Mental Health Monday–Periodic Reassessment

Anachron Press is hosting a pre-order special to the first 50 folks who pre-order the URBAN OCCULT anthology. Pre-order now and get a copy of Day of Demons for FREE! My story, City of Lights and Stone is in the Day of Demons anthology. 😉

Here are the deets:

Urban Occult Limited Pre-Order

Limited to 50.

Behind urban life, weird and horrific things fester. 

The whispers and chills of things long gone… the promise of power from the darkness… the seduction of those that lie in the shadows… the occult is all around us: in town houses, in mansions, and in your very own street.

Editor Colin F. Barnes collected together fifteen stories by a cast of critically acclaimed authors from around the globe who look into the stygian gloom, explore the dark corners of our houses, and peer into the abyss of human temptation.

Featuring stories by: Gary McMahon, Ren Warom, Gary Fry, Mark West, K.T. Davies, Nerine Dorman, Alan Baxter, Adam Millard, Julie Travis, Jason Andrew, James Brogden, A.A Garrison, Jennifer Williams, Sarah Anne Langton, and Chris Barnham.

Special Pre-Order Edition Limited to 50.

This pre-order edition means you will get the book at least a week to two weeks ahead of general release and:

A FREE ebook version (for any eReader)

and A FREE ebook of Day of Demons. (eBooks will be emailed to you on the 4th of March).

Just £9.99 (+£2.99 shipping anywhere in the world).

Pre-Order here: http://www.anachronpress.com/product/anthologies/urban-occult-limited-pre-order/

UrbanOccultEbook-Lores

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Time is money and us spread-too-thin multi-taskers have to spend it wisely.

For me, I spend around 50 hours a week doing day job stuff, and sometimes work weekends (those 12 day stretches really exhaust me!).

That leaves nights and weekends for writerly stuff. Encompassed in that time is blogging, visiting blogs, social media-ing, marketing, reading, reviewing, critting, writing, and editing. I tend to reserve reading and critting for weeknight stuff and writing and blogging for weekends, when I’m fresher.

Note the placement of each item.

It’s quite scary that writing and editing are last.

I’m a writer who writes after everything else is done. Shouldn’t that be the other way around?

Gosh, admitting this makes me sad.

When I first started writing, that’s where most of my time went. Sure, I’d spend some time on forums (like QueryTracker), but for the most part, my brain was hyperfocused on writing and that’s what I did.

With time came critting.

Then I started this blog.

Then I joined Facebook and Twitter.

Marketing came after New Pride and Shifting Pride were published.

With each added item, writing got shoved further down the list.

I’ve been feeling the pain about this for a while, but now it’s time to admit I need to do something.

I need to reassess where I’m at.

My goal is to incorporate more writing and editing into my routine. I will continue blogging, but may do only two posts a week. There will be the odd week with the same M-W-F routine, based on previously scheduled posts. 😉

I’m getting back to basics.

What about you guys? Do you engage in periodic reassessment? What have you learned by checking in with your routine every so often?

Hello October!

I can’t believe it’s October. Just can’t. Seems like the years fly by faster and faster, right?

Anyway…

I totally love fall–the leaves changing, the decorations (pumpkins and skeletons and witches, oh my!), and it’s my birthday month! Teehee.

This fall will be a busy one and I’ve got lots of info to share in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I’m taking the rest of the week off to finish the third round of edits on SHIFTING PRIDE.

Here’s a pretty pic or two to tide you over. They’re taken by me when I visited a local orchard. 😉

And, in case you missed it, please stop by Friday’s post for A Good Cause and consider donating to St. Jude (my friend, Jen, is running 39.3 MILES in the marathon January 2013!). THANK YOU AND ***HUGS***

See you all next week!

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Flake-out Friday–EDITING

Hey all!

Well, I’m neck deep in edits–EXCITING AND SCARY AND OVERWHELMING ALL AT ONCE!

Because I’ve got a deadline looming, I’ll be taking next week off from blogging.

See you soon and remember, if you have a psych related question for a character, don’t hestiate to ask and I’ll answer it on Mental Health Monday!

A question (or three) before I go:

What is editing like for you? What do you like or dislike? What do you think of the final product?

And, finally, I leave you with some fun writing quotes I found. Click HERE to go to the website. 😉

The simpler you say it, the more eloquent it is. ~ August Wilson

The first draft of anything is shit. ~ Ernest Hemingway

Rereading reveals rubbish and redundance. ~ Duane Alan Hahn

Always avoid alliteration. ~ Author Unknown 

Writer Wednesday–Revising Stage Fright

Over the course of the month, we’ve covered revising tips, revising how-to’s, and even shared personal experiences with revising.

Awesome!

