Epiphany at WRITING for CHARITY

Found on Flickr

When August 21st rolled around, and Writing for Charity (WFC) along with it, I had completed 13 pages of my work in progress (wip). I was EXTREMELY anxious to share my first page (cuz that’s all you are allowed to share at this event) as I was experimenting with a multi-writing-genre format.

The protocol for most writing groups requires that someone OTHER than the author reads the draft. The writer CANNOT say ANYTHING. This is difficult for me, and I slipped when my reader Ann Dee Ellis couldn’t figure out a weird contraction.

“Ah, ah, ah, Renae,” she said. “You need to listen to the way readers might say this word.”

Of course she is right, and such a read-through revealed several issues that I immediately recognized. I started to point them out, and Ann Dee stopped me again as I needed to see if our group members identified the same problems FIRST. And they did.

I had hoped my writing experiment wouldn’t appear gimmicky, and that it would introduce readers to a WHAM-BAM first line; SUPER strong voice; and an INTRIGUING plot set-up.

If those areas were graded, I’d say I received a D, B, and D. And this is why.

  • The first line introduces 2 pieces of the plot that I wanted to emphasize, BUT one part overshadowed the other to the point that my readers didn’t even notice the second detail. And that one was THE most important! This problem deflated both the WHAM and the BAM.
  • While the first page does a decent job of creating a YA voice, the experimental format doesn’t help readers get a real feel for the character’s voice. THIS is critical. Without it, we don’t understand enough about the MC to decide whether or not we like him/her, and if we don’t like that him or if we aren’t intrigued with her, why read on? (I just talked myself into reducing the “B” to a “C”.)
  • While I think I have an intriguing plot idea, I failed to clearly introduce it. My peer readers had to go back and re-read the first part to figure out what had just happened. (NOT a good thing.)

So with those flaws in mind, my group discussed what I could do to “fix” the problems. Ann Dee led the discussion, and she helped me understand the limitations of the format, and she also threw out an idea that could improve the ALL-IMPORTANT first line.

Other group members asked good questions that helped me recognize additional holes.  And so, I went away with concrete ideas that should strengthen that first page and, hopefully, the rest of the manuscript.

The question I asked myself was this: Shall I revise OR start over? I remembered that Carol Lynch Williams challenged followers of Throwing Up Words to toss out the first 5 pages and reCREATE them – NOT reWRITE them. I believe recreation means I come at the story in a different way; and while I like the multi-writing-genre idea, I think I need to scale it back some. BUT I will NOT even look at those first 5 pages when I reWRITE/CREATE them!!!

The point is I walked away from the workshop experience rejuvenated because I remembered this quotation from Writing Simplified:

Writing alone isn’t enough to help you improve; you need FEEDBACK.

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Crazy Fun at WRITING for CHARITY

The best thing about being a writer is I’m my own boss, and the worst thing about being a writer is I’m my own boss.

~ Rick Walton

These are some of the best chunks of craziness I picked up at Writing for Charity (WfC). I encountered some from the question and answer sessions, some from the author/writer workshop, and some from eaves dropping! 😉

  • Most surprising discovery: Once you publish, don’t be surprised if your book cover shows up on one OR more other books. Check THIS out.

What makes this a little more surprising is that both authors live at opposite ends of the Wasatch Front – Wendy Toliver, who penned Lifted, lives in Davis County and Ann Dee Ellis, author of Everything is Fine, calls Utah County home.

The books couldn’t be more different, but I’m thinkin’ the cover girl fits both main characters in some ways. I believe Toliver’s Poppy could be an older version of Ellis’ Samara. (Of course, I’m basing this opinion on having read Everything is Fine in its entirety and Lifted’s entire SUMMARY. But this book IS on my Utah writers’ to-read list.)

Both Wendy and Ann Dee attended WfC and were good sports about the double-take. They explained that publishers use stock photos for book covers, and Wendy said that this same cover is on yet a 3rd book. The authors added that they have NO say, whatsoever, in the choice. While their opinion is asked, it’s not really heeded.

Wendy told her agent about this, but the publisher said, “Oh, well.”

  • Best Twilight Zone experience for an author goes to Anne Bowen, picture book author who is trying her hand at writing a YA novel. She decided a LONG time ago to name her main character Kendra Anderson. And so this summer when she started working on the novel featuring Miss Kendra, guess what! Anne started receiving MAIL address to – yup, you guessed it – KENDRA ANDERSON. (Insert the “do doo do doo” Twilight Zone theme here! 🙂 )
  • Strangest coincidence award goes to Emily Wing Smith, author of The Way He Lived and her new book, the April release of Back When You Were Easier to Love. After the publication of her first novel, she received a message from an aspiring author who said, “I’m jealous of you.” Of course, Emily thought that was pretty cool until the author of the message continued, “because back in high school you went to prom with my husband.” (Not that the couple was married then – oh, you know what she was saying.)

The coincidence lies in the fact that this guy DATED an aspiring YA author and MARRIED another aspiring YA author – who, unlike Emily, is STILL aspiring. Interesting.

  • Craziest silent auction prizes. Author of I’m Not a Serial Killer, Dan Wells, offered to kill you off in his next book. This is crazy at so many levels:
    1. Dan is NOT a serial killer nor a hit man, and so this is a fictional killing. (Sorry, insane people, this won’t help you bump off your in-laws or anyone else for that matter.)
    2. Someone actually entered a $500 bid online, and I’m thinkin’ Dan’s mom, dad, or brother might be the author’s  next FICTIONAL victim because who else would pay that much to be knocked off in a fledgling author’s book but a relative? I mean $500???
    3. BTW, Dan doesn’t seem to be serial killer-crazy and yet he’s written a YA novel about a kid who is a potential serial killer and is fighting it. (I don’t think this is the Edward fighting his vampire-hood kind of story. I just started reading it, and I don’t suggest it for bedtime reading.)
  • Most far-flung event goes to fellow aspiring writer Brodi Ashton’s maniacal purse that knocked my copy of Dan Well’s book from my hand and sent it sailing across the room barely missing two WfC staffers. And Brodi was totally unaware of her bag’s shenanigans.

