Friday, August 30, 2013
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Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Have you ever had one of those days or weeks or months or years when you got no respect as a writer? You’re not alone.
Here is a section from Walking on Water, which is Madeleine L’Engle’s book on writing.
There’s another New Yorker cartoon that shows a woman opening the door of her house to a friend. We look through the door, and in the back of the house a man is writing at a typewriter, with a large manuscript piled on the desk beside him. The friend asks, “Has your husband found a job yet? Or is he still writing?”
A successful businesswoman had the temerity to ask me about my royalties, just at the time when my books were at last making reasonable earnings. When told, she was duly impressed, and remarked, “And to think, most people would have had to work so hard for that.” I choked over my tea, not wanting to laugh in her face.
A young friend of mine was asked what she did, and when she replied that she was a poet, the inquirer responded, amused, “Oh, I didn’t mean your hobby.”
And here is a quote from Poppy L. Brite:
It has always seemed to me that if you have a hope of making a living as an artist—writer, musician, whatever—you absolutely must learn to tell people to leave you alone, and to mean it, and to eject them from your life if they don’t respect that. This is necessary not because your job is more important than anyone else’s—it isn’t—but because a great many people will think of you as not having a job.
So don’t be discouraged. Even well-known writers have days or weeks or months or years when they get no respect.
But they keep on writing, and so should you.
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Recently, I came across the Children’s Writer Kindergarten Story Contest 2013. “This one’s for me,” I thought. The fee to enter was $15.00 but that included an eight-month subscription to the Children’s Writer newsletter, a very good resource for those of us who write for children. I am basically a hobby writer but I would still love to see something of mine in print somewhere other than on my computer. In this competition the winning entry will be published in a Children’s Writer newsletter. An article about other top-ranked entries and their authors will also be published.
Other persuasive enticements to entering the contest were the parameters for the entries – a fiction piece for five to seven year old beginning readers with a 150 word limit that could be submitted on-line. Yep, this one I could handle. Although I whole-heartedly agree with Pam Zollen that, "Easy-to-read is hard to write," I have written more frequently for children than adults. As a teacher and then a curriculum developer, I often had to write articles and stories to support curricula. I began.
First, what could I write about that would fit the criteria of exploration? A while ago, my niece Laura suggested a story idea about a little girl who goes into a closet and tries on shoes, with each pair transporting her to a different location. Good, this worked and took care of the exploration component. Next, develop the characters – easy thanks to my niece’s idea. I based the story around one little girl, Lily Grace, who loves to go into her Auntie’s closet and try on shoes. Plot - she tries on different shoes and in her imagination travels to different places. Each location just isn’t going to be quite right. She ends up back in Auntie’s closet where everything is just right.
Writing the story gets a little trickier. For that age group, I needed a controlled vocabulary that was age appropriate. In addition, I needed to think about a couple of new words that could be introduced to the child. I researched vocabulary lists for the target age groups. I decided to name the ecosystem locations as new vocabulary words. I needed to connect the new vocabulary words to familiar vocabulary used for that section of the story to support the young reader in developing a conceptual understanding of the new word. For example, arctic would connect to ideas of snow and cold.
Once that was done, I began to write. One-hundred-fifty words was going to be the easy part because I never seem to be able to write “more.” I always do “less” and often struggle when I have to write a lengthier document. (I am always in awe of those of you who manage to write longer stories and novels.) I finished my first attempt. Going over my first draft, I scrutinized the clarity of the story line, made sure it was readable and logically connected, and checked for the appropriate vocabulary structure for the age group.
The second draft was completed and I was feeling quite smug and pleased with my story. I finished the final draft (so I thought) and got ready to send it off. While double-checking the contest requirements, it dawned on me that I had not done a word count. I was not concerned; I always write less. Up to the tools menu my cursor went, clicked on word count, and … 200 WORDS! “This just can’t be right,” my boggled mind said, “I always write less!”
Well, after two more checks, I conceded it was right. The journey to eliminate 50 words was difficult. When you have a young reader’s story, you have already constrained the storyline in order to maintain a child’s interest. The work that I had to do to pare down the number of words but still maintain the essence of the story became the most difficult part of the project. Writing, counting, rewriting, recounting, went on for a number of days. Finally, I rejoiced when the count came up 150. I entered the story and, for my own copy, went on to illustrate it using Adobe Illustrator as my media.
This experience has made me think about word count much more than I used to do in terms of editing my work. I was entering an adult story I wrote for another contest around the same time as Lily Grace (no subscription but no entry fee either). The story had 2,750 words; 2,500 words was the contest word limit. Once again I was faced with paring done a written work that I particularly liked. Initially, I thought the story would be negatively affected. It was not and, in truth, was much more readable when I finished.
Now when I write, even my short and children’s stories, I always ask myself, “Is less too much?”
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
The romanticized, media-fueled image of the novelist entails a starving writer who, after facing writers block, is suddenly inspired to sit down at his typewriter (it is an old image, you see) and, working day and night, feverishly pounds out a novel, which is sent off in its entirety in a brown envelope to a single New York agent, who almost immediately sells it to one of the most reputed publishers in the city, and it becomes an instant best seller, earning top dollar. (Simultaneously, said novelist gets his personal life together AND gets the girl, followed by, you guessed it, “happily ever after”).
