Sharpen Your Knives

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Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

We had some snow here in NJ. My area got hit with about a foot. Maybe eight inches. I didn’t check and I didn’t bring out my ruler. I will tell you however much it was the shoveling wore me out. I tried to focus on the blessings like I’m healthy enough to shovel and I live in a house as opposed to a cardboard box. It’s the first snow storm in March since 1993. 

All that snow means the school closes. Two teens home. And the Coffee King certainly can’t drive to work and we share an office at home. Let’s not forget the noodgy dog. So, trying to get writing done with many distractions isn’t easy.

I’ve blogged about this before, but after about fifteen interruptions and it wasn’t even lunch time I had to take matters into my hands. I had to carve out some time to write.

First, I texted my good friend and writer buddy K.M Fawcett. (Her books are awesome. Check her out.) K.M. and I go to a local Starbucks at least twice a week for uninterrupted writing time. My text said something like, “I CAN’T GET ANY WRITING DONE.” It’s hard to get your mojo going every time someone sidetracks you. She gave me some good advice. Set a timer. Tell the characters in your house no interruptions while the timer is on.

Then I remembered! My red hat!!!  It had been years since I needed that hat. When the Noodges were little and I would try to write they’d interrupt me constantly. My desk was out in the open so I couldn’t shut a door. I instituted the red hat. When I wore the hat they weren’t allowed to talk to me. Unless blood or vomit was involved. I promised to always give them warning before I wore the hat and they could ask me as many questions as they wanted before the hat went on which was very important to Noodge 1. He can’t wait to have his questions answered. He’s still like that at almost seventeen. (I can’t believe that same little boy is almost 17!)

Yesterday, the hat made a revival. I took a picture of myself wearing the hat, and sent it to my family scattered around the house with instructions. I’d wear the hat with a timer going for 20 minutes. Please don’t interrupt me unless blood is involved. (They’re big enough to throw up in a toilet now.) It works.

Finding time to write isn’t easy. We all have lives that work around our writing. Unless you’re Stephen King whose writing can work around his life. Our families don’t always understand that we’re actually working even if all we’re doing is staring at the computer, but our hands aren’t moving. Every time our train of thought gets broken we have to start over and hope to capture the fizzle we’re trying so hard to get on the page. Writing isn’t like doing accounting or sewing.

I don’t blame them for not understanding. In fact, I’m a culprit in the interruptions. I often stop what I’m doing, no matter what it is, to help my kids or walk the dog or talk to CK. The hat creates a nice visual. (I just got interrupted while writing this. I’m not wearing the hat and Noodge 1 can’t find his sweatpants. See?)

The timer is good because they know how long you won’t be available. And anything can wait twenty minutes, can’t it?

Knives are sharpened. The hat is on now. The timer is next. It’s another snow day and plenty of writing to do.

Any questions?

 

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What is Your Fetish?

“Hello, my name is Stacey. I have a handbag fetish.” There. I said it. It’s my first step to recovery. But who really wants to recover from loving handbags? I’m not hurting anyone. Why should I stop? Of course, it’s not just in the loving. It’s in the buying. I own 30 bags of all different sizes, shapes and colors. Those bags do not include luggage, canvas totes, beach bags (3 I used to live at the shore, remember), duffel bags, backpacks, computer bags (2) or lunch boxes. (I just bought a really cute lunch box that looks like a satchel with black and pink stripes.)

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Cute, right?

I have never given away a handbag I have owned. Unlike clothes, books, comforters, and furniture, which I have donated when they no longer served me, but have plenty of life left to help someone else. I can’t part with my bags. I have the very first Coach bag I ever owned bought for me as a birthday gift from the Coffee King 25 years ago. I can’t get rid of it. One it’s a Coach bag. Two it was bought for me by my super cute then boyfriend. Handbags, baby, are romantic.

Just yesterday, I was in Kohl’s buying a birthday present for my ninety-year-old grandmother. I swung by the handbag department and found a really cute bag with lots of pockets. I love a bag with lots of pockets. Do you know how much organizing I can do with all those pockets? And it had a pouch that pulled out for separate use. Fun! I refrained from buying. Handbags were not my goal. I bought my gift and went home.

