Monday, October 25, 2010

Sorry I'm Late

Last Monday, my post was brief. Today, it’s late. Or at least later than I like it to be. My excuse…I joined a gym and my schedule has changed. Therefore, it is likely that in the coming weeks and months, my blog will go up a bit later.

The first thing I did upon joining a gym was attend a ZUMBA class. In case you’re not familiar, ZUMBA is like the old aerobics we all know from the 80s with a heavy dose of Latin flare thrown in. My advice for anyone who gives it a try…don’t stand in front of the double glass doors. You will be shaking and gyrating things that you will prefer no one see. But it is great fun and great exercise. Today, I attended a weight training class. Not as much shaking and gyrating, but I still recommend not standing in front of the door.

Beginning with my college days, I have always belonged to one gym or another, except for the last few years. I guess it’s safe to say I’ve been strict with my writing schedule since I sold BENT ROAD. Perhaps I’m compulsive, or obsessive, or both. But I felt it important to write first thing every morning, every day, without exception, without interruption. Even most weekend mornings, I roll out of bed before six to work before anyone else gets up. Okay, obsessive and compulsive. And toss in a heavy doss of insecurity. That all adds to up to a few years of not going to the gym.


I’m not sure there is any moral to this story. Perhaps now that BENT ROAD is in the very capable hands of all the folks at Dutton and I’m 90% done writing my next novel, I’m finally able to relax enough to fit in a few other things. What I do know is that my blog will occasionally be a bit late on Mondays and that I am suffering from an overwhelming urge to write something with a Latin flare.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Actress and I

Today’s post will be brief, primarily because I didn’t plan ahead and I have a couple of other things to tend to today. I do, however, have a few words to share.

I’m always on the look-out for something to blog about, so I’d like to give a shout-out to my companion at the baseball field this weekend who helped me come up with an idea. We’ll call her The Actress. The Actress and I sat through two baseball games on Saturday—slow games, boring games, games where nobody hit the ball. Her brother was playing right field; my son second and short. The Actress and I ate peanuts, contemplated the mystery of why every player on the team was looking at strike three, and talked about the long ride home after games such as these.

But at game three on Sunday….ahhhh game three. The bats were swinging and the players were sprinting around the bases. (Our guys, not theirs.) Again, The Actress and I contemplated the mystery. Did the players get a better night’s sleep? Eat a better breakfast? Was it those four or five sprints they ran between foul poles (which are technically fair poles) before the game began? No matter what the reason, The Actress and I agreed…

IF YOU DON”T SWING THE BAT, YOU CAN’T HIT THE BALL.

“Maybe you should blog about that,” The Actress said.

On a separate note-The Eckerd College Writers in Paradise Conference is accepting applications. This is a great program, and I highly recommend it. Find more information HERE.

Monday, October 11, 2010

I Wasn't Being Mean

Six of us sat around an oval conference table. The instructor, who made seven, (we’ll call him Instructor) sat next to me. He chose not to sit at the head of the table. Intentional, perhaps. He announced the manuscript we would critique first, allowed us a moment to pull it from our bags and backpacks and then said, “Raise your hand if you didn’t like it.”

The group fell silent. One writer looked at the next who looked at the next. For a few, the conference was their first workshop experience. The others had experience, though perhaps were still not prepared for this.

“Excuse me,” one of the writers said.

“Raise your hand if you didn’t like it.”

“I don’t think that’s necessary,” the same writer said.

I raised my hand.

The group continued to exchange glances. One more hand went up. The rest stayed down.

Instructor pointed to one of the writers who had not raised a hand. “Why do you like it?”

The writer had no answer.

“You didn’t raise your hand. You liked it. Tell me why.”

Still, no answer.

“Then you,” Instructor said to the next writer who didn’t raise a hand.

She looked down on the manuscript she had marked up with red ink. “I guess I liked the idea of it,” she said. “I liked what it could be.” She flipped through a few pages and avoided looking at the author of the submission. “I guess I didn’t really like it.”

