without participating in the challenge. So on Saturday I came up with an idea, worked it, and then worked more on Sunday right before the group.

Oh yeah, it’s a last minute thing. But I have a new short story! Yay!

2. Wrote more stuff on The Line. Got through two scenes – so about 2000 words. (Sounds pathetic, I know. But the short story writing time cut into it.)

3. Finished a rewrite of the first chapter of La Llorona.   And let me tell you something interesting about that experience:

Way back in the day, Ali was reading the early chapters of La Llorona and I remember her saying something along the lines of “The sentence structure is off.” You see, I was being all ‘literary’ and she didn’t get my genius. So, of course, it was her problem.

Then I was re-reading this stuff, marking it up, pondering it. And thought: I don’t understand what half these sentences mean. I got the gist, but it wasn’t easy reading. Most of my marks were cleaning up weird grammatical things – not incorrect, just…weird.

There are two things to take from this:

The first: You’ve heard that bit of advice about needing distance from a piece before you revise. In On Writing, Stephen King recommends at least six weeks. (Which, to many writers, seems an impossible long time. To you I say: It’s not, and it’s worth it. If you can hold out even longer, better.) I have never had a problem with this waiting gig – it makes sense to me. But I think something else goes along with it.


Between the time you put a piece down and the time you pick it up again, you should have written something else: a short story at the very least, but maybe even a whole different novel. 

If you do nothing between the time you drop your novel and the time you pick it back up again, you have learned no new skills. You have learned no new techniques. You are the same writer. You haven’t improved. If you haven’t improved, why on earth would you think you could make your manuscript better? You learn something with everything you write – so write a lot.

The second: Assuming that you don’t have the time to wait (hello Deadline!), you have to trust your early readers, especially for the grammar thing – that kinda stuff isn’t as open for debate as storyline or character motivation. Readers have the distance, and they have a different skill set than you do – so they have the two things needed in order to edit gracefully: distance and practice.

That’s all for me! What’d you guys do this week? (I gotta tell you, we’re re-doing the upstairs bathroom this week…so I can’t guarantee big word counts for next week.)

Revising the Plan: A Tuesday Post of Accountability

Happy Tuesday, writerly folk! Tuesdays are accountability day here at Place for the Stolen…so time to see what we accomplished writing-wise this past week:

1. Okay, so I know last week I said to hold me accountable for the End-of-April rough draft plan. I’m here to say that perhaps that was a smidge hasty. I’ve been re-evaluating the speed at which I can compose gracefully (read: without pulling my hair out) and have come to the conclusion that slower and steadier wins the race. I’m now aiming for the end of July as the rough draft due date for The Line.

And this past week I’ve added another 2400 words to the novel. Huzzah!

2. Part of the revising my plan is also that I’m starting another draft of an earlier book – my La Llorona book for those who care what I’m working on. It occured to me that The Line won’t be ready for submission this year no matter how much I bust my ass – and I want a submittable-to-agents draft of a novel this year. That way I can at least build experience in the querying gig. Plus, I like this book and, after seeing Woman in Black, feel that a good, old fashioned ghost story is the way to go. (For those that have read some of it – you realize this means some definite retooling.)  

I whipped out my handy-dandy calendar and figured out a way to gracefully (read again: without pulling my hair out) do a new draft by the end of August.

So far I’ve marked up the first three chapters, cut another chapter, and have typed in a new two pages. Huzzah!

*Interesting note: I work better in the morning on the flat-out new stuff. Revisions are more a late afternoon/early evening thing. At least it keeps the days interesting, huh?*

That’s it for me, kids. How about you guys? Revising? Working on something new? 

Filling Notebooks: A Tuesday Post of Accountability

Tuesday sneaks up on me sometimes. Time to be accountable! Here is what I have done this past week:

1. Glorious news! I have almost filled a 120 page notebook with new novel words! The rough kind of words, but words nonetheless! Next week I should be able to say: filled a notebook. Such almost-satisfaction. I can see the end. I’ll be done with the notebook in just a couple days. Things are trucking along…and I think I can see the last hill I have to climb before I’m finished with the whole rough draft of The Line.

*the crowd cheers*

(Admittedly, it’s just seeing the last hill…still gotta climb it and hope to heaven that there isn’t some kind of mountain range behind it. I’m sure that happened to the covered wagon trains when they saw the Sierra Nevadas: “We’ve crossed plains! We’ve crossed a huge mountain range! We’ve crossed an unbearably hot desert! Look, it’s a hill! One more thing! Oh. Wait a sec.” That had to be a rough day.)

