Revision: When Is Enough, Enough?

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Stop Revising
When it comes to revising, I have trouble knowing when to quit.

I tend to write for a while, then get some distance before coming back and see how it “sounds” in my head.  I’ll inevitably tweak my word choice a here or there for clarity.  Or I’ll rearrange the word order to adjust the tone.  I may even remove (or add) contractions, slang, or simpler language in dialog to better fit a particular character.

While these may all seem like reasonable ways to revise, the problem is that I find myself doing it to the SAME piece of writing.  Again.  And again.  And again.

So, when is enough, enough?

I mean, this IS writing we’re talking about after all.  So, the “right” words do matter, don’t they? DON’T THEY?

I’ve learned that the answer to this question is…

Not so much.

A grocery list can have the right words in the right places, but no one will ever give that grocery list to their friends and say, “You’ve just GOT to read this!!!”

What matters is the story.

Don’t get me wrong.  When it comes to storytelling, words are the vehicle for conveying that story to others.  But the words themselves are not the story.  The story is what happens, to whom, why, what they do about it, and how they change when all is said and done.

For example, you can tell the story of The Three Little Pigs in as few as 300 words. Or you can take more than 7 minutes to tell it.  Either way, the telling changes the tone, but not the story itself.

Bottom Line:
If you want to tell stories, YOUR STORIES, don’t let the “right” words get in the way.

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So what about you?  Do you struggle with the temptation of endless revision in your writing like I do?

I’d love to commiserate with you in the comments!

The Fear of Falling

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Wile E Coyote Going Over a CliffI’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my fears lately. For me, one of my biggest is the fear of falling. Some of my worst nightmares involve either actively falling or those final terrifying seconds just before I slip off the edge of some precipice into a yawning abyss.

*shudders*

 

When I stop and think about it during my (safer) waking hours, the scary part about falling isn’t really the fall itself; it’s the expectation of what’s waiting at the bottom of that drop that gives me the shivers.

While I was mulling that thought over last week, I remembered something I’d learned years ago about walking, of all things.  But it made me stop everything I was doing right then and give it my full attention.

Walking is nothing more than controlled falling.

I know it might sound a little crazy at first, but it’s true. If you’re not convinced, try this little experiment. Stand up, right where you are with both feet firmly on the floor. Now, WITHOUT leaning forward, raise one foot out in front of you like you’re about to take a step.

What happened?

Probably nothing.  Most likely (unless your balance is a bit off), you’re simply standing there with one foot in the air. (You look silly by the way, but I’m not laughing. I promise. *ahem*) Okay, assuming you’re still standing on one foot, go ahead and give into gravity and let yourself fall forward onto your extended foot.

See? You’ve just taken step. Do it again and you’re walking. But you can’t do either one without falling first.  So, if walking is actually falling, why aren’t those of us who are afraid of falling also afraid of walking? It all goes back to that word: control.

We’ve learned to control the fall.

We learn to walk before we’re old enough to let our fear of falling down keep us from trying. Eventually, through practice and experience, we learn to change our expectation about what’s really waiting for us at the bottom of that (albeit short) drop following each step. Because we learned to control the fall, we know what’s waiting at the bottom is just another place to set our foot so we can take our next step. It’s only in the act of letting go and allowing ourselves to fall  that we’re able to stop falling and actually walk. If we don’t risk the fall, we can keep ourselves safe, but the cost is that we’ll have to stay where we are.  Without risk, we’ll never go anywhere.

Period.

It’s only by deliberately risking the fall:
That anything can change.
That anything will change.
That everything will change.

So what about you? Are any of your fears holding you back? Is there something you want to do (something need to do) but you’re too afraid to try?

Do yourself a favor. . .

Trust yourself. Let go of your fear. Risk the fall. Welcome the experience and learn from it. Then, take control.  You know how.

Remember, you’ve only been doing it all your life.

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NOTE:
Please embrace your fears responsibly. The practice of learning to overcome fears through experience should not be applied using actual, life-threatening fears which are outside of your control such as severe weather, natural disasters or the zombie apocalypse.

Measuring Your Words: The Value of Word Counts

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WIP Word Count
Until recently, I never really considered the value of counting the total words I write each day.  As a writer, I tend to revise as I go.   Since my goal, even while drafting, has never been mainly to get new words on the page, I always suspected if I actually kept a running count I would come away feeling like I wasn’t making an real progress.  Of course, new words do get added, but plenty of other words get changed or moved around along the way.

Instead of counting words, I’ve always measured my writing progress in terms of completed chapters.   When my non-writing friends (the few who I’ve been brave enough to actually tell I’m writing a book) ask me how my writing is coming along saying,   ‘I’ve finished drafting chapter 12′ goes over much better than, ‘I wrote 1,200 words today.  Good ones, too!‘.  The latter typically results in blank stares or a friendly but abrupt observation about the weather.

Nevertheless, I recently started tracking my total word count and have even gone so far as to add a word count widget to my blog.  I’m still not sure how much it will help me in the long run, but here are some of the benefits I can already see for those who do it.

