Maybe I WILL Meet The President

I’m about to write a sentence that makes me question my sanity, and will likely make you doubt my intelligence.  On Saturday morning, I decided to take the kids with me to the grocery store so my husband could have a little break.  Even as I type these words, I realize how absurd such an idea really is.  I mean, every time I take both of them anywhere, I vow to never, EVER do it again because each time, they behave like they were raised by a family of ill-mannered chimpanzees.  The only explanation as to why I’d take both of them out is that I suffer from short term memory loss, incurable naivety and delusions.

Before I could go to the grocery store, I had to wash my hair and put some make up on.  My routine takes all of ten minutes, but with the knowledge of the bribe reward for good behavior, my older son was itching to leave.  Yes, if they could get through the grocery store trip without fighting, yelling, or grabbing stuff then they would each get a chocolate chip cookie.

Could they do it?

My older son stood in the doorway of the bathroom.  “Are you almost done?” he’d ask every twenty seconds or so.  “Just about,” I’d answer.  The last thing I had to do was put on lipstick.  As I colored my bottom lip, my son said (with the snarkiness that only an eight-year-old can deliver), “come on mom.  It’s not like you’re going to meet the President.”  Then he stomped out of the room.

In my defense, I always vowed that I’d resist the temptation to leave my house wearing lounge pants and fuzzy slippers.  I don’t dress up to run errands, but I do get dressed.  That includes doing something with my hair (note:  one can’t just wake up and go with naturally curly hair; you either have to wet it or shave it off.  So far, I’ve chosen water.)  My makeup consists of five items, including sunscreen.  Just because I have two kids and a fourteen-year marriage doesn’t mean I should get too lazy.  In my rush to get errands done, I can’t forget to prepare myself.

This is the case with my writing, too.  When I write a new story, I want to share it with someone as soon as I write it.  It takes great effort to leave it for a couple days and read it again, but this is what I do, because when I read it again, I always find things to polish.  In fact, I make myself go through a story at least three times before soliciting feedback.  (Nancy, at Spirit Lights The Way, has a terrific post about sharing writing too early – check it out here.)

When I start a novel, I can’t share the plot line or even provide chapters to read until it’s done.  By “done”, I mean read, edited, and repeated x3.  I know if I do, it will ruin my reader’s first impression of the novel.  Or worse, give away too much of the story so they aren’t curious to read it anymore.

So, just as I prepare myself to leave the house, I have to prepare my writing.  No amount of rushing (or snarkniness) from an eight-year-old (or anyone else, for that matter) is going to make me rush and skip my lipstick or edits.    Why?  Because you never know:  I just might bump into the President in the dairy section of the grocery store, or he might read this post and ask for a signed copy of my (unpublished) novel.

Yep.  I’m definitely delusional.

What’s your writing process?  How many times do you review/edit a piece before you are satisfied?  Do you go to the store in jammies?  (Sorry…I was just curious…)

Tough Cookies (Dry Manuscript?)

Last night I made oatmeal raisin cookies.  I modified the recipe to substitute half of the butter for applesauce and whole wheat flour instead of bleached flour.  I wanted to make them healthier; a little less artery-clogging.  In a dream world, these super cookies would have tasted as good, if not better, than their evil cousins.  But the world doesn’t work like that.  Who am I kidding?

Even after the last batch of cookies had been baked, there was one note in the recipe that stuck in my mind, and prompted this post:

“(over mixing develops the gluten, making a tough cookie.)”

This hint came right after the direction to mix the flour into the creamed ingredients “until no flour is visible.”  This got me thinking about my first manuscript, which I just started reading again with fresher eyes.  It occurred to me that my manuscript is not unlike the cookie dough.

Huh?  Yes, I just compared my manuscript to oatmeal raisin cookie dough.  With the cookie dough, there is a fine line between mixing just enough and too much.  Mixing just enough yields the reward of chewy cookies.  The penalty for mixing too much is oatmeal raisin hockey pucks.

My manuscript started out as ingredients in the bowl.  The goal of each round of editing (stirring) was to weed out unnecessary adjectives, adverbs and basically anything that didn’t move the story forward (mix in the flour until completely blended).  I trimmed thousands of words from my manuscript and my heart felt like I had a strong story (chewy cookies.)

Now I wonder, did I edit (stir) it too much?  Did I polish it until it dulled?  One of the agents reviewing it has promised helpful rejections.  I’m crossing my fingers for some insight.

In case you’re curious, yes, I ended up with tough cookies.  I’m nothing if not consistent.  I still have hope that one day I may get the divine revelation as to how to stir in the flour until it isn’t visible without over-mixing.  As in all areas of my life, I look to the light :)

My husband tried the cookies and he didn’t gag or grimace.  Bless him; he will eat oatmeal raisin cookies even if they crumble in his hands.  Now, if I can just find a literary agent with the same taste…

How do YOU know when (if) you’ve stirred (edited) too much?

Tell Me The Truth – Is My Exposition Showing?

Most of the content of my blog is for entertainment value, but once in a while, I like to throw everyone off and post information that may be useful.  I could be aspiring for too much, but I hope you find this informational AND entertaining (kind of like when you get free dessert after a scrumptious dinner).

In my writing class a few weeks ago, the instructor covered how exposition (descriptions) in a story should be handled.  This piqued my interest because sometimes I catch myself giving too much information in my stories – I often have to edit out quite a bit after my first draft.  I don’t like to read books that have a full page (or more) describing every detail of a room or what everyone looked like.  I’ll be honest; I save myself a few minutes and flip ahead until the story gets back to the good stuff:  conflict.

