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Archive for the ‘Editing’ Category

I’m the first one to admit there are enough hours in the day.  If you’ve read here before, you know I have a strong reaction to people saying they don’t have the time to do something.  But there are times where I wonder where they all went.  And now is one of them.

The real reason comes down to, I want too much at once.  A month and a half ago I got back the first set of feedback from my critique partner and then a few weeks later I got the other one.  While my head tells me it’s great that I got so much info about things that weren’t working, my heart felt a little broken.  I’ve come to realize this is a very natural reaction for feedback about an art.  This is real progress for me.  A couple years ago I would’ve been a crying mess.  Or worse, a defensive know-it-all who didn’t accept any of it and queried anyways.  Only to get a slew of rejections from obvious holes in the story.  But now I’m trying to be patient.

I needed time to process.  So I turned to baking.  I’ve been thinking about baking, talking about baking, and creating cookies in my head for a cool book that is going to release in a couple months.  I’ve been trolling Pinterest for new recipes and even started another blog about baking.  I’ve pretty much gone off the rails.  To add to the crazy, it’s a busy time in my “real work” life which is leaving me exhausted at the end of each day.  How do I deal with this?  I cram more stuff in like going out with friends, planning play dates for the kids, or do some more baking.

But today I realized the time I’d been giving myself away from the novel was actually getting me off track.  I’d even started to sneak around with my mistress “television” and watch a couple shows here and there.  It was during an episode of “Discovering Bigfoot” where they were talking about the area being “squatchy” that I realized I’d hit rock bottom.  The book needed me and I needed the book.

Two nights ago I went over notes, studied what I’d learned at a recent workshop, and storyboarded the book in its current form.  Last night, I started slashing and cutting; scenes dropping dead or moving to a new area to be something completely different.  You probably are waiting for me to tell you it felt great.  Sorry to disappoint, but it was terrible.  I was more lost than ever.  I cursed my changes, thought about burying my head in the sand, and going back to what I had.  I tweeted a single word, “Lost” and updated Facebook to read “Doing major edits is kinda like amputating one of your own limbs with a dull knife.  In the middle you’re kinda like what the fuck am I doing?”

Then I paused for a moment.  I inhaled a deep breath and turned on Innocence by The Airborne Toxic Event.  This is the acoustic version I can’t find anywhere except YouTube.  It’s the soft staccato strings at the beginning that slow my breathing and give me the minutes I need to enjoy a good song.  (Yes, it’s a nice 8 minute version.)  I use this song at work when people are driving me to the edge and it even works wonders on the weekends when I’m forced to do laundry.

Why am I blogging about this song?  (Besides the fact I love Mikel.)  Because no matter what you do, how little time you have, or how crazy you feel, it’s important to find the thing that takes you back to your happy place.  It’s the reminder that whatever you’ve decided to do, it is all worth it.  You’ll get through the tough times and know you are working to get to the real place that makes you happiest.

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It’s no surprise Valentine’s week involves a lot of treats, sweets, and baked goods.  Hallmark has been successful at infusing the day with the “if you don’t give something to someone else, you suck” attitude into a day where you should be only required to say “I love you.”  Ironically, I did minimal baking and felt hella guilty because of it.  But the one thing I did get to creating were owl cookies for my kids’ teachers.

I’d been pinning all sorts of owl projects to my Pinterest wall because of it being the mascot to Kiddos’ elementary school.  Yes, I’m one of those goober moms who tries to stick with the school spirit theme in my gifts to the administration.  The owls were from The Adventures of Sugarbelle and were the perfect choice with the heart-shaped faces.  Instead of pink and gray, I thought I was “oh so clever” by using the school colors of green, gold, and purple.  This is what it looked like when I was finished:

Aren't these owls filled with school spirit so freakin' cute?

There was excitement and cooing over the cuteness of the finished design.  I got my daughter’s sign off she thought it was cute enough for her best teacher ever and the teacher’s aide they call “Grandma.”  She even asked for an extra to go to another one of her favorite people, the librarian.  (This makes my heart swell and melt at the same time.)

