Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Photo credit: Alvimann from morguefile.com
I admit, this title is partially ripped off a post one of my Millennial friends linked on Facebook from a site called "Thought Catalog," meant to help folks feel less like a lost cause because, hey, they do this "adulting" thing with at least minimum competence. And they aren't starving or being carpet-bombed. Win!

Since only a handful of you lovely readers leave comments, I don't know how far to go in making sweeping generalizations about those who read this blog. However, I think the following is likely true if you've decided to stop by here today.

1. You have some degree of fluency in English.

Native English speakers, do you have any idea how blessed you are? English is one of the world's most difficult languages to master. Its grammar is difficult, its spelling and pronunciation seems to follow almost no rules at all, and its vocabulary is mind-blowingly huge.

People the world over are shelling out a fortune to have what you have. And believe me, even people with PhDs in English for whom it is their second language often don't write as well as a native-speaking high schooler. So to my teen readers, go you! You can write far more fluidly than the university English department chairs in many developing countries.

And visitors learning English, you are my heroes! Keep adding vocabulary. Keep reading. Keep working hard at your writing. You are doing something phenomenal!

2. You read books.

In fact, if you read at least one book in the past year, you're doing better than one out of every five Americans. (You can read more stats at The Decline of the American Book Lover.) You've likely heard the maxim about putting in 10,000 hours to become an expert at something, but have you also heard the related reading one? That reading about your field for an hour a day will make you an expert in seven years? That should tell you that this one habit can be a powerful force in your life.

Books offer many benefits over other forms of entertainment. Every little bit you do grows your knowledge base and vocabulary. Reading fiction has been linked to increased empathy.

3. You're interested in something besides celebrity gossip.

I blame Facebook for this being on my radar as well. In this video, a reporter went to a college campus and asked basic history and civics questions, like "who won the Civil War?" and "who is our vice president?" The kids overwhelmingly couldn't answer correctly, unless the questions were about a celebrity, then bingo! correct answers every time.

Since you're on my humble page rather than stalking a Kardashian, you are doing a lot better than most at developing into a multi-dimensional person. Go, you!

4. You're seeking to improve yourself.

It's far easier to stick to what you know than to try new things. But you writers are real go-getters. Yes, even those of you who agonize over every word. Who are riddled with self-doubt. Who won't show anyone--not even your cat--what you've written. Because you aren't content to stick to what you know. You are moving toward change.

5. You care about creating something new.

Our world is so fast-paced, it can be overwhelming or conversely fill a person with ennui. But not you. You have stories that demand to be told and you care about them. You're not content to passively sit by and wait for some great tale to come out of Hollywood. No, you're out there in the trenches with your Bic pens and  your laptops and your voice-to-text software dreaming up new worlds, new adventures, new imaginary people that will change readers' lives forever.

6. You have goals.

You might not have a clear sense where this germ of an idea is going, but you are following it to some kind of conclusion. This manuscript has been on your hard drive for a while and more than anything you want to type "the end" on it. You think one more editing pass is probably a good idea for this quadruple-revised and beta-read manuscript. You sent ten more queries to agents about a manuscript you love.

Wherever you are in the process, that you're IN process with a writing project is amazing. Did you know "write a book" is one of the most common "bucket list" items? If you've so much as dreamed an idea for one, you're on your way to something most people hope to accomplish at least once in their lifetime.

7. You have doubts.

Only those with serious psychological problems never have doubts. Doubts are a sign that you take yourself and your creative drive seriously, and that you are taking risks in what you try to write. Doubts make you dig deeper to find the true heart of every story, rather than settle on the first idea that popped into your head at 2 a.m. Doubt is a tool of a craftsman who seeks to continually improve.

8. You're seeking support among like-minded people.

Mentoring has been shown to be a vital ingredient to success. Even if you don't have face-to-face contact with writer-mentors, visiting blogs like mine can be a powerful way to connect to other writers, gain support and advice, and be an encourager to others as well.

Study after study of what makes people happy name "positive social connections" at the very top of their lists. So by networking on social media with people who care about the same things you do, you are also doing a great deal to become a happier person. How cool is that?

