Friday, March 06, 2015

Drafting, revising, editing, and writing productivity? Oh, my!

When I'm writing, I begin with a germ of an idea, an image, something that pulls me away from this moment. But when I actually start, I feel invisible, the story unfolds. It's about getting to that place so that I can write. So that I care so much about the characters and what they are doing, that the story drives me forward and the scenes spill onto the page (even a virtual page). 

Yep, that's my workstation!
Revising is entirely different. Now I'm concentrating on so many things at once that it takes me many, many times to 'finish' the story -- the sentence, the paragraph, the scene, the chapter, the section, the book itself. 

I'm not the most logical person, but working this way on different levels of the book helps me organize exactly what my focus is. 

Editing at the micro level takes me to the words themselves, the exact word, phrase, sentence; to shape the paragraphs, test the dialogue, the energy, the images of the characters, setting, and the intensity of the writing. Some writers call this copy editing.

Revising is more structural, here I'm working at the macro level, considering how scenes fit together (transitions), whether characters' actions fit their personal arc, whether conflict is sufficient (always a problem for me. Like Victorian writers, I want the 'bad stuff' to happen off scene).  Then to the chapter itself: Does this chapter hold true to itself -- and to the overall story? Some writers call this developmental writing or structural editing.

Either editing or revising requires a very different mindset from drafting.Sometimes checklists help me, but I'm pretty much a random, nonsequential writer, jumping into what pulls me back into the story and/or how I'm feeling on this particular day. Checklists (like those in Elizabeth Lyon's remarkable book, Manuscript Makeover) remind me of writing strategies I've forgotten or inspire me to look at the story from another vantage. 

For me, writing does begin with me sitting in front of the computer, relatively early, every morning. This year, I'm concentrating on editing and revising Rivers of Stone. At this stage, I have no real deadline, though wouldn't it be nice to improve my writing productivity?

Yes, it would. So, here are a few goodies to prompt our thinking about writing productivity:

Kevin J. Anderson's engaging and useful Eleven Tips to Increase Your Writing Productivity got me thinking. His first tip: "Shut up and write!"

If you are looking for more tools to use, Bakari Chavanu's "From Idea to Final Draft: How To Increase Your Writing Productivity" dives into useful computer add-ons, starting off with, "You don't have to be Stephen King to be a productive writer . . . "

Susan Lenard's "Increasing Your Writing Productivity: The Productivity Pyramid" builds from her personal experience to introduce a productivity pyramid, with fascinating looks at how other writers work. 

All of these are well worth a read. Now, what tricks or strategies do you use to improve your writing productivity? Share?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Wednesday morning chuckle: Are you a Princess Author?

This morning began with a chuckle, as I read through The Book Designer's post about The Princess Author Syndrome. This singular author, male or female, exhibits the classic 'love me, take care of me" outlook on life, and is aghast at any hint of real work ahead. 

Drew Coffman, "Writers Block I" (Flickr)

Like any stereotype that gives comfort, the Princess Author simply wants his or her writing to be loved. Judith Briles' article, written from an editor's point of view, suggests that many authors don't really want to edit, revise, and re-vision their novels. My own experience in talking with other aspiring authors suggests that many times, she's right. 

A related but sharp contrast can be found in Karen Pashley's post, "Six Ways You Can Prepare Yourself and Your Manuscript for Success." I appreciated her thoughtful and practical suggestions on inspiration, networking, saving your work, entering contests, practicing your pitch, and managing your writing time with that old 80/20 rule (80 minutes of real writing/20 minutes devoted to all else). Pashley highlights the 'how to' that helps us move past that 'Princess Author' syndrome.

My favorite tip from Karen:  When your writing jogs to a complete stop, take a break to read a little writing from one of your favorite authors -- just enough to appreciate again his or her flair for storytelling. Then, get back to your own writing, refreshed and inspired by a writer you admire, or as Karen says, ". . . where words flow without self getting in their way, and where I again find my voice."

So, did I write any this morning? Yes, a little scene here, questions about a relationship there, a breakthrough on a key plot hole, and this rough, rough draft of Rivers of Stone advances.

People do ask me all the time if I pay an editor. At present, no. Maybe at some point, I will try an external editor. I do benefit immensely from the creative critters at NOVELS-L at The Internet Writing Workshop, an online draft exchange that works at the chapter level. But first I must have a good draft. That's at the heart of what I'm about this year.