Then I took a second look at the cookies and I could no longer find the face of an owl.  All I could see was Day of the Dead cookies with colorful skeleton faces.  Now look again:

Who's celebrating Day of the Dead in February?

Same picture, but a totally different way of looking at it.  Panic set in about the school administration wanting to know why I’m sending skeleton heads as signs of love and appreciation.  I wasn’t sure if it would give the same sentiment of “Thank you for inspiring my children” as a friendly owl head might.  So I spent the next hours asking people what they thought it looked like.  There was a Facebook post to see if anyone else saw the same thing I did.  Poor Hubs had to answer the question about ten times over.

This happens to fall at the same time as I’m editing my work in progress.  I have super notes from my crit partner pointing out things I never thought of during those first couple drafts.  It’s so funny to see things I never even imagined before and now they are so obvious.  It’s one more confirmation I’m on a good path of growth in my writing life.

While the cookie was received, liked, and hopefully consumed, the WIP is still in process.  Soon I’ll have another set of notes and see even more details I hadn’t before.  When it’s finally done, I’ll have confidence in a piece I love and can’t wait to share.

Having a second or third pair of eyes is a benefit in any creative process.  They can point out what’s lacking or support what’s right.  After critique partners and beta readers, I won’t have to worry about the insecurity of asking a million scattered people for their opinion.  Most will see what I want them to, but maybe a handful will see the unintended symbol of death.  And that’s okay.  That’s the awesome thing about creativity.  Everyone gets out of it what they want.

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Pulling Teeth

“I want to pull out all my teeth,” said my six year old daughter.

We have a bedtime ritual of laying together for fifteen uninterrupted minutes after a hectic day.  The conversation usually includes strange questions about death, the updates about how many girls are in her first grade class, or singing made up songs with strange rhymes.  This was the first of some kind of weird bodily harm.

“Why do you want to do that?” I said.

“Because everyone else is losing all their baby teeth and I’m the only one left.”

“I’m sure there are others in your class who haven’t.”

“Marissa is the only other one and now she has a wiggly tooth.  Right here.”  Her finger crammed into her small mouth to point out the area of wiggle.  She pushed against hers and it’s solid as a rock.

“Don’t worry, it will happen.”

“I don’t like to be behind everyone else.”

“It’s not a race.”  This statement is a regular feature in my daughter’s life who is as competitive as her mother and has the same lack of patience.

“The dentist told Daddy last time that I’m behind and it’s going to be a long time.  I wish all the teeth in my mouth were gone.”

This statement is most ironic since I just finished paying a very large bill to have a slew of cavities filled.  There are hundreds of dollars stuffed into the crevices of her teeth which would have fallen out if we hadn’t done something.  This doesn’t even include all the additional mouth care purchased to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

“You would look pretty funny with no teeth.  If you rush it by pulling them out before they’re ready, the adult ones won’t come in and you’ll be toothless for a long time.  You wouldn’t be able to chomp on carrots, nuts, or anything else hard.”

“That’s okay.  I like mashed potatoes,” she said quite content to a life of spuds.  I kissed her on the head, asked her stay my little girl a little longer, and not do anything reckless to knock out all her teeth.

Her story reminded me of my own impatience nagging the back of my mind with wanting to rush through the big edit on my current work in progress.  I listened to all the writerly advice and have given some time after finishing before diving back into the edit.  I mentally warn myself to take the time to reading and re-read before making any changes or sending to my shiny new critique partners.  My mantra “it’s going to take time” is a daily reminder no good will come if I rush it.  If I make a rash decision to start querying before the manuscript has matured, I’ll only end up looking foolish like a little girl with no teeth in her mouth.