2. Started second drafts of two short stories. So, yay for progress.

Soon I’ll be able to add to my list of stories I’m submitting. My submittable short story list has been woefully short for a while. When you’re focusing on novel-length work, the time to create new short stories (and actually revise and polish them) is tight. But I’ve recently felt the need to say that something was finished. That I’m making some kind of progress.

Because working on a big ol’ novel sometimes feels like you’re spinning your wheels…even when you’re not.

3. Got some new short story ideas, and one idea for a play. My buddy John has recently been super-active in our local theatre community. Going to these play recently, I have been inspired. I had a one-act play produced when I was in college but haven’t embraced the challenge of a full-length. Sometimes you’ve gotta mix it up. (Just ask Neil Gaiman, right?)

And how have you guys been? Got a lot done?

Make It Stop: A Tuesday Post of Accountability

You’d think after last week that there was no more drama to be had. You’d think wrong! But it is Tuesday, so it’s time to be accountable for writing stuff.

1. I did finish a chapter of The Line. It was like pulling teeth for every single word, but the chapter got written! The struggle I’m having with writing is a schedule shift. The soon-to-be four year old doesn’t nap anymore. Pfft! There went my hour-a-day time. Without it, finding time has been a chore. After discussions with Shane, we have fleshed out a new schedule – it’s not every day, but should buy enough time to get stuff down on paper…and let me out of the house. So cheers for that.

2. Almost done with a new short story. I’m diggin’ it and that’s what counts. Just gotta write out the last scene and ta-da! I’ll be finished with that.

But, damn, this was a doozy of a week.

My grandma is still in the ICU with weird tubes and stuff stuck all over. She’s doing better, but it’s still stressful.

Last Thursday night, the car’s fuel pump gave out on Shane on his way home. I’ve been minus a ride for a few days while the mechanics get parts and whatnot. Stuck, stuck, stuck. (P.S. Thank you to Ali and John – who kept me entertained while I waited in the car for the tow truck – long story on how I was the one who wound up waiting – on a really dark, kinda spooky stretch of road. They endured the phone cutting off and me talking to AAA, who needed directions to the spooky stretch of road.)

The Big Doozy: And Sunday night (read: super-early Monday morning – 3:00 a.m.) Shane tripped on something in the bathroom and clonked his head on the bathtub. He managed to knock himself out and received a b*tch of a cut above his right eye…that bled a lot. After keeping him awake and doing all the stuff you’re supposed to do, I took him to the Urgent Care in the later morning. He needed ten stitches.

Yeah, the week isn’t starting off too swell.

And to top it off – insult to injury! – I’ll probably have jury duty tomorrow. Everyone keep your fingers crossed that when I call the jury line tonight I won’t have to go in.

A Week of Almost-Not-Quite: A Tuesday Post of Accountability

Ah, welcome to Tuesday comrades. Time to see what we’ve accomplished this week.

For me:

It’s the week of almost-not-quite.

1. Almost finished a new short story. I’m up to the climatic, near-end scene. The story sorta wrote itself, which is always nice, right? But it still isn’t finished. Just two more scenes.

2. Worked on the first chapter of the book I’m collaborating on with Ali. (Soon she and I are going to be joined at the hip we’re doing so much together.) But I didn’t finish the work I wanted to do on the second chapter.

This collaboration thing is interesting. It seems to me that a lot of the decisions you make while writing are instinctive. When you have a writing partner, you have to be able to articulate – or, at least, to show – to another person what and why you’re doing what you’re doing. This is true both for this blog now that we’re both working on it and for the fiction piece we’re doing.

Ali – what are your thoughts on this work together stuff?

3. Almost hit my scheduled weekly word count for my own novel. But not entirely there. Sad faces all around. And I’m pretty sure I’m not going to hit the count again this week because I’ve got to prep for a presentation that my writing group is doing this Sunday. (More on that next week!) Also, I have to prep my submission to the same group – which means editing some of my NaNo pile instead of new writing. At least that is all on the same project.

4. Almost finished with a poetry chapbook on Ted Bundy that I’m going to submit to a competition. Need three more poems. I know the subject matter, it’s just a matter of finding the right words. Poetry is tougher than anything when you’re struggling with finding words. So it’ll probably take me right up to the deadline before I finish.

5. Oh! I did finish one thing. I set up a page on Facebook for my writers’ group The Under Ground Writing Project (UGWP to those ‘in the know’). If you’re so inclined, you can go on Facebook or go to the website and click Like. Also, feel free to join the website itself, even if you can’t make the regular meetings. There are writing forums and blog posts and writing resources listed. The only thing you can’t do on the site is read the group’s documents. You’ll forgive me for protecting our work, right? I really want to promote writerly friendships.