  • Estimating Your Completion Date:  If you set a goal for how long you want your book to be, and you’ve been tracking how may words you write per day, you’ll have a rough idea when you’re initial draft will actually be completed.
  • Setting Goals:  If you want to set a goal goal for when to have your draft completed, you can lay out your writing strategy in measurable chunks to reach your goal (or even to determine if your writing goal is too lofty for you.)
  • Providing Status Updates:  For established writers with a growing fan base, this can be a fun way of bringing eager readers into the process while keeping them updated on your latest project.
  • Staying Motivated:  Seeing the numbers increasing daily or weekly means your novel is growing.  ‘Nuff said.
  • Accountability:  Sometimes writers need the accountability a public display of writing progress offers.  This allows your writing friends to either offer their congrats or to bust your chops which ever the case may be.

If you’re interested in setting up your own and your progress bar and you’re using WordPress you can get the plugin I use at http://jasonpenney.net/wordpress-plugins/progpress/.  There are other options which work on all platforms such as http://www.writertopia.com/toolbox/meters.  These don’t require WordPress at all, just simple HTML which can be placed on any blog anywhere.

What about you?  Do you track word counts?  If you do, do you find them to be discouraging or do they actually help?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Why Writers Should Consider Dropbox

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DropboxIf you’re anything like me you’re constantly looking for little snatches of time to write whenever and wherever you can find them.  Since we can’t always be in our preferred writing space when time for writing presents itself, or even when inspiration strikes, we make due as we can.  During her Harry Potter days, J.K. Rowling even once resorted to writing on the back of an air sickness bag!

While there are any number of ways to take notes on the go, for me the challenge has always been in how to effectively bringing everything back together later.  Retyping handwritten notes can be time consuming, as can copying and pasting notes from one disconnected electronic location to another (email, text files, USB drive, etc.).  For the most part, anything that isn’t about just getting the words on the page can feel a lot like wasted time.  Time that would be better spent actually writing.

Enter . . . Dropbox!
Continue reading…

My Favorite Blog Posts

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YA Highway Road Trip Wednesday This week’s YA Highway Road Trip Wednesday asks bloggers to share their favorite posts from their own blogs. For some this might be like trying to choose their favorite children. But not me. I’ve written some truly embarrassing blog posts and would be more than happy for BPS (Blogging Protective Services) to come and take them away. Nevertheless, I have written a few I don’t mind having my name attached to. So here are a few of my favorites. I hope you enjoy them too.

Most Popular:

Most Commented:

Most FUN!:

Most Thoughtful:

YA Specific:

Road Trip Wednesdays:

Poetic (aka actual poems):

And of course since this is for YA Highway I have to mention my very own YA Highway post from back in the wee early days of the “Highway” when the uber-thoughtful Kirsten Hubbard invited me to share a guest post because I’d played so nicely with the other bloggers. :)

Invite your characters over for dinner

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place-setting Most writers’ initial forays into fleshing out characters in their shiny new WIPs involve pages,  sometimes entire chapters, of disposable drafting.  While it’s true some of these words might find their way in as backstory (provided it’s handled appropriately) this early writing is mostly a tool for the writer in getting to know his or her characters.  Here’s a writing exercise which might be helpful with early character development and even make your initial WIP drafting more efficient.

Invite your characters over for dinner.

Out here in the real world a simple and fun way get to know someone better is to share a meal with them.  So why not do the same with your new characters?  While you’re at it why not invite all the characters from your current WIP over at the same time?  Instead of just dinner, hold a banquet!

Once you’ve made the decision to play host and the imaginary invitations have been sent out, the real work of character observation begins.

Here is a list of some things you’ll want to pay attention to as your fictional evening unfolds: Continue reading…

Organize Writing Resources Using Google Reader

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YA Highway Road Trip Wednesday This week’s YA Highway Wednesday Road Trip is about Favorite Helpful Sites for writers.  I’ve decided to play along this week and share a tip I picked up from my day job where part of my time is spent supporting and configuring information search tools.  Three simple words . . .

USE. GOOGLE. READER.

I know many writers already use Google Reader as the portal for their many blog subscriptions.  It’s a great way for the information you want to come to you (Yay RSS!) so you don’t have to go looking for it.  (Of course this works for anyone, not just writers.)

But did you know you can use Google Reader as your own personalized search engine? Continue reading…

Being Fashionably Late Within Your Story

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Big BenIn my previous post I suggested ending your book in the same way you would consider ending a party.  Today, I decided to continue the party analogy by looking at how to best begin your book – by being fashionably late.

The expression ‘fashionably late’ is likely familiar to most of us.  It’s is used to refer to someone who shows up at an event, such as a party, after the time the event was scheduled to begin.  This doesn’t, however, apply to those who simply got mixed up and arrived late by accident.  Being fashionably late is something done on purpose.

Okay, so why would anybody want do that?

One possibility is to create the impression you’re too busy and important with other social engagements to be anywhere on time.  However, I’d like to believe most people aren’t so self-important as all that.  The reason I’m sticking with for people to show up late is that it’s more fun.

Anyone who’s ever attended a party knows it takes a little while for the guests to loosen up.  It starts with people clustering into small groups, eyeing the refreshments, and wondering who’s going to be the first to break the ice.  While this might be a nice setting for an intimate chat with a few close friends, it doesn’t sound much like  a party.  Experienced partygoers at this stage might not even stay for the h’orderves.

Being fashionably late then means waiting to show up for the party until after the ice has broken, the music is hot, and the people aren’t just staring at the snack bar – they’re eating and drinking freely out on the dance floor.  Everybody’s already having fun!

So how does this apply to my book?   Continue reading…