Odds and Ends, and a Boatload of Links

Hello Again!

I know, I know, it’s been more than a little while since I’ve posted, not for a lack of topics but rather a lack of time.  Since I posted last here, I cleared the 70k word mark on the first draft of my latest work-in-progress and am now deep in the revision stage of the manuscript.  I attended one retreat – the Big Sur Children’s Writing Workshop – and three (yes, three!) SCBWI conferences.  I’m hoping to write a post or three on my takeaways from the conferences, and on the amazingness that is the Big Sur workshop, so check back for those in the next few months.

Yes, it may really be a few months, because next month I’m going to be researching my current WIP in a whirlwind trip around Europe.  I’ll be starting in Prague and gradually making my way to Dubrovnik, then catching a plane to London for a few days before heading home.  I can’t say much about the manuscript yet, but I can tell you I’ll be visiting a lot of churches, especially those with catacombs, and checking out former Cold War spy hangouts in Vienna.  I’m hoping to be able to keep up on twitter and post a bit to instagram while overseas, but I’ll likely be fairly quiet otherwise, as I’ll be writing, ideating, and photographing everything I can.

In the meantime, I started a project this summer that will hopefully benefit not just me but a lot of writers.  Last winter I realized how many tweets I’d favorited – over 5,000(!) – and most of them were links to articles on writing craft.  Twitter doesn’t provide an easy way to go through that many favorites, so I set up an export to the bookmarking site, Diigo.  I finally got around to looking through the links last month, and started to re-tag them with meaningful categories.  I’ve kept the unreviewed links private, but as I’m reviewing them I’m making them public.  I’ve got a little over 200 available right now, so if you’re looking for revision techniques, great tools to get to know your characters, or just about anything else writing-related, you can find links from around the web to help you do just that.

You can find the link database at https://www.diigo.com/user/Katebranden.

How have you spent your summer?  Do you have any big plans for the fall?

Short Story - First Draft Done!

The short story I was working on, secret project “LS”, is done.  Well, done as in the first draft is done, and it’s with two beta readers.  I should hear back from them at some point over the weekend.  I hope.  I’m very antsy about it.

A few notes on how I wrote it, and what I learned from the experience:

  • I used a checklist to track all the things that I needed to tell the reader.  It was a working list, and as I found things to add I added them.  I found this really, really helpful in planning scene-to-scene.
  • This is the first time that the final conflict clicked with me.  Now that doesn’t mean it didn’t need revisions, and doesn’t need more revisions, but it was as if all the parts clicked into place, the way they should when writing a scene.  I expect this was because I actually took a few days before I wrote it and made sure that the villain was the right villain, and that I knew how the confrontation would go down.  Well, I thought I did, anyway, but -
  • Each scene I planned in advance, and each scene came out at least a little differently than I’d planned.  Instead of trying to fix this, I went with it, and trusted the instinct.
  • Each day I started with revising what I’d written the previous day, then checking the list and assessing whether or not I was on track.  If I wasn’t, I took some time to do some planning to get back on track.  This ultimately meant that I wrote less, but what I ended up writing was of a higher quality, because I gave myself permission to get it right, and because if it wasn’t right, I gave myself permission to mull it over and fix it the next day, rather than pushing forward with the “I’ll fix it later” attitude.  The next day the writing still felt like soft clay, still moldable.  It also meant that I put less pressure on how much I had to get done each session, which made it easier to start.
  • Some days I didn’t write at all, I just revised, researched and planned.  But each day I worked at least a little on the story.

As this was a short story, the plotting was simplified, there were fewer characters to develop, and it was easier to keep all of the story elements in my mind.  But I think the lessons I learned from the process that I used will help me in my novel revisions and in writing my next first draft.  I’m still learning this craft, and I think the biggest learning curve is learning what works for me.  It’s learning how to work within my personal limitations to allow the story to make it to the page in its truest form.  And I’m finding that what works for me is slow and steady, as opposed to the quick and dirty first draft.  I’m surprised, but I’m just going to go with it.

Revision Doubts, or, Who is this Boy?

I wrote this on Monday, but I got so busy that I didn’t post it until now…

My critique partners and writing partners are awesome, in part because they’re so honest.  Last Tuesday two of my my writing friends helped me to take a look at one of my characters.  He’s a main character, and I’d written the entire book without a clear picture in my mind of what he wants, deep down.  I was hoping it would come out in the text, and be there for me in revisions, which I now think it has.  But, back to Tuesday.  I described this character, and my friends told me what they thought of my description.  He’s boring and stereotypical, one said.  He doesn’t sound real, he sounds like his whole personality is based on his supernatural genetics, and he sounds like a drop-out, the other said.  They asked me a lot of questions I couldn’t answer, and I gave them a lot of answers I wasn’t sure of.  Then I went home and moped.

The next day I sat down and started to write out another character sketch.  Who did I want this boy to be?  Who was he, really, under all the random crap I wrote in my MS?  What was his core?  Was it in the text?  I wrote everything I could think of about this boy, and then went back and read my original character sketch.  I was surprised as to how similar they were, but I still wasn’t happy with who he was.  So I went back and re-read the one scene that I was sure had his true voice in it, and then I mulled.  For days.

What I’ve realized today is that somehow in the last few days I switched from mulling over who this character is to procrastinating all work on the revision.  My thoughts went from “What does he really want?” to “Is he any good?  Is any of this story any good?” to worrying that I can’t write at all.  What if I’m a fraud, and can only write scenes, but can’t string together a whole narrative?  What if my book sucks?  What if all my books suck?

Um, not so productive.

This morning I reminded myself of two things.  First, even if my book sucks, it doesn’t mean that I suck, or that I’m a horrible writer.  I’ve been told enough times that my writing is good that I’ve got no business sitting around feeling sorry for myself.  Second, of course my book sucks.  It’s a first draft and like a lot of first drafts it’s got problems.  A lot of problems.  But there’s nothing there that can’t be fixed, and I have the tools to be able to fix it.  I just need to stop sulking over what I didn’t get right the first time.

So, it’s back to revision prep for me.  I’m reviewing my plot and subplots to make sure everything that needs to be in the book is in the book, and to see what I can cut.  And I’m reviewing all my characters to see how they’re coming across on the page.  As for this particular boy, he’s still illuding me.  He doesn’t want me to know his deepest darkest fears.  But I’m going to keep working until I figure him out.