Any others that you would add? 
9:53 PM Laurel Garver
Photo credit: Alvimann from morguefile.com
I admit, this title is partially ripped off a post one of my Millennial friends linked on Facebook from a site called "Thought Catalog," meant to help folks feel less like a lost cause because, hey, they do this "adulting" thing with at least minimum competence. And they aren't starving or being carpet-bombed. Win!

Since only a handful of you lovely readers leave comments, I don't know how far to go in making sweeping generalizations about those who read this blog. However, I think the following is likely true if you've decided to stop by here today.

1. You have some degree of fluency in English.

Native English speakers, do you have any idea how blessed you are? English is one of the world's most difficult languages to master. Its grammar is difficult, its spelling and pronunciation seems to follow almost no rules at all, and its vocabulary is mind-blowingly huge.

People the world over are shelling out a fortune to have what you have. And believe me, even people with PhDs in English for whom it is their second language often don't write as well as a native-speaking high schooler. So to my teen readers, go you! You can write far more fluidly than the university English department chairs in many developing countries.

And visitors learning English, you are my heroes! Keep adding vocabulary. Keep reading. Keep working hard at your writing. You are doing something phenomenal!

2. You read books.

In fact, if you read at least one book in the past year, you're doing better than one out of every five Americans. (You can read more stats at The Decline of the American Book Lover.) You've likely heard the maxim about putting in 10,000 hours to become an expert at something, but have you also heard the related reading one? That reading about your field for an hour a day will make you an expert in seven years? That should tell you that this one habit can be a powerful force in your life.

Books offer many benefits over other forms of entertainment. Every little bit you do grows your knowledge base and vocabulary. Reading fiction has been linked to increased empathy.

3. You're interested in something besides celebrity gossip.

I blame Facebook for this being on my radar as well. In this video, a reporter went to a college campus and asked basic history and civics questions, like "who won the Civil War?" and "who is our vice president?" The kids overwhelmingly couldn't answer correctly, unless the questions were about a celebrity, then bingo! correct answers every time.

Since you're on my humble page rather than stalking a Kardashian, you are doing a lot better than most at developing into a multi-dimensional person. Go, you!

4. You're seeking to improve yourself.

It's far easier to stick to what you know than to try new things. But you writers are real go-getters. Yes, even those of you who agonize over every word. Who are riddled with self-doubt. Who won't show anyone--not even your cat--what you've written. Because you aren't content to stick to what you know. You are moving toward change.

5. You care about creating something new.

Our world is so fast-paced, it can be overwhelming or conversely fill a person with ennui. But not you. You have stories that demand to be told and you care about them. You're not content to passively sit by and wait for some great tale to come out of Hollywood. No, you're out there in the trenches with your Bic pens and  your laptops and your voice-to-text software dreaming up new worlds, new adventures, new imaginary people that will change readers' lives forever.

6. You have goals.

You might not have a clear sense where this germ of an idea is going, but you are following it to some kind of conclusion. This manuscript has been on your hard drive for a while and more than anything you want to type "the end" on it. You think one more editing pass is probably a good idea for this quadruple-revised and beta-read manuscript. You sent ten more queries to agents about a manuscript you love.

Wherever you are in the process, that you're IN process with a writing project is amazing. Did you know "write a book" is one of the most common "bucket list" items? If you've so much as dreamed an idea for one, you're on your way to something most people hope to accomplish at least once in their lifetime.

7. You have doubts.

Only those with serious psychological problems never have doubts. Doubts are a sign that you take yourself and your creative drive seriously, and that you are taking risks in what you try to write. Doubts make you dig deeper to find the true heart of every story, rather than settle on the first idea that popped into your head at 2 a.m. Doubt is a tool of a craftsman who seeks to continually improve.

8. You're seeking support among like-minded people.

Mentoring has been shown to be a vital ingredient to success. Even if you don't have face-to-face contact with writer-mentors, visiting blogs like mine can be a powerful way to connect to other writers, gain support and advice, and be an encourager to others as well.

Study after study of what makes people happy name "positive social connections" at the very top of their lists. So by networking on social media with people who care about the same things you do, you are also doing a great deal to become a happier person. How cool is that?

Any others that you would add? 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Dear Editor-on-call,
Photo credit: Sgarton from www.morguefile.com

How do we figure out where the line is between a stylized voice/dialect vs. proper grammar? I know this is a hugely "case-by-case" basis, but I often find the pieces I write with a bit of a dialect or style get corrected by critiquers for grammar, effectively changing how the character would think.