Regardless, I often find myself avoiding the entire process.

Why?

I have stage fright. Performance anxiety.

I psych myself out.

When I picture a manuscript, I see a intricately woven tapestry built over weeks and months of looming (uh, is that a word?) and weaving threads.

Sure, there are mistakes, knots, wonky stitches, but how can you cut out a section of a tapestry without redoing the whole thing? How can you tear apart something you so lovingly created?

Well, in reality, a manuscript isn’t a tapestry at all. It’s a word document. Words can be changed. Scenes can be deleted–without upsetting the flow of the rest of the piece!

But it’s still a lot of work.

I have some thoughts on how to make things easier. (Yes, I’ve tried these and it works!)

How to get to gettin’ when revising:

  • Schedule time to revise. (Saying “I’ll do this tomorrow or later” isn’t good enough. Just like starting a diet tomorrow, tomorrow never comes because a specific moment is never really determined. I mean, really, you can put off tomorrow for years. Right?)
  • Make your environment comfy. (Who wants to sit in an austere, cold, drafty, dark, boring place? Get your sweater, cosy socks, water bottle, coffee mug, favorite snack, and cushiest pillow.)
  • Get rid of distractions. (Turn off the TV. Lock the kids out. Turn off Facebook, Twitter, email, G+, YouTube, NPR, etc. I know it’s hard, but we survived without them before, right? So we can do it again.)
  • Open. The. Document. (Just because you’ve turned the computer on doesn’t mean you’ve got your manuscript open.)
  • Turn on the tunes. (I know several writers who develop soundtracks for each manuscript. I don’t, but I DO love to listen to music while I work.)
  • Be in the moment. (Don’t look at the entire document. Look at the first sentence. Then the second. Then the third. And so on.)
  • Copy and paste. (Hit a really tough spot? Copy the section into another document and have at it. If you don’t like it, don’t bother switching it out. But I BET you’ll make it better.)
  • When revising QUALITY is better than QUANTITY. (Rough drafts are for quantity. Revising is where you make every word count. It’s a laborious process, but take your time anyway. The slower you go, the more you’ll catch.)
  • Exercise Patience. (If you need a break or need to redo a section you’ve already revised, don’t beat yourself up. Listen to your instincts.)

What helps you revise?

Be sure to check out Deb’s response to the Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog topic of expectations!

Writer Wednesday–How Do YOU Revise?

Last week, I outlined a revising strategy, describing how it happens in layers.

This week, I want to address HOW to actually revise. I mean, strategies and theories are great, but when you sit down to DO something, how does it get done?

Well, thankfully, there’s no one way, which is why I want y’all to share your strategy in the comments. The more ideas we discuss, the more help people get, right?

Lemme share my technique…which can vary depending on my mood, LOL!

Sometimes, I revise using my computer. I open the document, enlarge the screen so I can see the words without squinting (I’m nearsighted, what can I say?), and read each scene paying attention to flow and plot advancement. (I change typos during this stage too, because, darn it, they’re there no matter how many times I read the damn manuscript!) Like I said last week, if a scene doesn’t advance the plot, I delete it.

I try to read as quickly as I can…not like speed reading, but more like reading in a condensed amount of time so I don’t lose the story thread and confuse details. (Time between readings makes my memory fuzzy, you know?)

Sometimes, I’ll use my iPad. It changes the “look” of the document, making it look more like a book. Somehow, it makes the words, sentences, and paragraphs seem new. I can often pick out redundancies, echoes, wonky dialogue, etc. easier that way.

Sometimes (after I’ve already revised a couple of times) I print out the document. I may still encounter lots of cutting at this stage (by then I have lots of beta feedback, several weeks or even months have passed, and I have a whole new perspective on the project), and it’s quite fun to slash a line through an entire page. I also mark up the hell out of each page, crossing out crappy bits and rewriting better bits in the margins. Then I transcribe the changes on the computer and re-read it one to two more times, tweaking as I go.

After revising the printed manuscript, I can end up with something like this:

(Note: This is not my actual revision…aftermath. But it can sure feel like it!)

How about you? What does your revising strategy entail?

Check out Sarah’s response to her question about writing expectations for the Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog chain!

Writer Wednesday–Revising Layers Should Include Chocolate, Right?

Overhauling a 80,000 word manuscript is a daunting process. You can’t catch everything at once. That’s why revising is a process that involves layering.

Your first draft no doubt contains many writing strengths. It also has a lot of rough edges. Don’t despair! Be proud of what you’ve accomplished!

And get ready to rip and tear.