As my daughter pointed out, this is made more difficult by seeing the toothless smiles of those around us.  It’s not that we’re jealous of them (okay, maybe a little jealous but still happy).  But we get fidgety about when it will be our turn.  She and I both understand others reaching their goals has no bearing on whether we do or not, but it’s a reminder of the possibility.  And hearing about the excitement of putting the envelope under your pillow to wait for a quarter to magically appear or the announcement of signing with an agent only makes it more torturous to have to wait.

I’ll try to be the adult here and remind both of us “it’s not a race.”  I know if we continue forward with what we’ve been doing, inevitably it will happen.  She will grow up, lose her baby teeth and be less of my little girl every day.  I will type on the computer, write stories, keep learning, and hope to have an agent announcement of my own one day.  It will be interesting to see who out of the two of us will reach her goal first.  And let us all hope I reach my goal before my daughter reaches a ripe old age where she has to be concerned about keeping the permanent ones.

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Some of you might ask what I would have written about if I didn’t get into cookie making this year.  Well, I will have you know, I would have paralleled the writing experience with some other creative form.  But for now, you will have to be amazed (as I am) with the similarities of creating a novel and baking up a batch of goodies.  Both delicious!

Today it’s about cookie cutters.  The irony is that in writing, “cookie cutter” is probably not the term you want to hear when someone is describing your work.  You want ground-breaking, original, mind-blowing…Uh, you want Hunger Games.  But even the awesomeness of Hunger Games can be compared to other works, which brings me back to the cutters.

The Sweet Adventures of Sugarbelle is this fantastic cookie site.  I mean, the stuff that woman can create on a cookie is out of this world.  Recently she touched on the fact that sometimes it’s the least expectant cookie cutter which makes the best shape.  Instead of confining the metal cutter to one image such as a Santa Claus, she shows a little imagination to pipe it into a Chewbacca.  She doesn’t look at what it’s supposed to do, she looks for what it can do.  She steps back, takes inventory, and creates something surprising.

What a great reminder as I sit on my hands for a few weeks while my current work in progress cures.  Yes, I literally have to sit on my hands to keep from going back to tinker with it.  What’s the harm? you might ask.  Getting a jump on the revisions sounds like a great idea to getting to a finished product faster.  That’s what I used to think to before I applied it to my previous novels.  What I found was I edited little pieces to death, maybe making a Santa Claus cutter into a Mrs. Clause or even a snow man, but it wasn’t anything too far off from what I started with.  In the end, my story had some tweaks to it, but it wasn’t the best it could have been.

I’m sure Sugarbelle faced the same thing.  She didn’t buy jolly old St. Nick and imagine Chewbacca right off the bat.  She had to use it as Santa, wait a while with it sitting in the Christmas cutters pile, think of other shapes which share the pattern and even tinker around with piping some failed cookies.  (Maybe a tragic looking Mark Hamill was eaten without regret.)  But once she did see the possibilities, it opened a whole new world.  It wasn’t only Chewbacca, she saw a Yoda in a spider, a storm trooper out of a skull, and those Princess Leia buns from a peppermint candy.

My hope is I will have the same inspiration after giving it some time.  There have been many lessons learned over this year to improve my overall craft.  Most authors agree you need time away from your project to see it any differently than you originally meant.  In the excitement of wanting to finish, there is the urge to rush.  Sugarbelle’s cookies are a great reminder that with time many more ideas have a chance to bounce around your head.  The failed can be left behind (or consumed) without sadness because what will be left is a masterpiece.

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Writing fiction always requires a fresh eye.  This is extremely difficult after you’ve read your WIP for the hundredth time.  You rely on others to read through, make adjustments, tell you where you’ve gone off the rails, and all the places they would’ve stopped reading if they weren’t your friend.  But readers sometimes don’t know how to tell the writer these honest observations.  They want to be supportive by reading to the end and giving positive feedback even when they know there were times something didn’t feel right.  They assume someone else will be there to critique the story, they are just there to read and get to the end.  What I’ve learned in the last couple years is there is a big difference between a “reader” and a “critique partner.”   