As a creative writing professor, I still have a couple of students each year who enter my intro course, intending to do just this. Some have even prematurely self-published. What is wrong is not lack of talent. Often what separates the novice from the expert writer is what he or she does during the craft stage of writing.
Although I have heard of a famous writer or two who was able to write publication-worthy material in a single draft, for most of us, writing involves damned hard work. Ernest Hemingway once stated, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Writing, when done properly, should look easy, and to non-writers it does. Some writers pre-write and then write. Others confront the blank page with an idea at the ready and begin to draft. Either way, the first or discovery draft is an adventure. It is the time and place for writers to turn off their inner-critic, let words come alive on the page, and follow them. Let the words take the scenic route, exploring rain forests and deserts, jungles and ocean depths, as they sojourn. Let them make connections that are not consciously understood. Let them exist unbroken.
But after the writer has become hollow from the writing experience, has let the draft get cold, has returned to it with attitudes vacillating between ‘That’s the best thing I’ve ever written—it’s bloody brilliant!’ to ‘Perhaps this is one for the circular file?’, it is only then that the real work begins.
What, then, is the real work—the work of craft? Craft is the re-envisioning, the deepening, the addressing of global and local concerns, that characterizes drafts two through ???, until you, the writer, cannot make the piece any better or cannot stand to look at it another minute. (Hopefully, those two events coincide. If not, please walk away and return when you have regained some semblance of objectivity about the piece at hand and revise it until it is the best that you can do.)
When I was a grad student, I once wrote a second or third ending for a story, which was again rejected by my creative writing professor, and in frustration, I asked, rather loudly, “How many endings do you expect me to write?” The professor looked up from the paper he’d begun reading and replied simply, “Herman Melville rewrote the ending of Moby Dick 106 times.” Perhaps he said 103? Either way, that shut me up. Craft is what makes bad writing better. Decent writing good. Good writing excellent. Excellent writing exceptional. And exceptional writing publishable. And it takes time and effort to learn how to take writing from one stage to the next. It is, in fact, a never-ending process.
Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Yesterday I killed someone. I planned it, executed it, and then covered it up. Then I began the search for me, following the clues to track down an exceptionally tricky killer. Ahem.
Today I interviewed four people who had the means, motives, and opportunities to commit murder. None of the interviews were easy because people lie, get angry, and behave suspiciously when they think someone believes them capable of committing a dastardly crime.
Tomorrow I will narrow down my suspect list and focus on the two who seem most likely to have done the killing. It might get dangerous. Desperate people do desperate things, so I have to be prepared for surprises.
Today, as Abby Knight, I also ran a cozy little flower shop named Bloomers. I made flower arrangements, delivered them, and fretted over my finances. Then I hopped down the street to become Marco Salvare, the macho owner of Down the Hatch Bar and Grill -- concocting drinks and listening to my patrons’ woes in addition to using the Internet to do some background checks on my suspects.
Today I was also a crazy artist, a shallow fashionista, a Brit with a flair for tea and homemade scones, a middle-aged mother of teenaged quadruplet sons, and a millionaire cad, all characters that populate the Flower Shop Mysteries.
By the end of the writing day, the author me is exhausted.
But then I have to step out of my make-believe world and start thinking about what to make for dinner, and what bills to pay, and do I have time for a load of laundry? Oops, forgot to schedule a hair appointment, renew my license plate, and take out the trash. Too late now. I’ll have to squeeze it in tomorrow.
When I sit down to work on my latest book, I exit my stressful world and enter one where I can make everything go my way – or nothing. I can bring out the sun, travel to another place, invent new friends, and catch bad guys without leaving my desk. Not that it’s easy to describe a three-dimensional world using two dimensional words -- and make it all seem real. But, boy, is it rewarding. This was brought home to me the other day.
I teach a creative writing class at a local women’s shelter, where I lead women of various ages in exercises that enable them to get out of the business/left side of their brain and shift to the right/dream side. This isn’t something they take much time to do, so it’s like a mini-vacation. This past Monday, I had them do right brain exercises that allowed them to see the creative process at work. At the end of the hour, a young woman thanked me for my efforts and broke into sobs. She said she had just been released from a year in prison and while there, learned the joys of losing herself in books. She’d never read much before and had now gained an appreciation of what it took to write one. She said she devoured every book she could get her hands on in prison and truly felt they kept her sane. What happiness it gave her to immerse herself in a place where everything turns out right, justice is served, and good people live happily ever after.
Creating a world like that is one of the greatest joys of being a writer. What makes it worth all the hours of hard work is knowing you’ve touched at least one reader’s heart.
Kate Collins is the author of the national best-selling Flower Shop Mystery series. Her books have made the New York Times Extended Bestseller List, Barnes & Noble best-seller lists, the Independent Booksellers best-sellers lists, as well as lists in Australia and England. Kate’s latest mystery, SEED NO EVIL, #14 in the Flower Shop Mystery series, hit bookstores August 6, 2013. All of Kate’s mysteries are available in print, digital, and large-print editions both in the U.S. and in the UK. Kate’s historical romances are also available in digital format at Amazon, B&N, and other e-book sellers. For more information, visit Kate at: www.katecollinsbooks.com. Kate’s blogsite is www.cozychicksblog.com.