Be brave with the delete key, keeping these tips in mind. 😉

Layers to consider:

The first pass through your rough draft should focus solely on what to keep and what to chuck. So, you’ve got a cute scene where your main character has a cutsy moment with her cat. If that’s the only scene with the cat, bye bye kitty. Your main character takes a shower, basking in lavender soap. FAB. But if she’s not joined by the hottie who she’s jonesing for or she’s not washing blood out of her hair to get rid of evidence connecting her to a crime, then you don’t need it.

Basically, EVERY SCENE NEEDS TO ADVANCE THE PLOT. If it doesn’t, chuck it! (I promise, it’ll be okay.)

Once you’ve determined what can stay and you’ve deleted the rest, then you can focus on the following layers:

  • Characterization–Have you described your characters so people can picture them? Have you made them interesting and quirky? Are they a cliche? (I hope not!) 😉
  • Consume Milk Chocolate
  • Character Arcs–How does your main characters viewpoint or perspective change as the story progresses?
  • Consume chocolate mousse
  • Description–Can the reader envision your setting or how your characters look? Make sure this is balanced! Too much of description can bog the pace…too little can leave the reader confused.
  • Consume chocolate cake
  • Emotion/Conflict–SHOW, don’t TELL! We want to feel what the characters are feeling, not be told, right? And if you want to keep a reader hooked, make sure the characters are at odds somehow.
  • Consume Death by Chocolate ice cream
  • Dialogue–Tighten, tighten, tighten! We don’t need the “Hi, how are ya?’s” cluttering up a page. Get to the point and be succinct.
  • Consume hot cocoa–whit or milk chocolate!
  • Action Scenes–Use strong words/verbs and make it clear.
  • Consume a dark chocolate truffle…or ten.
  • Tension–You need this on EVERY page!!!! (If there’s no tension, it may be a clue to nix something, right?)
  • Consume chocolate covered caramels until your fillings fall out.
  • Plots and sub-plots–This is something that outliners tackle ahead of time, but could still need a lot of revising depending on how the characters dictate their own story. The plot is the skeleton of your story, but it doesn’t have to be boring. Use sub-plots (maybe with secondary characters) to keep the interest alive.
  • Consume a mocha frappuccino.
  • Grammar and sentence structure–This is KEY of course. Vary your sentence length. Use the grammar to perfect your voice. Use as few words as possible. If you’ve got a lot of verbiage, you could be slowing down your pace!
  • Consume your body weight in M&M’s!

You don’t have to follow these layers in order, but I would recommend saving the grammar and sentence structure until later because why spend time perfecting a sentence if it’s gonna end up getting nixed because you don’t need that scene?

Lydia answers Sarah’s sisterhood question about expectations today. Check it out!

“X” is for X’ing it out

What, praytell, do I mean by this?

Well, I’ve come across a couple blog posts lately about the dastardly delete button and writers’ struggles with it. In my early writing days, I was quite afraid of the darn thing. I loved my wonky words so much that I couldn’t stomach the idea of cutting them out.

I was left with a gargantuan, 125,000 word mess. Oy.

It was through much learning and patient coaxing by my crit partners that I learned how to use Delete.

Much to my surprise, I found out Delete was not a monster. In fact, he was my friend. We erradicated passive voice, backstory, wordiness, even chapters that didn’t advance the plot.

We became BEST friends when I deleted the original draft of my YA dystopian. (I’ll be honest and say the deleting was figurative and not literal…I did reuse a few scenes in the rewrite.)

Now that Delete and I have a strong working relationship, I can use him without panicking or tears.

What’s your relationship with Delete like? Are you friends, enemies, frenemies??? Do you jump to Delete at a moment’s notice or do you use Delete as a last resort?

Show and Tell

What do writers do? They showcase stories in an artful and meaningful way by conveying emotions, building worlds, and creating characters such that a reader becomes invested and involved.

Accomplishing this task is not easy. It takes time, diligence, an openness—and ability—to learn, with a fair bit of talent thrown in for good measure.

As I look back at my writing journey and take stock in my progress, I realize just how much my use of grammar, syntax, and style has grown. In the “old days,” I focused on describing as many details as possible. God forbid my reader get lost along the way! To save them the puzzle of trying to figure things out, I catalogued every step my characters made. I ended up agonizing over finding yet another way to say, “She sighed,” or, “He said.” On top of that, to create a clear picture of my world, I described the placement of every object, the passing of every moment—often in a concrete and linear fashion.

The result? Too much “tell” and not enough “show.”

What does that mean? Well, it means my writing sounded like: First, he did this. Then she did that. Next they both…Finally, she stomped away, mad. (Imagine an overall lack of dialogue exchanges within this, please.)

Ah, now that the embarrassing confession is out there, I can reflect on what happened.