Sincerely,
Dialectable Dilemma


Dear Di,

I suspect the subtext of your question is this: "What do you do when your critiquers are so zealous in their campaign to promote 'good writing' that they suck all the voice out of your work?"

Let's face it, reading is a subjective thing. Some people like to experience cultures beyond their own, to meet people very unlike themselves--and others don't. Any literary device you choose to use will have its fans and its detractors.

As I see it, you have a few options in this scenario.

A. You keep changing your book trying to please everyone until you hate it so much you shelve it.

Can we say neurotic need for affirmation? Nothing will make you quit writing faster than trying to be everything to everyone.

B. You ignore everything the grammar zealots say, because they obviously don't get you.

Of course, they very well might have good insights into non-dialect sections. Do you really want to lose that too?

C. You ask only those who get what you're trying to do to read and critique.

Here, you run the danger of stagnating, because these friendly folks won't push you to change and grow.

D. You provide requests for specific feedback when asking anyone to critique:
"This story contains dialect. Please highlight spots that you think aren't quite reading smoothly."

If you're getting a lot of advice that feels useless, consider how you can be more explicit about what would be useful. Every reader goes into some default mode when they aren't given instruction. For some, the default is "find a dozen nice things to say." For others, the default is "find every instance of nonstandard usage and sloppy grammar."


You can probably guess which option I favor (D, of course!). While it's a good idea to periodically reassess how healthy or dysfunctional your critique relationships are, don't be too quick to sever ties with those who seem too harsh--or give unhelpful advice. Most folks who get into critique groups do so with the intention to learn and to help. Sometimes all that's needed is a meeting session in which you establish some ground rules, then ask for specific kinds of feedback whenever you submit work to be critiqued.

If that doesn't change things, you can decide to ignore certain kinds of critique (like grammar correcting dialect), mull the crits and weigh their merits, or simply leave if the overwhelming feeling from the group is constant negativity and put-downs.

While I haven't read it myself, I've heard others recommend The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide: How to Make Revisions, Self-Edit, and Give and Receive Feedback by Becky Levine as a great resource for both new and established critique groups to function well.

And when it comes to dialect, go light. Research is essential for making it sound authentic. To that end, here are a few previous posts I've written
Swimming in the crick: delving into dialect
Howdy, 'allo, yo: five tips for researching dialect

And here are some addition helpful links on the topic:

The Uses and Abuses of Dialect
Grammar Girl: Writing Accents and Dialects
Writing Dialect: It's in the Rhythm

How have you dealt with unhelpful critiques? What's your take on dialect in fiction?
Have an Editor-on-Call question for me? Ask away!
12:05 PM Laurel Garver
Dear Editor-on-call,
Photo credit: Sgarton from www.morguefile.com

How do we figure out where the line is between a stylized voice/dialect vs. proper grammar? I know this is a hugely "case-by-case" basis, but I often find the pieces I write with a bit of a dialect or style get corrected by critiquers for grammar, effectively changing how the character would think.

Sincerely,
Dialectable Dilemma


Dear Di,

I suspect the subtext of your question is this: "What do you do when your critiquers are so zealous in their campaign to promote 'good writing' that they suck all the voice out of your work?"

Let's face it, reading is a subjective thing. Some people like to experience cultures beyond their own, to meet people very unlike themselves--and others don't. Any literary device you choose to use will have its fans and its detractors.

As I see it, you have a few options in this scenario.

A. You keep changing your book trying to please everyone until you hate it so much you shelve it.

Can we say neurotic need for affirmation? Nothing will make you quit writing faster than trying to be everything to everyone.

B. You ignore everything the grammar zealots say, because they obviously don't get you.

Of course, they very well might have good insights into non-dialect sections. Do you really want to lose that too?

C. You ask only those who get what you're trying to do to read and critique.

Here, you run the danger of stagnating, because these friendly folks won't push you to change and grow.

D. You provide requests for specific feedback when asking anyone to critique:
"This story contains dialect. Please highlight spots that you think aren't quite reading smoothly."

If you're getting a lot of advice that feels useless, consider how you can be more explicit about what would be useful. Every reader goes into some default mode when they aren't given instruction. For some, the default is "find a dozen nice things to say." For others, the default is "find every instance of nonstandard usage and sloppy grammar."


