It’s Time for Action!

A long (really long) winter causes me to want to pull the thick comforter over my head until it’s all over. This winter was so long, I tried to resist that temptation and kept plugging away at a few of my long term goals. I finished revisions on my first novel, and I ran as often as I could.

Now Spring has sprung. How do I know? The daffodils are in full bloom, the magnolias are ready to burst, and the sun is out more often. I am very eager to get back outside and work in my yard. I want to smell mulch, and grass clippings, and lilacs. I want to watch my kids swing, and rollerskate, and draw with chalk on the driveway.

Photo by Katie Cullinan

It also means that the fruit of my winter’s labors are at hand. I need to make final changes to my synopsis, and then I will begin sending it out to agents. I ran my first 5K race for the season two weeks ago, taking two minutes off my personal best race time. I’m still striving for a sub-30 minute race time this year, so we’ll see if another few weeks of training can get me there in my next race on Mother’s Day.

It’s hard to take the long view of things. I know I want to feel progress, feel accomplishment, and check something off my list. It takes a lot of faith and perseverance. Sometimes I’m up for the task, and sometimes I’m not. The best way I have found to keep my eye on my goals and put in the necessary hard work is to break it down into pieces. Biting off a piece at a time feels more manageable.

So the biggest step is just to start – to jump in and begin the process. I’ve always wanted to grow strawberries and blueberries in my garden. I resisted planting them, since most varieties must be in the ground for a year before they will yield significant fruit. Last year I finally planted them. So after a year of waiting, covering them over a long winter, and giving them much TLC, I peeked under the straw this week to see this year’s strawberry plants already growing and spreading vigorously across the planting bed. I can almost taste the fat ripe strawberries.

The hard work will pay off. I keep telling myself that. So if you hear me muttering to myself, don’t worry. I’m just talking myself into another revision cycle.

Advertisements

NaNoWriMo… 2 Months Later

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) was in November, and you may remember that the goal is to write a 50,000 word novel during between November 1st and November 30th. I boldly (or insanely, depending on how you look at it) took on the challenge.

Since I typically write picture books and middle grade novels, I adapted the challenge for my needs. My goal was to write two middle grade novels in November, totaling 50,000 words.

So how did it go?

I finished the first draft of one brand new novel, about a brother and sister who discover a portal in their hall closet that takes them to 1983. It was quite fun to write, since the girl in the story is 10 years old, and I was 10 years old in 1983. (Go ahead, do the math. I dare you.) I really enjoyed adding in many references to 80’s hair band music, parachute pants, big hair, the Atari and other “new technology”. I’m sure some of it will end up being removed in revision, but I enjoyed it just the same.

So, one novel draft down. Check! Unfortunately, this first novel came in well under 25,000 words. So I wasn’t at the halfway point yet. Sigh.

This was when I decided to ignore the word count, and write until I was done. Good plan right? I began writing the second novel, a continuation of another novel I have in revision. In this draft, a 13-year old girl travels with her dad for two weeks as he completes his cross-country truck driving job, hoping to experience “the world,” and become a better writer.

I got a good start on this second novel, and then life got in the way: birthdays, Thanksgiving, family visits, etc… all wonderful things that ended up putting a halt on my writing progress.

So in the end, I did not meet the 50,000 word goal. And I’m okay with that. I now have 2 novels to revise, and one to finish writing the first draft. The draft is just bursting to get out of my head, so I just have to make the time to finish it.

Perhaps this will be the year of the novel for me. Wouldn’t it be a great year if I could start it in revision, and end it with an agent? Let’s cross our fingers.

Making My Story Matter: A Second Look at Revision

A few posts ago, I wrote about revisioning my novel, a la Cheryl Klein. Now I’m back at it, with another book – Writing A Book That Makes A Difference by Philip Gerard.

I admit it – I’ve had this book for well over a year and haven’t even cracked it open enough to skim more than a page or two. At first glance, it’s dense – altogether different from Cheryl Klein’s light, but informative transcribed speeches. But on closer inspection, this is a winner. I suppose it’s important to know why I even picked the book back up, after many failed attempts. Last winter, an agent requested a full manuscript read of a YA novel I’m working on. She liked some bits, but overall said the book wasn’t about much. Those are my words (she was very polite) but it got me thinking. I knew the book was about more, but after the teeniest bit of scrutiny, I had to agree with her. But what to do?

I underwent a big revision, after a random and fortuitous email sparked an idea, an idea that raised the stakes in the book. At this point, I knew I wanted the book to *be* something, at least in my eyes. Not just a bittersweet coming of age story (which it still is). I wanted my book to make a difference. Or at least read like it did. So I picked up Gerard’s book.

Yes, I’ve skimmed a bit, but the book isn’t as dense as I’d first thought. And there’ve been lots of great tidbits including:

– Have each character “present different facets [of an issue] in their actions and words”. Gerard is referring to novels affected by didacticism. Using characters in this way helps alleviate preachiness. Though my story isn’t driven directly by an “issue,” this approach has helped me flesh out the sidekicks in such a way that they now (hopefully) aid my protagonist in reflecting on what’s challenging her. Duh, right?

-A quote from John Steinbeck, included in the book: “A chapter should be a perfect cell in the whole book and should almost be able to stand alone. If this is done then the breaks we call chapters are not arbitrary but rather articulations which allow free movement of the story.” Wow. For some reason, this struck me something fierce. Mostly in that I’ve never quite reached that level of revision, and I mean that in the best of ways. Yes, I’ve reworded and rearranged and cut and inserted and and and, but this one quote raised my goals to heavenly heights. Could each chapter in my novel almost stand alone? Not yet.

Perhaps the most striking thing about reading Gerard’s book was realizing how I just hadn’t been ready to approach my novel in this way. I knew the people, but only vaguely. But my last revision helped me get to the place that I was even ready to delve into a book like Gerard’s, a book about meaning, a literary book (egads!). Now that I know why my characters matter (at least in my head), about why they as individuals will each make a specific difference in the story, my mental revision feels like it’s been expanded exponentially. Of course, now I have to actually do the revision.

With a big thank you to Philip Gerard.  His book made a difference.