Only to keep thinking about that bag. How useful it would be when I attend a writer’s conference next month. Not that I needed it, mind you. I have bags for that. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I looked at the bag online just to make sure I still liked it. The bag was on sale and I had two coupons.  Someone told me once, ask myself “Do you love it?” when making a purchase. If you can’t say yes, don’t buy it. By 7:30 last night I was back in Kohl’s.

Handbags have been around since the 1500s. Men and women used them because clothes hadn’t been made with pockets yet. By the end of the 16th century, and the invention of pockets, bags were mostly used by women from then on. You can learn more about handbags at The Museum of Bags and Purses in Amsterdam. Can you believe there is a museum for handbags? Guess what’s on my bucket list!

The things that we like and don’t like really define who we are. It’s no surprise I like something where I can put things. I like wicker boxes and baskets. I love cubbies, built ins, and my jewelry box that has two levels stacked together, the top one with lots of different square sized cut outs to hold necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. It also came with a travel size box with multiple compartments. Everything in its place. To me, that means peace.

So, I can’t attempt treatment for my handbag fetish because handbags are the treatment for my compulsion to organize. Clutter gives me anxiety. Ask my family. They hear me yell.

In my current manuscript, my main character is a woman fondly referred to as “Miss Hospital Corners.” I bet she likes handbags too. I never asked her and she never told me, but I’d take a guess and say yes to that one. Should I give her a few?

What is the one thing you can’t live without? Can’t pass up? What does it say most about you?

 

Editing Tip Tuesday

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Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons 

There are many ways to do it. (That should have your attention.) Of course, I mean editing. You could read fifty books, attend conferences and you will hear a hundred different ways to edit. Basically, they’re all correct. You just have to find the way that works for you. Having said that, even with all your experience going through draft after draft you still need a professional editor to take a pass through. If you are traditionally published, your publishing house will provide said editor for you, but if you’re going the self-pub route then you need to hire one yourself. It’s worth the money. You want your novel to be as good as possible and we can’t do that by ourselves. Not even us control freaks.

So how should you go through your first draft and polish it up? I’m slightly anal retentive. (You should see my organized cabinets and I wrote tariffs for phone companies for several years, which spoke right to that side of me. It was a really boring job, but I learned a lot about grammar, how to write an outstanding letter and I got the color code to my heart’s content.) I like to apply those skills to my editing process.

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Yup, this is an example of my cabinets. 

I have printed out the entire novel, three hole punched the pages and put it in a binder. Then I used color coordinated sticky notes to identify the POV characters and made notes on all my stickies. That allowed me to see each person’s story line individually. I liked the color coding, but it was time consuming and I was still a baby writer at the time so I don’t think I benefited enough because I didn’t know enough.

I also love my red pen. Ask my critique partners. I have printed out the novel and red penned myself through out. Like grading papers. That might be okay if you’re righting a very linear story. I made tons of notes in the margins of the pages and added pages then went back and fixed all that I had marked up.

For my last two novels, Welcome to Bibliotheca and Welcome to Skull Mountain I outlined each chapter on a note card. I did this by hand, but if you write in Scrivener (which I’m thinking about switching to. Thoughts?) the program will outline for you. All you have to do is print, cut and paste. I hung each card on my wall with tape so I could move them around. I used different colored pens to identify plot layers that needed to be fixed, holes that needed to be closed. The note cards helped me identify when I dropped a story line, repeated myself (a real disappointment when that happened) or when I needed to add to a story line. I tend to need to add in draft two.

For my current WIP, a women’s fiction novel about home and family, (like my middle grade fantasies, by the way) I’ve got the note cards ready, but this time I’m going to put them on a binder ring so I can take the cards with me. (I got this idea from a blog post about editing. I couldn’t find it to share. Sorry.) I’m also thinking about using small colored sticky notes to identify plot layers that I may have dropped or need expanding on or deleting all together. Never be afraid to delete. Just cut it out and place it in another document. You might be able to use the work later. Or not, but at least you have it. I haven’t used any of the work I’ve deleted so far, but it’s still available to me.