Now it’s your turn! Tell me what you’ve been up to this week!

Twitter and the Part I Smackdown: Tuesday Post of Accountability

It’s Tuesday! And every Tuesday you will be subjected to regaled by the writing progress I have made over the last week. But! I insist that I not be the only one exposing myself sounding off. Let your comments reflect what kind of suffering butt-kicking you have done too!

Ah, it was a glorious week of progress!

1. Finished Part I of The Line on Saturday! Yes! I actually got to write “End Part I.” So that’s about 50,000 words finished all together. (Yes, I realize Part I is long, almost a novel in and of itself. However, you can’t write big, sprawling epics and have short little lead-ups. How boring.)

2. That isn’t enough for you?

3. Joined Twitter. (And one day I think I’ll even understand what the heck’s going on.) If you wanna follow me and my mini-steals then just clickity-click the link or the button to your right below my picture. 

4. Last, but certainly not least, I heard that my flash fiction piece “Judas Slouches Through Jerusalem” will be published by The Medulla Review. I’ll post the direct link to the story next Tuesday (because that’s publication day!).

Tuesday Post of Accountability!

I almost forgot another Tuesday! Looks like I don’t want to be held too accountable….=)

Here’s what I managed to finish:

1. Another chapter of The Line! Woo-hoo. I busted this one out pretty fast and it’s the happy sorrow of having a draft finished…but knowing that I’m gonna hafta do the whole thing over again. It might even be in the wrong order. Partway through I caught myself thinking that “this chapter probably belongs two chapters ahead of where it is.” I could be totally wrong on that. I’m kinda rushing the next chapter too because I’m so freakin’ close to the end of Part I! (That’s about 50,000 words for anyone who is counting besides me.)

2. Fiddled with the short stories. Still not done. Just fiddling.

3. Realized that there really, really, really is no new thing under the sun. I’m currently reading Writing With Intent by Margaret Atwood. In this book of essays there’s a section on The Handmaid’s Tale. Handmaid, as I’m sure you know, is a dystopian novel, which is what I’m working on, so I was interested in seeing what Atwood had to say on the subject of writing a dystopian piece.

Turns out, she had a lot to say – and it’s all stuff I was already thinking. It was kind of freaky. I could have written the essay if I had anything near Atwood’s skill at expression. To give you a clue of how close our thought processes are on the subject, we were both similarly inspired by a quote from our Pilgrim predecessors: “We shall be as a city upon a hill; a light to all nations.” I discovered this quote via Sarah Vowell’s Wordy Shipmates. I’m sure that Atwood was familiar with President Reagan’s speeches regarding the “shining city on the hill” – a riff on the Pilgrim’s mission statement, since Handmaid was written in the 80s.

Dammit! I thought I was being at least kind of original. (Our approaches are vastly different, of course, but still – to have someone else articulate your thought process is an odd thing indeed.)

4. I’ve also started doing revisions to Part I in my head.  I think that the structure is there, now I just want to go back and add in the polish-type structure touches. (Pretty, sentence level revisions can wait until later. You know, the get-rid-of-passive voice crap. Save it for the end.)

How’re you guys doing?

Progress is Slow, but Inevitable: Tuesday Post of Accountability!

All right, here’s what I’ve done in the last couple weeks (since I missed last week – Bad Me!)

1. Finished a couple chapters of The Line. Now, last week I totally slacked off and managed to do a whole lot of nothing. My goal for September was to write 100 pages (count ’em) and I managed 60. At first I was all:

“Man! I’m 40 pages off of my goal. That’s a lot.”

then I talked myself down a bit and was like:

“I wrote 40 pages over what I managed to write in August. That’s a lot.”

It’s all a matter of perspective. Progress was made, so I shouldn’t bitch and moan too much. Plus, I’m right at the end of Part I. That means I’m in the fun writing stage known as: Jacking My Characters Up. The sadistic part of all writers loves this stage.

I’m also upping my ante for Nano. I realize that you’re supposed to write something new, that you don’t really care about, but I want Bigger Word Count. I want to have a rough draft of The Line finished by the end of February – and that’s closer than even I think it is….

2. Started two short stories, which I’m really digging. Again, I’m off my goal because I wanted to have one short story done every two weeks. Since I’m halfway through both stories, I guess I’m not technically off my goal that much…especially if I finish both of them in the next couple weeks. It feels good to be working on somehing that can be finished fairly quickly. The work on the novel sometimes feels like a neverending task and it’s good to have work in ‘different states of repair’.