Drew Coffman, "Writers Block II" (Flickr)

So, if you write, do you use a professional editor? Which ideas from Karen Pashley's article do you find most inspiring? Finally, how forgiving are you of an occasional typo when you are reading?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Conflict? Gotta love it.

Writing well remains my goal, but it's not enough to describe the setting vividly to give 'truthiness' to the story. Nor is it enough to bring characters to life with just the right description that tickles the imagination with a telling image. 

That main character is on her personal quest, and we, the readers, are right with her -- facing down dangers and opposition. CONFLICT remains the key to engaging the reader and telling good stories.

And here's my problem. I hate conflict. I've spent most of my life avoiding it, working around it, or plain pretending conflict doesn't exist. But what may work personally doesn't work in fiction. 

Our characters are larger than life. They inspire us with their tenacity, courage, and belief. And with their ability to resolve conflict.

Now I know the problem that lies behind my plotting. Let's begin with a definition. What is conflict? When two characters have motivations or goals that are in direct opposition. Do they physically fight? Are both characters good guys, or is one a black-hearted manipulator? Are they playing the short game . . . or the long one? 

Conflict can be external (between the main character and others or outside forces) or internal (inside the character, that battle to make the 'right' or 'best' decision).

Chuck Sambuchino, in "5 Ways to Increase Conflict," says we should always ask in every scene, "What would make this worse?" 

He reviews common conflict resolution strategies and then says, "turn them upside down." One example: Normally, we don't want to bring others into our arguments. But Sambuchino suggests what if we bring outsiders into the conflict between our characters? 

I could say more, but go read his article . . . each point he makes gives me a different slant on what I'm writing and revising this morning.  So, I'll leave you with a 'to-do' list, one of my favorite memes, and I shall have a rousing argument before lunch . . . between my two main characters.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

New Year thank you with a freebie!

To celebrate the turn to a new year, I took the plunge and signed up with BookBub to run a marketing promotion to hopefully find a few new readers. This promotion is going on RIGHT NOW as a thank you to past and future readers. 

For the next three days, 
from January 15 through January 18,
the Kindle version of
is available FREE.

When Lord Gordon threatens to destroy the only life that Mac McDonnell has ever known, Mac will need to decide what he is willing to risk to protect his family, his sweetheart, and his livelihood. 

So the first day of this promotion, at 6:30 am, 350 people had downloaded their free copy of Standing Stones. I was ecstatic. This jumped to 5,854 downloads by 9:30 am. It's pushing 10:30 pm now, with about 29,000 downloads. And that's the first day. Whew!

Everyone says becoming a successful indie writer is about connecting with readers. But to reach a small city of readers? That's a little overwhelming. 

Maybe some of these new readers will write a review. Maybe some will be interested in Book 2 of this series, Years of Stone. Or maybe they'll just enjoy the story. That's enough for me.

If you love historical fiction (or know someone who does), please consider checking out Standing Stones.  Thank YOU! 

Paul Arion, "Scotland Fjords" (Flickr)

Monday, January 12, 2015

Essential reading for self-published writers . . .

If ever I've stumbled on this path to self-publishing, marketing remains my biggest challenge. In today's post on her blog, Indie Adventures, Ruth Nestvold lays out concrete strategies we can consider to strengthen our marketing and our sales. 

I really admire Ruth Nestvold's straightforward advice, her willingness to test out what works for indie writers, and her generosity in sharing what she learns.

Just read this latest post from Ruth: 

"Why 'write the next book' isn't enough; 
                 or what to do if your book is not selling."

And I'm working on my blurbs tomorrow morning -- right after a good night's sleep!

"Do Not Disturb" by Alexander Yates

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Writing historical fiction: Hudson Strait and ice . . .

Although it snowed this past week, and temperatures are dipping in the low 20s tonight, I'm cozy and warm in my office, peering out at the patches of snow and ice that remain in the drive.

In the 19th Century, for people traveling by sailing ship to the York Factory at the southern tip of Hudson's Bay in Upper Manitoba, conditions were definitely not cozy. 

