Thursday, March 25, 2010
This week I had my small moment in the sun. A thrill for any writer, I was invited for an interview on WNPR about my new novel, Qualities of Light. I'd sent a copy of the book to WNPR in October, when the book was released, hoping but not expecting. The email came in February--We're interested in interviewing you. Yes! I said.
The host is a real expert at getting the story behind the story, no matter who she's talking with. Faith Middleton's show is in its twenty-ninth year, and it has won two Peabody Awards (broadcasting's equivalent of the Pulitzer).
I've spoken on over 100 radio and TV programs in past years, for my other books, and it should've been a breeze. But the novel felt much more personal, more risky to talk about. I prepared lots of notes, and even with all my experience, I was nervous as I drove to the studio in the rain that morning. I'd heard wonderful things about Faith's warm and engaging style, but it didn't matter. What if she asked me something weird? Or, worse, criticized my book in front of all those invisible listeners?
She asked me to sit across from her, in a cozy armchair. I asked for a table for my notes, and she said I wouldn't need any. Oh, boy, more jitters. But her smile and obvious enjoyment of the process of our interview softened everything. So did her first question:
Tell us about the image or moment when you began this book. Where were you, what were you doing?
Sunday, March 21, 2010
What the heck is a platform? Writers in my classes ask this question regularly. Some are submitting their manuscripts and hear this back from agents they contact. Platform used to mean something to stand on, a stage. Now it means the place from which your book's message goes out into the world.
Platforms are built over time and eventually let you be visible to a wider readership. They let people see you and hear you above the crowd.
A very wonderful agent gave me some great advice.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
I've been included this summer in an illustrious line-up of writing teachers, and we're all going to be offering specialized writing retreats on Madeline Island, a beautiful resort island in Lake Superior. What an amazing place to write! Join me July 26-30 for Creative Process: How to Plan, Write, and Develop a Book--Taking the Next Step to Publication.
If you like what I've been offering each week in these blog posts, you'll love working one-to-one with me, and a supportive community of fellow book-writers, in this beautiful environment. Each day includes a four hour class, plenty of time to write, and sharing time for feedback. We'll dive into the three-act structure I'm so keen on, taking our novels, memoirs, and nonfiction books-in-progress through exercises like storyboarding, chapter pacing, character and setting development, and much more. A great gift to give your book--and yourself. Cost for the retreat is $410. Class size is limited. For more information, check out www.madelineschool.com. Or call them at 715-747-2054.
Friday, March 12, 2010
Can you easily see what needs to stay, what needs to go? Can you tell when your tendencies, the places you go "unconscious" in your own work, take over, making the writing less strong and the writer more stubborn? In the final revision, do you have the detachment to let go of what's not working, even if you love it more than your first-born child?
Editing is a craft. Trained editors are truly craftspeople in their work. When a writer is able to self-edit, that becomes an art and a craft. Art, because what emerges is often transformative to both writer and reader. Craft, because it requires practice, discipline, and appreciation for how it improves your work.
My training as an editor came in the trenches of a small press in the midwest where I worked for eighteen years, and as I freelanced for other publishers throughout the U.S. as a book doctor. I learned the craft of editing different genres--what adult literary fiction demands, compared to a children's book, compared to a mystery or self-help or memoir. At the small press, a team of four very experienced editors suffered through my early years, as I learned ways to enhance, not erase, the original voice of the writer and bring out what the manuscript could be.
This toolkit was really valuable. In my workshops, I began teaching special sections on editing. I wanted to give writers a new understanding of their own "unconscious areas" and a new appreciation for editing tools as the solution.
This Week's Writing Exercise
1. Choose a paragraph of your writing. Read it aloud to yourself and find the one sentence that really is the essence of the paragraph for you--be it action, character, information, or setting. Now rework that one sentence until you have condensed the paragraph effectively. The writing won't be better; don't try to get that. It's just going to help you see where your paragraph's main punch might be.
Self-Editing for Book Writers
Date: March 28
Time: 11:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.