“I still don’t think this is necessary,” the writer who made the original objection said. “What purpose does it serve?”

“You liked it,” Instructor said. “Tell me why.”

“It doesn’t help to be mean,” the writer said.

Instructor looked at me. “Are you being mean?”

“No.”

“Why did you say you didn’t like it?”

“Because I don’t.”

“Tell me why.”

And I told him.

I don’t remember all the reasons I didn’t care for the submission, but among them were a lack of plot, a fuzzy point of view, too many characters to keep track of, conspicuous dialogue tags, elaborate adverbs and heavy-handed filtering that removed me from the story….in short, many of the same mistakes I made in the manuscript I submitted when attending my first writers’ conference six months earlier. I was fortunate enough to have an instructor and peer group who were not hesitant about pointing out my many failings.

In the end, all of the other writers except the one who voiced the original objection had raised their hands to indicate that they didn’t care for the submission. We discussed the various reasons. Instructor used a white board, drew circles and lines to illustrate plot and flow of time, offered suggestions on how to fix the manuscript. No one criticized the author, just the work. She was crying by the end. I knew that was a good thing and told her so. “You’ll be better for it,” I said. I didn’t cry after my first workshop experience but only because my work was critiqued last, and I had the benefit of seeing eleven other strong, accomplished writers have their work dissected and scrutinized. My skin had six days to toughen up before I was workshopped for the first time.

After an hour and a half, we put away that author’s work. My story was the next to be critiqued.

Instructor said, “Raise your hand if you didn’t like it.”

Three hands shot in the air.

Monday, October 4, 2010

A Writers' Group Reconvenes

After taking the summer off, my writers’ group reconvenes this week. We meet once a month on the campus of Eckerd College, most of clutching some sort of caffeine, and discuss our work. We have a moderator; we’ll call her The Moderator. She keeps us on schedule, and if ever a whip needed to be cracked, she would do it. However, we are generally a well behaved group, and to date, she has wielded no weapons.

We are a group of twelve, give or take. There are a few fantasy writers among us and a few who write memoir. There are those who write short stories and those who loath writing short stories. A few of us are outspoken. A few, soft spoken. So in honor of the start of another year with the writers’ group—this will be my third—I thought I’d share, in no particular order, some of my favorite writing tips.

• Adverbs are not your friend. I once heard Steven King say this, so I am inclined to believe it.

• That’s nice writing, but who the *&^% cares – a reminder that the most beautifully crafted sentence will never compensate for a missing plot.

• Write the story you want to read—and before you assume that you have done this, think very carefully about what you like to read.

• Show don’t tell. I think we all know this one.

• Avoid using the word ‘shrug’ 217 times in one manuscript.

• He said, she said, he asked, she asked, and that is it for dialogue tags.

• Write a short story if you want to learn about plot.

• “Remember to get the weather in your god damned book…”—that is from Hemingway, although someone else warned that we not begin with the weather.

• You will never remember the difference between lay and lie, further and farther, sit and set, who and whom, deadly and deathly, accept and except—look it up.

• Irregardless is not a word.

• The only way to sit is ‘down’. The only way to stand is ‘up.’ No need to sit down or stand up. Sit. Stand.

• Imagine it…don’t make it up.

• Felt, saw, thought, looked, noticed, heard, remembered are all signs that you are filtering. Never a good idea.

• Spell check is not a form of revision.

• Though no one talks about them anymore, it’s worth reading up on the four fallacies.

• Every novel has an arch. Every chapter has an arch. Every scene has an arch. Every paragraph has an arch. Every character has an arch.

• Give your characters something to want and something to need and make it difficult for them to get either.

• Begin at the beginning and avoid bathtubs and dreams.

• Putting your character alone on a boat or in a car or on a walk through the forest makes it very tough to conjure conflict.

• Why this day?

• And it’s worth saying again…Adverbs are not your friend.