Luckily for me, passengers of this time (though they weren't sleeping in steerage, like my characters) kept journals. Here they recorded what they saw, ate, how they slept and survived their 6-8 week journey through storms, heavy fog, and the tedium of crossing the ocean from northern Scotland, past Greenland, to Hudson's Bay.

Once the barque, the Prince Rupert, passed Cape Resolution and approached Hudson Strait, travelers saw whales and great icebergs. One such iceberg, described by Isaac Cowie as "a tall spire-like berg," capsized as the ship passed, "raising enormous rings of billows all round, into which our yardarms dipped" (88). Cowie writes of the absolute beauty of these icebergs seen in the light of the setting sun.

Magdalena Bay by Fran├žois-Auguste Biard, 1840 (Wikipedia)

Read more about the expedition to the Arctic which Biard participated in the 1830s in an article by Mark Sample, "Art and Terror in the Arctic." 

Or read of Norwegian Jens Munk who traveled through Hudson Strait in his search for the Northwest Passage in 1619. Munk found much ice -- the result, scientists say, of a Little Ice Age. Mona Elizabeth Brother, in her article "Canada and Norway's Shared Polar History," writes that logbooks from the Hudson Bay Company (1750-1870) report "ice complicated travel through the strait for several centuries" past the Little Ice Age. Note: Scientists disagree about the dates of the Little Ice Age, though most say from about 1350 to about 1850 (Wikipedia).

Cowie in his very useful memoir, The Company of Adventurers, recounts the chief mate took joy in ramming these ice floes -- once crashing into ice "until we were nearly on our beam ends" (89). 

A reader of an early chapter of my current work in progress, Rivers of Stone, noted that he had traveled near Hudson Strait and encountered no ice. This has led me to ask: Was there ice in Hudson's Bay or in Hudson Strait at the time of my story, late summer, 1842? 

Finally, I can safely answer, "Yes!"

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Writing historical fiction: Of sailing ships and contracts . . .

I'm reading Isaac Cowie's very useful memoir, The Company of Adventurers: A Narrative of Seven Years in the Service of the Hudson's Bay Company during 1867-1874.  Not historical fiction. Not set in 1842 as my story, Rivers of Stone is. But a fascinating read for background close to the time of my story.

So far I've learned:

--The Prince Rupert, a three-masted sailing ship called a barque, had an iron-plated bow and oak-sheath at the waterline so that she could sail the icy waters of the Arctic.
--The captains of Hudson Bay Company ships ignored the fur-trading missionaries who sailed in smaller ships, seeing them as competition and close to pirates.
--All the foods taken aboard, from prime beef, to live pigs and sheep and chickens, and drink (rum, beer, wines, to brandy), would be distributed by rank. Those who ate very well in the cabin with the captain were teased that this was the last "civilized food" they would get. Once ashore in the wilderness of York Factory and upper Canada, their fare would be "bear and blubber, fish without bread or salt or vegetables in times of plenty, and leather and lichen off the rocks in time of want" (Cowie 77). 
--Those who signed the five-year contract as laborers slept in steerage and could lose all their pay if they did not work as assigned, with no promise of room or board, which included working aboard the ship. These laborers were recruited from all over northern Scotland and received half a year's pay before boarding. 
--The laborers recruited for the York Factory included blacksmiths, a boatbuilder, and a cooper along with a group of 24 very hardy young men who had been vetted by their parish minister and a local doctor. Apprentice clerks most likely were related to someone already employed by the Company.

There is also the matter of ice. Just how much ice did the Prince Rupert encounter as it sailed from Stromness in the Orkney Islands, past Greenland to Davis Strait and Hudson Strait near Baffin Island on its way to Hudson's Bay in August of 1842? This photo was taken in Davis Strait on September 3, 2014.

Towering Remnants of an Arched Iceberg 6 Davis Strait Canada
Photo by Ngaire Hart Lawson (Flickr)

The challenge ahead will be to continue research and decide how these facts affect my characters in Rivers of Stone

Dougal McDonnell, an Orkneyman, joined the Hudson's Bay Company because he dreamed of owning his own land one day, far from the capricious landowner who evicted his family, along with traditional farmers and fishermen, to replace them with sheep. 

Catriona disguised herself as a boy to travel to the wilds of Upper Canada with Dougal, her husband.

Both will be tested in a world they could barely imagine, but one I hope to bring to life.