3. Joined a book group on Goodreads. Our first book is The Count of Monte Cristo. I dig the group. They have these giant books broken up in weekly, totally doable chunks. Since they’re all going at the same pace, I feel like I can handle some of these big novels.

Tuesday Post of Accountability!: Making Plans

It’s that accountableness time again! And every Tuesday you will be subjected to regaled by the writing progress I have made over the last week. But! I insist that I not be the only one exposing myself sounding off. Let your comments reflect what kind of suffering butt-kicking you have done too!

What I have done this week (8/23/2011-8/30/2011):

1. Finished a chapter just in time to hand in a submission to UGWP. May the force be with it, because I don’t think there was much force behind it. I was trying to finish up two chapters…but it just wasn’t to be. Ah well, I’ll get ’em next week.

2. Speaking of getting stuff next week – I did manage to figure out that  I can finish the thing up in six months at my current pace…which I’ll admit I was disappointed by. But writing and immediately editing is a tough thing and it takes more time than just banging it out. Then those snarky writer’s group members find even more stuff that I have to fix. All of which I’ve already put in my Track Changes file. (That’s pretty impressive actually – I just got the critiques yesterday. Can I get a GO JENNY!)

3. I formulated a plan to finish in six months too. Along with looking at what I was comfortably accomplishing plus an extra push, I have it broken down month by month – time to bang out words and then time to revise said words each month until I’m done. (This may or may not mean something because I’ve formulated many, many, many plans in the past…the plan that I just came up with is, in fact, a revision of my previous plan.)

4. Switched novel notebooks. I know this seems so silly. However, I write faster in the cheapy little spiral notebooks when I’m working on something large like a novel – so I quit fighting it and am ignoring the pretty notebooks…which shall be saved for notes or random jottings or fits and starts. The things we sacrifice for progress.

All right guys, your turn. Whatja do?

Tuesday Post of Accountability!: Mini-Scenes and Track Changes

Welcome to Tuesday! And every Tuesday you will be subjected to regaled by the writing progress I have made over the last week. But! I insist that I not be the only one exposing myself sounding off. Let your comments reflect what kind of suffering butt-kicking you have done too!

What I accomplished this week (08/09/2011-08/16/2011) :

1. First and foremost — I got the oldest kid to school starting last Thursday (where did the summer go?). Youngest kid and I are renegotiating the terms of staying at home alone together. “No, you can’t watch television all day just because older brother is away and can’t play with you.”

2. Am halfway through next chapter of work in progress. After reading The Help, I have been aware of what I’m calling ‘mini-scenes’ that last a few paragraphs, fill in some gaps in the story and then continue along their way. Say what you will about the racial aspects of that novel (read this, I think it’s a pretty good review), Stockett is a very good ‘mini-scener.’

Now, the thing to understand with mini-scenes, as I’m learning, is that you can really set them anywhere. Mainly you just have to ask “What’s the character thinking about?” and then think about what setting would trigger it. Since the focus is just on a mini-epiphany, or a mini-struggle in the character’s life, the field is wide-open. Which is both freeing and frustrating at the same time because you wonder “Where would be best?”

The chapter that I’m working on now is a sort-of series of mini-scenes — it has information that needs to be covered in order to move forward, but didn’t quite serve a large, cohesive scene. Plus, I want to show a little bit of time passage, so again, the mini-scene is coming in to do some heavier lifting.

Until I caught on to the concept of a mini-scene, I was completely floored on how to write this chapter. So, if you find yourself stuck…you may wanna try them too. Don’t be afraid of writing a section that’s just a few paragraphs long. Throw in some white space and call it good.

3. I also created a Track Changes version of all the critiques I received last month. As I was stuck on the above-mentioned chapter, I decided that reviewing people’s notes and typing it all in to one document would let me see problem areas.

Luckily, all of the problem areas boil down to one chapter. So at least I know where to hit when I do the big revisions. For now, I’m plunging through and trying to finish a rough draft by the end of October, so no time for MAJOR revisions unless it absolutely changes the outcome of the story (as it is, the critiques mainly wanted more POP and some clarifying details, which doesn’t change the overall information presented in the problematic chapter…so I don’t have to tear it up this second).

And by the way, I hate Track Changes. I did that so when I’m all finished I will have to retype everything in a clean draft. That’s the easiest way to catch all the glitches anyway, may as well force myself to do it the right way instead of the easy way, ya know?