So, here are some tips the instructor gave us on how to handle exposition:

  • Surround exposition with conflict.  The description of necessary details holds the readers interest if conflict is present – the reader can’t skip pages because they will miss something important.
  • Add exposition in bite-size, small doses.  Give one or two important details about a character or setting.  No need to describe every little detail.
  • Present exposition when the reader is eager to know it.  Here’s an example:  instead of telling the reader at the beginning of the story that a character is afraid of water, provide that tidbit right before he’s forced to plunge into a lake.
  • Implied information is more interesting than direct information.  This one is hard to explain, so I’ll use the example given in class:  He can breathe okay as long as no one unplugs him.  (meaning:  the man is in the hospital)
  • Twist another’s emotions to get information.  Information forced from a character is more interesting.  Think of it this way:  if you ask a friend what they did last night and they avoid giving you a direct answer, doesn’t it make you more curious and you ask more questions?  (Maybe you don’t, but I’m nosy-I do.)

If you have any other tips or suggestions, please add a comment to share.  Happy writing :)

Boy, Am I An Idiot

I do most of my writing late at night, after hubby and the kids have gone to bed (and when I should be sleeping.)  I do get tired and get to the point I can’t think straight, but I know when I start nodding off at the computer, it’s past time to pack it in.  I need to go to bed.  This explains a lot about my blog posts, right?

A week ago Sunday, it appears that I ignored all the signs of fatigue and remained determined to soldier on.  At 10:46 that night, I overwrote one of my short stories with another one.  I didn’t discover it until last Thursday, when I went to print it so I could fill out the weak areas.

Here’s how it happened.  I had 2 versions of “Story 1” – one for my class assignment and one for the writing contest.  (There were some minor formatting differences.)  I discovered more changes after I read the printed copy, so I updated my class assignment version.  I decided it would be easier to do the formatting changes on the writing contest version than to make the various text changes, so I did a ‘save as’ on the assignment copy and chose what I thought was “Story 1 – writing contest,” for the file name in but instead, I chose “Story 2 – writing contest.”

There are no older versions to retrieve, I didn’t have a printed copy and I efficiently shredded my notes, which were written on scrap paper.  Since Thursday, I’ve been trying to piece it back together again.  Yeah, I know – too dumb to deserve sympathy.  Take my advice:  don’t EVER do this :)

Even an idiot (like me) can overcome adversity.  At first, my inner optimist was frustrated and berated my careless self.  But since stewing about my error can’t rewrite the story, so here are some things I thought of to cheer myself up:

  1. The contest deadline for the story that got wiped out is 12/1 – the other contest deadline was 11/1.  I have a month to recreate the lost story.
  2. I ended up with THREE copies of the story for the 11/1 contest deadline, so I managed to get the story submitted.
  3. I copied all of my files onto a thumb drive and will back up changed files every Sunday.
  4. Instead of using scratch paper, I’m using a spiral notebook when I’m putting stories on paper.  The contents of the notebook will not be shredded.  (I prefer to use my laptop, but there are times when it’s inconvenient or impossible to do it.)

I’d like to say this was the only dumb move I’ll make, but I’m afraid there will be more lurking in my future.  I’ll look on the bright side:  my mistakes give me something to blog about :)

Start At The Very Beginning…Or Do You?

If you’ve ever watched the movie, The Sound of Music, Julie Andrews leads the Von Trapp children in singing a catchy tune called “Do-Re-Mi”.  In this song, the advice is to “start at the very beginning; a very good place to start…”  While this is true in most cases, it’s not always the case in writing a novel.

I’ve heard it before, but it came up in my class last week that a novel should begin in the middle of the action to rope the reader into the story.  Then, backstory is provided only as necessary as the story progresses.  This gives the reader a little mystery to figure out; how did the main character end up in that predicament?  I’m a curious person, so this formula works like a charm for me.  Much of the time, I’ll read on just to find out what happened.  On the few occasions where the writing didn’t pull me in, I just flip the last chapter to satisfy my curiosity.  I know, that’s bad, but I have to be able to sleep at night :)

I just wonder if exceptions to this rule can still be interesting for today’s “gotta have it now” society.   (Today’s novels are much more fast-paced than even twenty years ago.)  At what point does breaking a rule change from a no-no to innovative?  The English language has many rules meant to be broken.  For instance:

  • * “I” before “E” except after “C” (but not always)
  • * To make a noun plural, add “S” (except for words ending in certain letters)
  • * Add “ED” to a verb to show past tense (too many exceptions to begin a list.  Ooh, there’s one:   ‘begin’ becomes ‘began’ in past tense.)

In evaluating my second novel, I’m realizing that it may just be a book of broken rules.  I’m writing it in first person, present tense, even though this isn’t often well-received by readers.  I tried to rewrite it in past tense, but it just didn’t work.  I started the story at the beginning of the trouble, so the reader goes through the process of figuring out the mystery along with the main character. 

For several days, I’ve thought about how to start it in the middle of the action, but for this story, I think it takes away from the mystery.  I haven’t worked on novel #2 since July because I’ve been working on short stories, but I’m almost to a point I can pick it up again.  I’m still on chapter six, but I may keep going with it and see what the final product looks like. 

Are you a writing rule-breaker?  Please share :)