Spend two intensive days getting to know your book—what it is about, how to structure it, how to plan to finish it! You’ll learn a step-by-step plan, including flexible timelines, chapter grids, storyboarding, and other techniques. You’ll look at ways to flow chapters, find holes in your material that need filling, organize research and concepts, construct plots, and bring your book into manifestation. You’ll also learn what editors and agents look for and gain essential tips on editing and evaluating your book in all its stages. Designed for nonfiction authors who have a book concept or a work in progress, and for novelists who need a fresh look at their material. Bring an SASE to Saturday’s class and up to fifteen double-spaced pages of work, and the instructor will mail you feedback.
Day: Friday & Saturday
Date: March 26 & 27
Time: 10:00am–4:30pm (both days)
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Book-Writing Map Workshop--March 26/27 at the Loft Literary Center. Register now while there's still room.
Sunday, March 7, 2010
I was deluged with emails after a few days--"Help!" "I'm lost/stuck/floundering." "Not sure I really want to write a book after all." Big discouragement.
Discouragement means losing heart, losing perspective, and it happens to all us writers, no matter how often we've been published. It's a terrible moment when your work looks like dog meat, when you can't imagine how you're going to move forward, when you read other (wonderful) writers and sigh with the impossibility of being that good.
I got a couple of chapters back from a good editor in early January. I had thought these newly revised chapters were almost there. But my editor friend had much to suggest--and this was our third call-and-response session (I call out, she responds with edits). She's so good, she sees so well what needs work, that although I felt the discouragement keenly for at least the length of a long car ride home after our meeting, I knew better than to give up.
So I set about finding what was truth for me in her suggestions, and what she might be seeing that were my own blind spots and therefore invisible to me?
Make a List
The first thing I do with feedback that discourages or overwhelms me is make a list. List-makers for generations, my family instilled in me the beauty of list-making as a way of getting perspective. When faced with an onerous task, my mother made lists. Revising for the twentieth time is certainly onerous, so when I got home I took a sheet of paper and listed my editor's main suggestions.
It helped. A lot. As I listed them--the global changes, the smaller changes--I felt myself move into a different viewpoint. I saw how 90 percent of her suggestions actually made the chapter flow much more smoothly for a reader.
My stomach felt better too.
Perspective--Learning about Your Personal Learning Curve
Next, I put the chapter away for a week. I wanted to spend a little time away from the editing and get perspective (that word again) on my personal learning curve. Where was I in the process of this manuscript? I'd worked on it for four years, it had been through group and individual feedback, and I thought I was really there. But she was telling me that from a reader's point of view, things were still jumbly.
After a week I looked at it. My God, she's right, I thought. The temptation to get newly discouraged rose fast. Why hadn't I seen those things myself!
I reminded myself that blind spots are blind to us until we get perspective. Then we see what we didn't see before. Seeing new levels is a sign of growth, and growth is a good thing. She'd pointed out what was not visible to me before, and now it was visible. Lucky to have someone to help me see blind spots in my writing. Lucky too that she'd given me practical steps to fix them.
I went back to my list and began making the changes that made sense to me. Some of them were so big they caused tremors throughout the chapter--lots had to be rearranged. But I reminded myself that this was all good, this was all growth, and I wanted the chapter to be the very best it could be.
How This Process Makes Us Better Writers
After I corrected my chapter, I printed it out, got some Coconut Bliss, and let the chapter rest for an hour while I stared out the window and went into heaven with my bowl of ice cream. Then I read it aloud. Wow, was it better! So much better, I was amazed.
I felt grateful now, not discouraged. And curious--would this learning translate into changed skill? Would my attempt at the next chapter come out better because of what I'd just learned?
This is the goal--you gain skill from good editing, from good feedback. Yes, there's discouragement, losing heart, but there's also skill--if you keep on keepin' on.
End of story: The next chapter was indeed much better. When I went back to work on its revision, I saw much of the same problems as my editor friend had caught. Blind, but now I see. And I did see, a lot more, which means my skills as a writer had increased via this path of discouragement.
This Week's Writing Exercise
If you can get some feedback on your writing this week, do. Then try one of the techniques above. Make a list. Set the writing aside. Have some ice cream.
See if your learning curve isn't a springboard into higher creativity, in disguise.