Only when Dan opened the book to sign it and commented that the title page was all bent out of shape did I say, “It was Brodi’s purse’s fault.” Upon which, Brodi felt all bad, but Dan wrote a fun message that will bring a smile to my face for years. So it was worth it, Brodi! Seriously. 😀

Brodi Ashton totally beat this book and owes you an ice cream cone. Daniel A. Wells

  • Most surprising good/bad news was finding Ann Cannon at the event – NOT as a participating author but rather as a cute King’s English Bookstore sales dude. At least I was able to say hello, give her a hug, and line her up for a guest spot at a Jordan Council International Reading Association meeting. 😉
  • Insanity personified is awarded to someone’s statement I overheard while eating my delicious sandwich: “I have STARTED 13 novels.” (Oh please don’t let that be me in a few months!)

If anyone reading this wonders what helpful insights I learned when workshopping my WIP, stay tuned for the next post. In the little time we had, I gained what I went there for, thanks to the AMAZING Ms. Ann Dee Ellis.

As for my writing friends who couldn’t attend, I MISSED YOU! SERIOUSLY!


“… about to take that trip again …”

I know what it’s like to write a hard book. Just remember–every book gets to a really hard part … .  Anne Dee and I are both in hard parts of our novels. So–keep in mind that every novel can get really, really crummy.

~ Carol Lynch Williams

I KNOW that I listed several reasons to abandon the novel I started, and some of those reasons were dang good, but then I commented on CLW’s “Danger! Danger!” post. The next thing I know she’s giving me good advice about writing “hard” books, and one line zaps me like a freakin’ cattle prod:

“This is the reason so many people have so many starts and so few finished books. Just a heads up … .”

So, for better or worse, I’m continuing on with this HARD write because IT’S MORE IMPORTANT THAT I FINISH IT THAN IF IT’S GOOD!

Does that make sense? I’m thinking it does, because if I don’t finish THIS one, I’m afraid I won’t finish any at all.

I’ve also decided to follow a plan – NOT an outline, but a P.L.A.N. to help work through the “hard”. Here are just a few steps:

  1. Write a synopsis of my WIP – a better one than the one I created at WIFYR. (You see, I misunderstood that assignment and wrote a “blurb” that a prospective author might write for an agent. DuH!)
  2. I already carry around a notebook where I record lots of random things, but now I’m going to dedicate a section to ideas I may discover while living my life that might just work in my “once and future novel.”
  3. Write biographies for my main characters and include the all-important “character arch.”
  4. Learn to write to a timetable – to write SOMETHING everyday – whether it is H.A.R.D. or not.
  5. Whistle, sing, or hum while I work; and this is one of the songs that I’ll whistle, sing, or hum:

Here I go again, I hear those trumpets blow again.

All aglow again , takin’ a chance on [you].

Here I slide again, about to take that ride again.

[Bleary-eyed] again, takin’ a chance on [you].

MUST … schedule … writing novel.

There’s nothing so stressful as not writing. Stop and think about it. If you don’t write, then you’re stressed about wanting to do it and not getting it done. But if you do write, you feel great.

~ Linda Jo Martin

While the debate continues over whether or not to outline the plot before writing that story or novel, scheduling time for putting words, pages, or chapters on paper is a MUST. Isn’t it? For me, IT IS.

Now, figure this one out. I can fit in updates for my 3 (yes, 3) blog sites, but why oh why do I have such a devil of a time fitting in novel writing? As always, I have theories:

  • Novel writing is sCaRY! I continually hold a “worthiness” discussion with myself: Is this story REALLY worth my blood, sweat, tears, and time? Is it worthy of publication? Is there a more worthwhile story I should work on right now? Blah. Blah. Blah.
  • I don’t know where this story is going. So maybe I should outline, create character sketches, etc. But that takes TIME, dang it! But maybe it would save me TIME in the long run. I DON’T KNOW!!!
  • The “novel” MOUNTAIN seems insurmountable. Blogging is like the little hike I took last spring while visiting my grandchildren who live in among the foot hills in Almaden Valley in California. I can do that – I have an idea for a blog entry. I take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour to develop it, and then post it. Done. But writing a NOVEL is like tackling EVEREST! AhhhhHHHHHH.
  • I get caught up in “CROSS-TRAINING” – that’s what Ann Dee Ellis calls writing something OTHER than your novel. You know – get the juices flowing, and all that. Well, my blogging juices are jammin’, but that is NOT the real goal here, folks! I CANNOT spend all my time cross-training. I have GOT TO RUN THE GOSH DARN RACE. (Another AhhhHHHH.)

So what should I do? I know I am not the only writer – wannabe or otherwise – who struggles with this. (I just spent time researching the problem at hand and ran across a blog by  Carol Lynch Williams of The Chosen One fame. Carol has a C.O.N.T.R.A.C.T, a house devoid of children, and she’s suffering from AVOIDANCE issues!!!)

Even though I am an educator, I don’t get “summers off,” but I do have a couple of weeks I plan to dedicate to 2 things: 1) Spending time with my grandchildren, and 2) WRITING this blankity, blank novel. (I think that’s the proper priority, by the way.) While I am confident that the first goal will be achieved, that second one worries me.

What do YOU do, dear 5 or 6 readers, to get the job done? Help me out here! Okay? I’M STRESSING!