You can probably guess which option I favor (D, of course!). While it's a good idea to periodically reassess how healthy or dysfunctional your critique relationships are, don't be too quick to sever ties with those who seem too harsh--or give unhelpful advice. Most folks who get into critique groups do so with the intention to learn and to help. Sometimes all that's needed is a meeting session in which you establish some ground rules, then ask for specific kinds of feedback whenever you submit work to be critiqued.

If that doesn't change things, you can decide to ignore certain kinds of critique (like grammar correcting dialect), mull the crits and weigh their merits, or simply leave if the overwhelming feeling from the group is constant negativity and put-downs.

While I haven't read it myself, I've heard others recommend The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide: How to Make Revisions, Self-Edit, and Give and Receive Feedback by Becky Levine as a great resource for both new and established critique groups to function well.

And when it comes to dialect, go light. Research is essential for making it sound authentic. To that end, here are a few previous posts I've written
Swimming in the crick: delving into dialect
Howdy, 'allo, yo: five tips for researching dialect

And here are some addition helpful links on the topic:

The Uses and Abuses of Dialect
Grammar Girl: Writing Accents and Dialects
Writing Dialect: It's in the Rhythm

How have you dealt with unhelpful critiques? What's your take on dialect in fiction?
Have an Editor-on-Call question for me? Ask away!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

In a previous post, How I do it: keeping revisions organized, I discussed my method for tracing particular revision threads throughout a  novel manuscript, tracking them, developing a running list of changes, and methodically tackling those changes.

One of my young writer friends, after reading the post asked, "but how did you figure out what the problems actually were?"
Image credit: clairer at morguefile.com

I rely a good deal on my intuition when it comes to writing decisions, but I also have a pretty strong analytical side that I call on when editing especially. So when it comes time to revise, I have to get these two impulses to play nice.

Once I've wrapped a piece, be it a short story, poem, or novel, I take a break from it for a bit. Catch up on chores. Read. Stream TV shows or movies. Not too long a writing vacation, mind you--just a few days to week.

Then it's time to do a critical read through, scene by scene. The critical read has several components: gut responses, intellect responses, craft concerns. As I read scene by scene, I contemplate the following questions.

Gut responses


  • Is this scene boring? 
  • Does it feel silly or improbable?
  • Am I engaged? Do I feel something or think something after reading it?
  • Does the scene feel too slow in spots? 
  • Does it feel too quick, not escalating naturally, but blowing right past natural reactions and sequences of events? (More on escalation HERE.)
  • Do I buy what the characters do? Do they seem needlessly stupid, thoughtless, malicious, overreacting, under-reacting, etc.?    (Note: The adverb "needlessly" is important, because bad behavior is a key component of dramatic storytelling, but unmotivated or out of the blue behavior that can't be accounted for is more often a sign that something needs to be fixed.)
  • Does the scene feel like I picked the first idea that popped into my head, rather than the best one?
  • Does the scene feel cowardly, like I've written away from a difficult or controversial reality?
  • Does the scene give me a sense of deja vu, like it's a rehash of something I've seen somewhere else? 
  • Does the scene make me want to keep reading?
  • Does the scene as a whole feel on target?

Intellect responses


  • Are the actions here natural? Do they make sense?
  • Am I certain I have the facts straight? Have I adequately researched this to be sure?
  • Are characters acting in a way out of alignment with how I've conceived them?
  • Do the characters' responses connect with what came before?
  • Are the characters' responses and actions the best ones to lead toward my climax and resolution?
  • Is the protagonist blowing his/her chance at being likable?
  • Have the relationships shown change and growth?
  • Have any new characters shown up? Is this the best place to introduce them? Have they appeared out of nowhere late in the story and need to be "seeded" in earlier?
  • Are the characters acting at their maximum capacity (more on this concept HERE)? If not, does their reason for holding back or messing up make sense and do something useful in the story?
  • Is there tension? Is it only one kind (say only romantic, or only physical danger)?
  • Are characters using different tools to negotiate to get what they want (more on negotiation tools HERE)? Or is the interpersonal conflict too much of the same scene after scene?
  • Is the scene pulling its weight? Do the actions here add enough forward motion? 

