Posted in Conference, For Writers, On Writing, Writing

Murdering Darlings: Revisions

When we writers struggle with edits, inevitably someone will mention the phrase often (but questionably) attributed to William Faulkner, or Stephen King, or Colette, or F. Scott Fitzgerald, or… You get the idea.

Whether the chosen word is murder or kill, for a slow writer such as myself, this concept can bring tears, especially when entire scenes (and the precious words that change a novel to a novella) are lost.

I’m almost ready to submit a new manuscript, but only because this week, I sacrificed my darlings.

Teddy bear knife block found on pinterest
sadly not available

My first page has been a years long education. I first conceived of this work as a short story.  I was ready to contribute my 8,000 polished words to an anthology or anywhere else looking for short work. And then, at a conference, the acquiring agent revealed the most overused cliché in her rejection pile – the opening in a rainy cemetery. Guess where my story started. Oops. I set the manuscript aside.

I next picked up the manuscript with the “brilliant” idea of the heroine driving into town after a long absence, I layered in plot and new depth. The short story grew to novella proportions of 22,000 words. My beta readers loved the idea but one thought it started slow. Nevermind. I was ready to pitch until I was an a conference and an acquiring editor called the car ride open her instant “no.” Oops. I set the manuscript aside.

Still, I couldn’t let the story go. All through my broken arm induced writing hiatus, these characters sat with me. I expanded the story, adding subplots and conflict. I reached 56,000 words. A Novel! Almost. I still didn’t have a good opening.

I spent a week recrafting the opening chapter, and an entire day hand writing various opening sentences and more time tweaking and revising and finally, I had it.

“C.E disliked sticky mud, but grass alone didn’t give the grave the necessary freshness.”

Victory! You are intrigued and I get a cemetery. Win! Win! Win!  Except the first chapter was totally wrong for the book. I scrapped it. I murdered that sentence I worked so hard on. The one that absorbed days of my time, where every word had been carefully considered and my beta readers swooned – at least until they reached the end of the second paragraph and then slogged through to the 10th page where the story actually began.

This week, I murdered some words. I have no guilt. Killing them made my heart lighter and my story better. I have a new opening sentence, one that I love and will share wide and far when the time comes.

Until then, if you are wondering what is in that grave, I’ll tell you. It’s murdered darlings.

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Posted in Family life, First Friday Five, For Writers, Lists, parenting, tween

First Friday Five: Writing Tween Girls

You can get Valentine’s tips anywhere, so rather than celebrating romance with my First Friday Five, I’m sharing

Five flaws an editor would point out you wrote a tween girl as they actually are.

  1. “This character is inconsistent. One minute she’s likable, the next she’s bat-shit crazy.”
  2. “Your character needs a clear goal, not the vague desire the world is against her.”
  3. “She lacks proper motivation.”
  4. “The conflict is too scatter-shot. Focus. Giving a more concrete goal and motivation will help.”
  5. “I found three variations on “eyeroll” and counted 812 incidents in the manuscript. Avoid repetition.”

Let your inner editor free in the comment section. I’d love to know what you think.

Posted in Conference, For Writers, On Writing, Reading, South, Writing

RWA13

RWA13 in Atlanta was a wonderful experience.  I find I learn so much in the company of other writers, and not just in the formal workshops.  In case you couldn’t attend, here are 13 things  I learned at RWA13.

1.  Romance readers are generous and passionate about good books.  I worked as Cashier at the Literacy Signing.  One woman drove across two states to get to the signing.  She had more books than she could hold and her husband rounded to the closest hundred to benefit literacy programs.  I don’t know her name, but she is why we write.

2.  The publishing industry is in flux.  As more authors take charge of their own career, publishing houses and agents need authors more than authors need the traditional publishing world.  It’s a scary but exciting time.  As the author you are more empowered if you take the time to figure out what you and your rights are worth.  (Discussion with Dorien Kelly and Courney Milan)

3. Independent press does not necessarily mean small press. (Indie press panel)

4. A great hook taps into the reader’s curiosity and gets at a deep emotional response (from Elizabeth Boyle)

5. Publishing a book is not a solitary activity.  It takes a team. (from Simone Elkeles)

6. Don’t be afraid to ask a question of authority. The powers that be may not want to answer the question, but you’ll never get an answer unless you try.