Lately, I’ve been in desperate need of a critique partner.  This isn’t to diss the great readers I’ve had to tell me if the story is good or where “it’s ooookay” with a wince because they are too afraid to hurt my feelings.  I completely need those people, too.  In fact, they’ve been a great resource when I’ve recently finished and second-guessed if I have the skills to continue.  But a critique partner is someone who understands the structure of a story and can give a straight up insight like “your plot sucks here” or “your character would never do that.”  A crit partner understands how important it is to say, “Dude, you fucked this up.”

To date, my only crit partner has been Hubs.  I must admit, he’s been brave at times to say he doesn’t like something.  But he’s only one man.  And sometimes I don’t give him the credit he deserves.  When I fire back “what would you have written?” he shrugs his shoulders and reminds me he’s not a writer.  Maybe if I had a few partners I would get different views to hone in on the issues which really stick out before sending it out to query.  (Hell, I’m having a hard enough time finding one and now I want a few?)  But it would be so much easier to fix the issues before they were in front of the agent who I only have a few pages to make a rock solid connection.

This lesson was illustrated today when Anna from TATE tweeted “and check out this guy’s sweatshirt. he made it himself. xx Anna.”  I’m prepared to be wowed by the sweatshirt which caught the band’s attention; so much so, she actually stopped to take a picture of it.  At first glance, I’m like “So what?”  It has some words on it in some weirdo font and the gray figure on the side is like a visual puzzle.  What is that thing?  A knight? An abstract depiction of a man?  Some psychological test?  Sure, it has the lyrics of one of their new songs on it.  Big deal.  This was really the thing to stop Anna in her tracks, take the photo, and upload it?  Really?  But then I read it. 

(The lyrics from The Graveyard Near the House are “It’s better to love, whether you win, or lose, or die.”)

You can see the smile on his face although his identity has been protected.  We’ve all been there.  We are so excited about the great idea, the creation of the work, we can’t wait another second before we put it in front of other people’s eyes.  Then you get the chance of a lifetime to have it in front of someone you are trying to impress and the euphoria is blinding about the “what if” possibilities.  He may have dreamt Anna would be so overwhelmed with his devotion she would ask him to join their tour.  Okay, wait, that’s my fantasy.  But you can tell he is over the moon.

In reality, he needed a crit partner.  He needed a fearless set of eyes who didn’t care he spent $30 making the sweatshirt or was up all night ironing on the decal.  The crit partner would have known it was better to be truthful than to let his work be in view of the public when it wasn’t ready.  The crit partner could have saved him some humiliation and frustration later when he realizes what he’s done.  Because a critique partner would have said “Dude, you fucked up.  There is only one ‘O’.”

Special Note:  This is my 100th blog post.  Who would’ve guessed it?  Certainly not me.

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The Monster in the Room

My mother, the inspiration for the bumper sticker “When Mommy says no, I ask Grandma,” gave my children a trampoline for Christmas.  It’s the indoor kind for kids that plays ear-piecing sound effects at the level of loud or louder every time it’s jumped on.  After calling to ask “What the hell were you thinking?” and getting the answer of “it was your choice to live in rain soaked Oregon where children can’t play outside” thrown back in my face, the Big Green Monster was set up in my living room.

The monster is an eye sore.  It’s huge, brightly colored, and as I mentioned before crazy loud.  After making the modification of ripping out it’s vocal chords, I thought I could live with it.  My sister, another proud owner of the Jump Start told me not to worry.  “The damn thing will break in less than three months,” she said.

The children were happy jumping for hours on end or a grabbing quick bounce on the way to their room.  At times, I thought I was enjoying silence until I realized the rhythmic squeak from the bungee cord extending and contracting in the background.  I’d learned to tune it out completely.  The monster and I had an understanding.  Until today…

Today, the monster snapped and tears were shed.  With a final jump from my son, he crashed through and hit the floor.  His wide-eyed sister pointed an accusatory finger.  After making sure no one was hurt, the death of monster, from a clean snap through the bungee cord, was confirmed. 

