Monday, February 17, 2014

Dinner and Perseverance

The Richmond Children's Writers and friends had dinner with a visiting author: Lynda Mullaly Hunt, author of One for the Murphys. She was in Richmond doing some author visits, and we had the good fortune of spending an evening with her.

First of all, have you read One for the Murphys? If not, put it on your to-be-read pile right away. And make sure you have tissues handy. One for the Murphys is an honest look at a girl who finds herself living with a foster family for the first time while her mother is hospitalized. Good stuff!

Lynda told us an interesting story. She had been working on her manuscript (the original title was "Clip") for many months and was beginning to feel discouraged. She had escaped to a Dunkin Donuts shop to write, and it wasn't a good writing day. She had to struggle to get the words out, and what did come out wasn't that great. She was seriously considering scrapping the whole project.

As she walked out to the parking lot on her way out, she passed a car with the a customized license plate. It read, simply, "CLIP." She took it as a sign that she needed to persevere, which is exactly what she did. Her book was published by Penguin in 2012, and it has done very well.

Every writer I know has felt like giving up. I was about two-thirds of the way through Freakling when seriously questioned the worth of going on. I had convinced myself that the story was too strange, that no one would ever "get" this story, and that it wasn't marketable. I was ready to forget about the whole thing. Then I read Patrick Ness's The Knife of Never Letting Go--the strangest book I'd ever read, but I loved it. If that book is marketable, then maybe my story has a chance, I thought. It was a slim chance, but enough to keep me going. I finished writing the book and by the following year, an agent found the book not strange but original, and signed me as a client. Soon, I had a book contract for Freakling, and--interestingly enough--it was with the same publisher and the same editor as The Knife of Never Letting Go. Crazy!

Our message to you is to keep writing! Keep trying new things. If one thing doesn't work, try it a different way.  If one project stalls, put it on the back burner and start something else. Must. Keep. Writing!

To show how serious we are about this, we're hosting a giveaway. The prize is two books, both signed by the authors. The winner will receive One for the Murphys and Freakling (newly available in paperback!).  Login below to Rafflecopter and enter by following us on Twitter/Facebook and/or sharing the giveaway with your friends! (NOTE: Login information is used to verify valid entries and to contact winners. Your personal email WILL NOT be shared or stored).

Good luck and don't give up! a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Looking in on RCW

Our critique group gathered for its regular meeting last week. Members submitted a variety of genres and topics which resulted in lively discussions with lots of give and take.

One discussion centered on the different issues a writer has when starting a piece compared to the process needed for polishing a finished piece.

When a writer wants to work with an idea (we’re talking fiction here) some kind of outline is developed (if that is the way the writer works). At the very least, the writer must have clear ideas about what genre, what time frame, what POV, what setting best suits a particular idea. Where will the writer start the story and where will it end? How will the plot unroll so that it is logical but also encompasses twists, turns, surprises and suspense? This part of the writing process establishes the underlying structure, or armature, of the piece.

At the other end of the process, it’s time to polish. The story has setting, plot, characters and a solid form with a beginning, middle and end. How to get it to shine?

Take a bird’s eye view. Look at the writing as a whole, keeping in mind the overall story arc while carefully reviewing word choice, pacing and consistency of action. Are the characters well served by every element in the dialogue, does the story move exactly at the right speed or does the pacing need to be tightened, loosened? Does the end follow solidly from the beginning?

The writer needs to let go of his/her ego and make decisions that serve the story best, a story that, by now should be “speaking” so strongly that it will be fairly easy to know what to keep and what to change or drop.

What about you? How do you start? How is that process different from putting on the finishing touches?

An even bigger question: how do you know when the polishing is done? That’s a question for later… stay tuned!

Monday, February 3, 2014

On the Virtues of Time and Distance

I’m revising my first novel again. Golly, did I really think it was done? How did I miss that awkward phrase, the passive voice and those run-on sentences? I’d only gone through it about a million times.
It has been a while since I looked at this novel closely. And in the intervening months, I’ve attended several conferences, had a private critique session with an editor, completed a second novel and worked deep into a third.

Heck, I’d almost forgotten what the first novel was all about.

I came back to my first novel with as fresh a pair of eyes as I’m likely to have. Add to that perspective, a review of the comments from my critique group (yep, better hang on to those even after you think you’ve finished with them), advice from the agent who critiqued the first ten pages of the novel, and the bits and pieces of wisdom from the presentations, panels and craft-building sessions at the conferences. I’m astonished at what I didn’t see before.

Which is exactly what time and distance do.
So, how do you space out your revisions? Are you ever done? Perhaps the real question is not ‘am I done’ but ‘is it done enough’?