Some authors like to use white boards so they can visualize the entire story at once. Great idea. Some authors only use sticky notes because they like the idea of moving the notes around to rearrange chapters. I love an idea that allows me to “see” what I’m doing. I’m a visual person so colors and pictures are big helps. My story line in Welcome To Skull Mountain had a gigantic plot hole in it and I was having trouble fixing it. I grabbed brown paper bags, the kind we used to cover books with, cut them open and spread them out on my kitchen island. (I didn’t want to waste time running out to get big sheets of paper.) But I had to see what was happening, so in the form of a family tree graph I wrote out the plot line and what branched off from it. This allowed me to see the plot holes, which I also identified in different colored pens, but I knew where to take the story when I didn’t before. I hung that project on the wall too.

I am sure there are many other ways to edit and I’d like to hear about them if you do things differently. As a matter of fact, I want to hear about it so much and in celebration of my new editorial business, the first four people who comment on this blog post will get the first five pages of their novel edited for free. Unfortunately, I don’t edit picture books, early readers, or short stories. Can’t wait to hear from you.

Happy Writing!

The Most Wonderful Time of The Year

Do any of you remember that Staples commercial for school supplies where the Dad takes the kids to the store, the shopping cart is full of school supplies, the Dad is riding the back of the cart down the aisle the way kids would, one foot in the air, and his two children are dragging up the rear, heads hung low? The music playing over the commercial is the Christmas Carol, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” One of my absolute favorite commercials ever.

It’s that time again and I love it. I love school supplies. It’s a weird fetish, I realize, but I can’t help it. When I was in school I couldn’t wait to purchase new notebooks, pencils and pens, a Trapper Keeper and on and on. I loved having folders or a binder to organize myself. New school supplies meant a whole world of new possibilities. I might turn out smarter, maybe the cool kids would like me if I had the best binder, ah, my imagination would run away with itself. Let me tell you what, there is nothing like a brand new notebook just waiting for you to fill it!

When I didn’t have kids and was no longer in school I’d still browse through the new school supplies bursting out of the aisles and buy myself a notebook. And then when I had kids that needed school supplies? Well, look out. The fun was back. I never say no to school supplies. While they searched for the right pencil case, soft with a zipper, I secretly looked for things I could buy for me. I did it again this year! I’m addicted to notebooks. I can’t help it. All that empty space just waiting for stories to tell. A blank screen in Word can’t hold a candle to a blank page in a notebook. Then there’s the sound of my pen scratching across the page as my hand soars from line to line. I’ll take that sound over the clacking of keys any day.

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This year’s purchase.

As a matter of fact, I can’t wait to go to Staples because I need note cards to edit the new book I’m working on and hope to have published next year. It’s all I can do to control myself from running out when I should be writing. Though, Noodge 2 said just last night she needs additional supplies for schools. Yippee!!! I’ll be looking for those note cards for sure.

The start of the school year brings about so many emotions especially as my kids get older, but this time of the year is something like a birth. Everything brand new and smelling good. Endless chances to do it right. A clean slate. New experiences.

It is the most wonderful time of the year. (Next to Christmas, of course.)

Editing Tip Tuesday

5905866509_f4e9323fbd_oWRITE!

That’s my tip: write. You might be thinking, Stacey, (crazy lady) how is WRITE! an editing tip? 

Here’s the thing. If you don’t write, you won’t have anything to edit. I can’t help you if you don’t have a finished piece. I’m a little over half way through my current WIP and you know what I want to do? Fix it. But I keep telling myself I can’t fix what isn’t there. Keep moving forward. When I get to the end, I can go back.

I love to edit. It’s my favorite part of the process. I’m already planning how I’m going to handle the second draft. Here’s what I have planned: I’m going to pull out my 4×5 index cards. (I’m hoping I need extra and I can go to Staples to buy more. I love supplies. Buying school supplies for my kids is one of my favorite things to do. Don’t you just love a brand new notebook?) I’m going to put a brief outline of each chapter on the cards then bind them together with a binder ring. I can flip through them and see what’s happening in each chapter, what’s missing, what needs to be taken away.

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Can’t wait to break this baby in!

I also like to color code. I’ll probably color code each plot layer so I can see how I’m pulling it through the book or not. The colors will also let me focus on a specific plot layer then go back for the others. Colors are fun. How can I deprive myself the chance to play with color?