It comes at an interesting time when I thought I was done with my work in progress.  Two weeks ago, I started last run through to clean up some loose ends to prep for querying.  I read through Story B first and was pleased.  There were some minor things I messed around with, but ready for other’s eyes.  Then I moved to Story A.  It didn’t feel quite right.  It certainly didn’t give me the confidence the other part had.  How did I miss this before on the three other reads?  Had I learned to tune it out because I was happy the piece was done?  Was the euphoria of being so close to the finish line clouding the fact the story was weak?  Was it about to give way with one heavy jump?  Would there have been tears if rejections came because of it?

I dismantled Story A before it had the chance to let me down.  I’ve spent the last five days taking out all the unnecessary and replacing it with more substance.  (A bouncier bungee cord, if you will.)  I’m not done yet and it will push out the completion date I visualized in my head.  It’s going to change the novel too, maybe even morph it into something more, and I’m excited.  My all-out attack on the beast is going to add more than I thought it would when I went in to “fix” a problem.  My story’s monster has been silenced, it too, is dead.

And what happened to the Big Green Monster?  I’m taking the thing back to the belly of the beast, Target.  This monster won’t be back.  But I did find an adult one with a bar, black in color, and no sounds that might just do the trick so everyone is happy.

A picture so you can truly understand.

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Yesterday, two women on my staff were discussing the troubles in Egypt.  I ducked behind my computer like I normally do when religious, political, social issues come up between staff members.  My only concern when volatile conversations pop up on my team is to keep a safe distance from necessary “coachings” or “corrective actions.”  I block out opinionated rants by scrolling through mind-numbing emails.  But, my ears did perk up when one asked the other “Are you ready for the rapture?” 

While their conversation continued down the road of religious beliefs, mine veered to what’s important to finish before I’m…well, finished.  Here I am fretting about a novel revision when doom is right around the corner.  It only makes sense to get together my thoughts in the way I know how…a to-do list.

1.)     Revise novel to make sure my last written work on this Earth is the best representation I can create.  With all the excitement of the last couple days, the concern of “What if they don’t like it?” plagues my thoughts when reading each line of the Work in Progress.  A friend snapped me back to reality by reminding me this is the story I want to tell.  Making sure I keep true to what I am is the only way I can ensure when an agent does like it, they will be perfect for me.

2.)    Write a successful query letter.  Similar to the search for the Holy Grail, I imagine myself suited up like Indiana Jones, bullwhip and all, trudging through thick juggles, deciphering complicated riddles, and even having to face those damn snakes.  All with the hope I will meet some old knight, choose the most non-descript cup, and save my dad, Sean Connery from death.  Okay, that’s a different story, but having a happy ending is the same.  (Ha!  She said happy ending.) 

3.)    Party with like a rock star.  With impending doom around the corner, I’m glad I scheduled a concert this weekend.  Since my picture with Anna from The Airborne Toxic Event, my night with Todd from Toad the Wet Sprocket and running into Ezra from Vampire Weekend at the hotel, I’ve come to assume I will be hanging out with the members of the bands I go to see.  I have high hopes of continuing the fantasy on Saturday with Atomic Tom.

Update:  My pick with lead singer Luke from Atomic Tom!  Yay! 

4.)    Get my mom to read my blog.  What seems like the easiest task and should have been checked off months ago, this may prove to be the most challenging of all.  She is convinced hitting the subscribe button will somehow sign her up for Facebook.  When I try to explain the impossibility of that conspiracy, she lectures me in a raised tone about the seriousness of identity theft.  She then goes on about how my brother-in-law e-mails his blogs.  (Uh, yeah, he probably stole her identity, created an account in her name, and signed her up for numerous porn sites.)

The list might be small, and of course I’ve left out the obvious of spending quality time with my family, but it’s the stuff I’d like to knock off first.  But I must say I’m pretty pissed I have to move up the date.  All this was calendared by December 2012.  When are these Armageddons going to get on the same page?

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