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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“… 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!