Thursday, June 24, 2010

Brush Brush Here, Brush Brush There....

That squeezy sound you heard was me shoe-horning a moment into my busy work week to finally affix an award onto my electronic wall, courtesy of Lisa Gibson at Random Thoughts to String Together. (Thanks, Lisa!)

Like many of these awards, it comes with no financial prize, no guarantee of a bump in readership, and, despite my repeated requests, no suspension of the rules of space and time. Given the state of the economy, the need to show advertisers how you are growing your readership, and the coolness aspect of suspending time, you may wonder why any self-respecting writer would accept such accolades. Of course, we writers already know the answer to that: We have no self respect. If we did, we'd never share the painful pieces of our personality with readers who may end up on our doorstep and scream, "Finally, someone understands me!"

Just kidding, of course. (And no, I have no advertisers that I communicate with for this blog. Even I don't completely care about growing my readership via ads just yet.)

I'm posting this because I like what Lisa does on her blog and because I like helping other writers.

But wait, there's more!

The award also comes with a few tasks. I don't think I'll fall into a deep abyss should I fail to accomplish one or two of these tasks, but I'll list them for one and all anyway.

I'm required to:
1) Thank and link back to the person who gave you this award. (Check!)

2) Share 7 things about yourself.

3) Pass the award along to 15 bloggers who you have recently discovered and who you think are fantastic for whatever reason! (In no particular order...)

4) Contact the bloggers you've picked and let them know about the award.

So, let me try this. Hmmmmmm, seven things about. Well, I'm a Pisces and like long walks in the dark..... Nah, that's not helpful.

2.1) I trace my love of writing to falling in love with music and lyrics; I made up songs while walking to and from kindergarten
2.2) I have loved elephants since childhood.
2.3) I'm a registered Democrat, despite my love of elephants
2.4) I learned to read in the summer between pre-school and kindergarten, when I couldn't get my family to read The Elephant's Child by Rudyard Kipling often enough.
2.5) I've played baseball at least as long as I've made up songs and stories
2.6) I created a wiffleball team to compete with my brother, who loved turtles. My team: The New York Elephants.
2.7) If I'd realized my dream of becoming a major league baseball player, I still would have become a writer. I know this as certainly as I know that Heaven has baseball fields.

As for numbers 3 and 4, I'm going to have to get back to that. Lisa and I know several of the same bloggers, so that might seem like overkill. Then there's the chain-letter aspect of this request. Of course, Lisa didn't say anything about cute kittens or puppies dying or babies going without diaper rash ointment should I fail in my appointed quest, so I suspect I'll be ok. But then those faithful readers who stop by might not learn about other writers, as I'm learning from Lisa's list.

I'm pretty sure I can add three or four to the list and will do so soon. I promise.

Once again, thanks Lisa, and thanks to everyone else for reading this far.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Multitasking Manuscripts

June has been a funky month. Aside from the usual torrent of busy-ness at work and at home, my modicum of a writing life has been tossed about on a crazy train.

In one of those "fish or cut bait" moments, I decided to quit whining about how I don't have any time to get my first novel out the door. But I'm too much of a perfectionist to not give it one last massaging, taking into account the many prescient comments my early readers have offered. If you're a writer, you know what I mean: "I liked it, but I'm not sure I know what value [insert name of character] provides." Or "I can almost taste that room, but I think I'm getting lost there. Too descriptive!"

Masked in compliments, remarks like those are vital to getting a manuscript in shape, because they cut to the heart of the matter: It's not ready yet. However, while I've appreciated the support of my carefully selected early readers, I didn't always hear what they said. As writers, we're trained to put a finished draft aside for several weeks and work on something else before going back to revise. In a sense, I've found that I needed a similar bit of time to let my readers' comments simmer too. Finally, the remarks have sunk in and I'm eager to get this puppy out into the field to run.

So, I've reopened the manuscript, stripped out some of the detail, added more character development to those people who needed it, and even happened upon a couple typos that somehow escaped the typo-spray I'd shot at the manuscript months if not years ago. Damn insects!

But I don't want to lose the momentum on my current work in progress. I've made great progress in a short amount of time, and I intend to finish the first draft by the end of the year. Hence, the challenge: How do you get a manuscript in shape for agents when you're also writing something new?

For me, the biggest challenge is time. (I know, I know. Not only have I joined that club, I serve on the board, which hasn't helped at all.) So trying to manage multiple manuscripts is like keeping two toddlers safe when they're exploring the house in different directions. I know whereof I speak.

What advice do you have for your fellow writers? Do you focus on one manuscript at a time? Do you move back and forth each week or each day? Do you have other suggestions? Feel free to share.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Write On! Stephen King's On Writing

After an altogether disappointing reading experience with Firefly by Piers Anthony, I decided to go for something I knew I'd enjoy. So into my backpack went my copy of Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. To my mind, this is one of the best primers out there for aspiring novelists, and I was surprised at how long it had been since I last read it from cover to cover. Put it this way, tucked between a couple pages is a small calendar page from January 2005, and I don't have this book listed among those that I read that year, so I probably used it only for reference purposes at that point. It has been too long.

In the book, King breaks things down into digestible bits and helps readers/writers understand that if things stink pretty bad on the other end of that process, that's ok too. After all, rewriting is a vital part of writing. Anne Lamott had a similar sentiment in her widely acclaimed Bird by Bird: All first drafts are shitty.

But one of the things that I enjoy most about this book is the author's voice. On each page, King sounds not like some pompous jerk telling you how he succeeded and why he's earned a mint on his books. Rather, this is the voice of your favorite teacher as he offers suggestions and a healthy dose of laughter. This is the guy you want to impress with your own stories and whose class you're disappointed to leave when the bell rings.

In the opening sections of the book, he recounts his impoverished fatherless youth, his development into an alcohol- and cocaine-addicted commercial-publishing megastar, and finally his progression into the prolific write-every-damn-day author we know him as today. At the same time, it's his answer to that annoying question: "Where do your ideas come from?"

So, if you're a writer and you've never read this, put it on your list of must-reads. If you can't remember the last time you read it, pull it off your shelf and rediscover his simple lessons. If you're a writer who doesn't like reading, Steve has a special message for you too (though you're not going to like it). And if you're a fan of Stephen King but not looking to write anything of your own, you'll find more than enough to keep you entertained as well.