Craft concerns


  • Is the protagonist's emotional pulse (the driving desire behind his/her arc) coming through?
  • Is this scene happening at the right moment in the overall story arc? Would it work better somewhere else?
  • Does the scene have a discernible beginning, middle and end--a mini arc? If not, what's missing?
  • Is there too much "stage business"--unnecessary descriptions of boring movement here to there?
  • Have I given enough detail to ground where and when the scene is happening?
  • Is there variety in the settings where scenes occur?
  • Has a new subplot popped up here? Does it add anything?
  • Have I missed any opportunities to more deeply develop theme or symbolism?
  • Have I missed opportunities to develop existing conflicts?
  • Have I used too many of the same kind of scene in a row? Am I regularly mixing dialogue scenes with action scenes and narrative summary scenes?
  • Does this scene deserve to be dramatized? Would it work better as summary?
  • Are the most important moments given the most page space? Are there unimportant bits running too long, out or proportion to their importance in the overall story?

As you can see, these three levels or layers of thinking draw on one's emotion and intuition, one's natural intellect, and finally the "best practices" advice of writing craft books. At times, it takes more than one read-through to engage each part of one's self--the feeling reader, the thinker, and the trained craftsman.

How do you identify major threads of revision needed in your work?

12:50 PM Laurel Garver
In a previous post, How I do it: keeping revisions organized, I discussed my method for tracing particular revision threads throughout a  novel manuscript, tracking them, developing a running list of changes, and methodically tackling those changes.

One of my young writer friends, after reading the post asked, "but how did you figure out what the problems actually were?"
Image credit: clairer at morguefile.com

I rely a good deal on my intuition when it comes to writing decisions, but I also have a pretty strong analytical side that I call on when editing especially. So when it comes time to revise, I have to get these two impulses to play nice.

Once I've wrapped a piece, be it a short story, poem, or novel, I take a break from it for a bit. Catch up on chores. Read. Stream TV shows or movies. Not too long a writing vacation, mind you--just a few days to week.

Then it's time to do a critical read through, scene by scene. The critical read has several components: gut responses, intellect responses, craft concerns. As I read scene by scene, I contemplate the following questions.

Gut responses


  • Is this scene boring? 
  • Does it feel silly or improbable?
  • Am I engaged? Do I feel something or think something after reading it?
  • Does the scene feel too slow in spots? 
  • Does it feel too quick, not escalating naturally, but blowing right past natural reactions and sequences of events? (More on escalation HERE.)
  • Do I buy what the characters do? Do they seem needlessly stupid, thoughtless, malicious, overreacting, under-reacting, etc.?    (Note: The adverb "needlessly" is important, because bad behavior is a key component of dramatic storytelling, but unmotivated or out of the blue behavior that can't be accounted for is more often a sign that something needs to be fixed.)
  • Does the scene feel like I picked the first idea that popped into my head, rather than the best one?
  • Does the scene feel cowardly, like I've written away from a difficult or controversial reality?
  • Does the scene give me a sense of deja vu, like it's a rehash of something I've seen somewhere else? 
  • Does the scene make me want to keep reading?
  • Does the scene as a whole feel on target?

Intellect responses


  • Are the actions here natural? Do they make sense?
  • Am I certain I have the facts straight? Have I adequately researched this to be sure?
  • Are characters acting in a way out of alignment with how I've conceived them?
  • Do the characters' responses connect with what came before?
  • Are the characters' responses and actions the best ones to lead toward my climax and resolution?
  • Is the protagonist blowing his/her chance at being likable?
  • Have the relationships shown change and growth?
  • Have any new characters shown up? Is this the best place to introduce them? Have they appeared out of nowhere late in the story and need to be "seeded" in earlier?
  • Are the characters acting at their maximum capacity (more on this concept HERE)? If not, does their reason for holding back or messing up make sense and do something useful in the story?
  • Is there tension? Is it only one kind (say only romantic, or only physical danger)?
  • Are characters using different tools to negotiate to get what they want (more on negotiation tools HERE)? Or is the interpersonal conflict too much of the same scene after scene?
  • Is the scene pulling its weight? Do the actions here add enough forward motion? 