But I can’t do any editing and neither can you, until the first draft is done. So, how do you finish? Show up at your computer every day. Set daily word count goals or time in the seat goals. Turn off the internet. Put words on the page even if the words make you cringe and you think you haven’t learned a thing about writing since kindergarten. WRITE! You can fix it later. Or I can help you fix it if you’re overwhelmed or don’t know what to do.

Do you like to write with music? Turn it on then sit down and write. Maybe you have a candle you like to light first. Do it. Your brain will recognize the routines and know it’s time to get to work. The only way to finish is to show up. Writing a novel is a marathon. You have to train and the only way to do that is to WRITE!

Write every day. There are plenty of times I don’t make my writing goals. I try not to beat myself up about it. There’s always tomorrow and I have two teenagers that need to be places all day long, a dog that needs to be places too, and a house that needs to be cleaned. (Other authors will say they ignore their house, but unfortunately I’m nuts and I can’t do that. Don’t follow me. Be like them. WRITE!)

Before you know it, that first draft will be done and then the fun begins. EDIT!

What are your writing goals for today?

How can I help you make your novel even better?

 

 

Just Say “Thank You.”

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Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Have you ever given a gift and not received a thank you note? Yeah, me too. Often. You know what stinks about that? You can’t tell anyone to write you a thank you note and you can’t ask for your gift back. Nah, I don’t really want the gift back. I didn’t give the gift for the thank you note. But it’s a nice gesture.

Here’s the other thing about a thank you note. It tells me you at least saw the gift. If you’ve invited me to a gift giving occasion with a large crowd and I leave a gift on a table or with the host, not necessarily the guest of honor, I don’t even know if the recipient received it or realized the gift was from me. I feel funny asking if they got the gift. A thank you answers my question. Did I mention it’s a nice thing to do?

The old fashion hand written note is the nicest. Did you know the first known exchanges of greetings on paper originated in China and Egypt? But I’ll take a text message. Well, I’ll take a text message if it’s a birthday present from a friend. If we’re talking a bigger event, then call me old fashioned.

I did receive a thank you nine months after the affair. Better late than never, right? Guess it depends on how you look at it. My gift wasn’t nine months late. I know they have to have time to write the thank yous. A bride and groom aren’t going to come back from their honeymoon and write out a hundred thank you notes in a week. Though, I did receive a thank you in a week. The event was much smaller than a wedding, but I was still very impressed.

What should go into a thank you note? Well, Southern Living says, personalize it, show your personality, but don’t ramble, (no one likes a rambler) and most importantly don’t exaggerate. In other words, if you really hated the clock with the bird that pops out every hour don’t write how you can’t wait to hang it up in the foyer. Just say thank you for your thoughtfulness.

Be sure to leave out anything that remotely sounds like this, “What the heck were you thinking giving me jumper cables? I lost my license six stinking months ago.” Absolutely not appropriate thank you note language.

Don’t be a stuffed shirt either when you write those thank yous. Have some fun with it. Southern Living says jokes are okay as long as you’re not making fun of the gift. When Aunt Edna gives you nose clippers just say thank you.

Do you write thank you notes? Have you ever been stiffed a thank you? I love to hear from you.

 

Editing Tip Tuesday

imageWriters hear all the time, “show don’t tell.” I think that’s one of the hardest things to do in a novel. Besides writing a strong beginning, setting, and a hundred other things required in a well written manuscript.

But last time I said we’d touch on show vs tell. I try to stay true to my word.

What’s my tip going to be? How do I help you become the best show-er out there? Practice. That’s probably not what you wanted to hear. Do a lot of reading too. You can learn from other authors by what they do well and what they don’t.

I will use a quote from Robert McKee’s book Story. Mr. McKee is an award-winning screenwriting teacher for more than twenty years. “Make exposition invisible. Never force words into a character’s mouth to tell the audience about world, history or person.” In other words, don’t tell the reader what he/she already knows. Use exposition to further the conflict in the story. Don’t give anything away too soon. Withhold information. Let the reader figure things out for themselves. That’s showing.

Do you struggle with show vs tell? Let me know. I’d love to help.