Pages of my manuscript were devoted to developing and describing the setting, then the action happened in two paragraphs, and I ended the scene to jump on to the next set up. Understandably, it left the reader confused, frustrated, and well, a lot less interested. Why? There was little time to invest in the characters. They were always saying, “Oh, I did this and that. But now it’s later and I’m telling you what happened after the fact.”

No! That’s not what I wanted. I wanted more tension, more drama, more…more!

It took several betas reading and commenting on my work and several beta readings of others’ work to realize what I was doing. I figured out I really don’t have to describe the walk home from the prom if all that happens is left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot. But if Mindy and Jeff have a fight along the way to Makeout Point, I better pay attention to it and use all the resources I’ve got to milk the conflict! Mindy can stomp her foot, Jeff can roll his eyes. They can talk to each other! Gasp!

In all honesty, choosing what to describe in a plot can be challenging at times. I don’t want to make such huge leaps in the flow that requires a bridge the size of the Delaware Bay Bridge/Tunnel to cross. At the same time, I don’t want to reduce a jump to the size of a 12 inch wide stream. Where’s the challenge in that?  

I’ve learned now that developing an eye for it takes time. And experience. And listening to what other writers who have been through it have to say.

So, I put my big girl pants and listening ears on and took in all the advice given to me. Even if I didn’t like it! Just like the 3D stereograph images where hidden pictures are revealed while you stare at them, I came to recognize the difference between showing and telling. And I have learned a strategy to beat it. I can highlight the plot through dialogue and action. I can move the story along by not describing every microsecond. With confidence, I can say: “Out damned ‘was ___ing’ and ‘began to’! There is no room for you in my manuscript! Be gone, pages of description lacking dialogue! Leave me, retched passive voice!”

Okay, so I still slip up along the way, but that’s the process of learning and practicing an art. So, I’m sending a big THANK YOU to my beta readers! I hope to return the favor as fruitfully as it was given to me.

Tell me, friends, what strategies do you use to combat the “telling” blues?

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Are You A “Swooper” Or A “Basher?”

In the continuing “new” tradition of Vonnegut-isms, I pose to you this question:

When it comes to writing, are you a “swooper” or a “basher?”

Let me quote for you Kurt Vonnegut’s definitions of each (as copied from page 137 of Timequake):

Tellers of stories with ink on paper, not that they matter anymore, have been either swoopers or bashers. Swoopers write a story quickly, higgledy-piggledy, crinkum-crankum, any which way. Then they go over it again painstakingly, fixing everything that is just plain awful or doesn’t work. Bashers go one sentence at a time, getting it exactly right before they go on to the next one. When they’re done they’re done.

Vonnegut considered himself a basher. I’m a swooper. Yup. I pound out a story as fast as my fingers can type—lest my idea mill forgets where it’s going, which is entirely possible!—and then I review, revise, rework, and edit for months! By that time, a new idea strikes and I repeat the process yet again. When another cycle is done, I go back to the previous manuscript and revise and edit some more. Draft after draft clutters my hard drive (well, not anymore since “the crash” of last week, but it was cluttered while it still lived) and still I tinker and tweak.

So, what category do you fall under–“swooper” or “basher?” What are the pros and cons of each?

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(Again, thank you “Yahoo Image Search” for these fabulous images!)

An Axe Is A Handy Tool

Revisions. The process represents an opportunity to improve one’s writing. Before hand, the price of such an endeavor seems high. When a writer turns pseudo-surgeon, he or she runs the risk of hacking off the wrong limb, resulting in profuse bleeding and gaping wounds in the remaining manuscript.

Deciding what to cut can be difficult. In fact, it can be painful. On the flip side, releasing the once highly regarded word-smithing to the trash bin is like lancing a boil. All that released pressure results in smoothed prose, a better-paced plot, and a reduction in backstory.

Let me cut to the chase. I’ve been struggling with my own revisions. It’s a common thing, I know. I get to the point where I finally complete the manuscript and I think, “Awesome! Task done! Time to celebrate!” Then I remember: nothing is ever d-o-n-e, done. “Finishing” means I get to start over…again. Just call me Sisyphus; instead of rolling a giant stone up a hill, I’m doomed to review every letter and word of my manuscript over and over for all eternity. (Confession alert: That’s not necessarily a bad thing.)

Can I just say: “Thank God for Beta readers!” They make me stare directly at my blind spots. They encourage me to face my fears of, “This really does need to be cut,” and “That paragraph, though pretty, does nothing to advance the plot…at all.”  Without that realization, I’d be stuck in the sludge of delusion-land. I would never advance as a “writer.” Stagnation is never a good thing.

So, I want to say thank you to everyone who has pushed me to redo something, to use the delete button relentlessly, to cut out that entire chapter. It hurt, but it felt a lot better at the end.

My new mantra: An Axe Is A Handy Tool

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