7. Interested in trying a stand up desk?  Before you spend $1,500 on a fancy work station, try the ironing board.  I always wondered what those things were for…..  (from Bruce Kelly, CIH,CSP)

8. A workshop on finances may not sound exciting, but Laura Alford, Diane Kelly and Donna MacMeans made taxes and record keeping a conference highlight.

9. Michael Hauge is an amazing public speaker.   The goal of any story-teller is to solicit an emotional response in the reader.

10. If there is an open chair at your lunch table, you might make a new friend.

11. The best presenters were the most prepared and organized speakers.

12. We need more euphemisms for “lady parts.”  (Stephanie Doyle, Elizabeth Hoyt and Molly O’Keefe)

13. When you get over two thousand writers in one place, the energy is amazing.  I’m fortunate to be part of this terrific writing community and I can’t wait until San Antonio #RWA14

Did you go to the conference?  What stood out for you?

Posted in Career Day, For Writers, Writing

Career Day

My daughter’s school included me as a Career Day presenter and what a wonderful opportunity it was.  A romance writer may not seem the most logical choice to talk to third, fourth, and fifth graders, but I spoke to three standing-room-only crowds of children curious about books.  What a rush.

The school requested we bring tools of trade, wear our uniform and discuss what skills we learned in school that help in our profession.  I wore shoes today, so I wasn’t in uniform, but I brought my trusty lap-top and a fine selection of books.

I asked the children what they thought I did.  In all three presentations, they guessed I researched and wrote.  Then I told them how much I edit.  I held up pages bleeding red ink.   I saw lots of wide eyes.   Hopefully, they will remember to edit their own work.  I mentioned querying, the act of hearing no many times before hearing yes.

We discussed the skills a writer needs.  In every group, several students said writers have to be creative.  I disagree to a certain extent.  I think it is more important to have a curious mind.  The writer’s creativity comes through in different ways to answer the questions of why, what if and why not.

I was surprised to learn that by fifth grade the students are learning about the author’s voice, but diagraming sentences is not part of the curriculum.  They knew about plot and conflict, but not traditional grammar.   I strongly suspect the future will hold many jobs for editors willing to whip young writers into shape.

The number of students who liked to write in their spare time encouraged me.  Some were on their fourth or fifth book already. Others worried about writer’s block.  A few wondered if I had free books to pass out to the class.

All in all, I enjoyed answering the variety of questions they posed.  For all of the gloom and doom that future generations won’t want to read, the enthusiastic children brought me hope.  I already have ideas how I can improve my presentation if I’m invited back again and I hope I will.  I am grateful for the opportunity to meet so many creative and curious minds.   To the kids I say, keep up the good work, be persistent and I can’t wait to put your books on my reading list.

Posted in Gardening, On Writing, organization, South, Uncategorized, Writing

Weeding

With the weather turning tolerable (meaning lower humidity and temperatures under 90), I’ve finally begun giving my long neglected flower beds the treatment they deserve.  I’m pulling the weeds.

My front walk flower beds became so overgrown this summer, that I hereby apologize to every milk man, newspaper and package deliverer who has graced my door over the last few months.  I do not extend this courtesy to door-to-door marketers.  They deserved to be slapped in the legs as a punishment for taking up my time.  The others did not.

I pull the weeds by hand rather than spraying for three reasons.  First, it provides a bit of exercise. Second, manual labor is cheaper than chemical sprays that cost money and probably add to the pollution in the nearby Chesapeake Bay. (Stepping down from my soap box – sorry). Lastly, pulling weeds gives me a deep sense of satisfaction.  I can see and feel and even smell the progress. Chaos gives way to harmony before my eyes.

Weeding is a form of editing, act of destruction that allows beauty and creativity to thrive.  Soon I will plant pansies or perhaps violas in the vacant spaces leading to my front door. A riot of color will greet me and I’ll smile.

So let me ask you, have you done any weeding lately?