Craft concerns


  • Is the protagonist's emotional pulse (the driving desire behind his/her arc) coming through?
  • Is this scene happening at the right moment in the overall story arc? Would it work better somewhere else?
  • Does the scene have a discernible beginning, middle and end--a mini arc? If not, what's missing?
  • Is there too much "stage business"--unnecessary descriptions of boring movement here to there?
  • Have I given enough detail to ground where and when the scene is happening?
  • Is there variety in the settings where scenes occur?
  • Has a new subplot popped up here? Does it add anything?
  • Have I missed any opportunities to more deeply develop theme or symbolism?
  • Have I missed opportunities to develop existing conflicts?
  • Have I used too many of the same kind of scene in a row? Am I regularly mixing dialogue scenes with action scenes and narrative summary scenes?
  • Does this scene deserve to be dramatized? Would it work better as summary?
  • Are the most important moments given the most page space? Are there unimportant bits running too long, out or proportion to their importance in the overall story?

As you can see, these three levels or layers of thinking draw on one's emotion and intuition, one's natural intellect, and finally the "best practices" advice of writing craft books. At times, it takes more than one read-through to engage each part of one's self--the feeling reader, the thinker, and the trained craftsman.

How do you identify major threads of revision needed in your work?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

For today's phonics fun, I'd like to tackle a pair of homophones, pronounced /koar/ I've seen misused even in published books, though not because the spellings are at all similar. Rather, one form of the word is quite simple and familiar, and the other more obscure and less likely to be known.

Let's take a look at definitions, visuals, examples, and mnemonics to get the words clear in our heads. Because spell-check will not help you.

Core

Image: marykbaird for morguefile.com
(n.) the center; the essential part; the inner parts, as of a fruit; muscles in the center of the body.

(adj.) central, innermost, essential, reflecting the essence

(v., trans.) to remove the center or inner parts of a fruit or vegetable.

Examples
Josiah's intelligence gathering was core to their mission.

He felt her rejection in the core of his being.

Mom's core concern was for my brother's safety.

He got six-pack abs doing core strengthening exercises

I had to core and slice the apple so Lila could eat it without harming her braces.

Mnemonics
In her core she did adore the shore.
The core has more seeds that he could store.

Corps

Image: mzacha for morguefile.com
(n.) a group of people engaged in a particular activity. A tactical military group.

This term derives from the Latin corpus, meaning body and comes to English via French, which tends to not pronounce ending consonants. It is most often encountered military and few other contexts and in a handful of borrowed French phrases like esprit de corps, meaning group spirit, loyalty and pride.

Examples
Louis plans to join the Marine Corps.

Greg plays trombone in the Highpoint Drum and Bugle Corps.

The entire press corps stood when the ambassador entered the room.

Gabrielle liked the group pride her class had, the lovely esprit de corps.

Mnemonic
At the end of his letter, a core P.S.: "without the corps I'd be a corpse."

Which sound-alike words tend to trip you up?
8:30 AM Laurel Garver
For today's phonics fun, I'd like to tackle a pair of homophones, pronounced /koar/ I've seen misused even in published books, though not because the spellings are at all similar. Rather, one form of the word is quite simple and familiar, and the other more obscure and less likely to be known.

Let's take a look at definitions, visuals, examples, and mnemonics to get the words clear in our heads. Because spell-check will not help you.

Core

Image: marykbaird for morguefile.com
(n.) the center; the essential part; the inner parts, as of a fruit; muscles in the center of the body.

(adj.) central, innermost, essential, reflecting the essence

(v., trans.) to remove the center or inner parts of a fruit or vegetable.

Examples
Josiah's intelligence gathering was core to their mission.

He felt her rejection in the core of his being.

Mom's core concern was for my brother's safety.

He got six-pack abs doing core strengthening exercises

I had to core and slice the apple so Lila could eat it without harming her braces.

Mnemonics
In her core she did adore the shore.
The core has more seeds that he could store.

Corps

Image: mzacha for morguefile.com
(n.) a group of people engaged in a particular activity. A tactical military group.

This term derives from the Latin corpus, meaning body and comes to English via French, which tends to not pronounce ending consonants. It is most often encountered military and few other contexts and in a handful of borrowed French phrases like esprit de corps, meaning group spirit, loyalty and pride.

Examples
Louis plans to join the Marine Corps.

Greg plays trombone in the Highpoint Drum and Bugle Corps.

The entire press corps stood when the ambassador entered the room.

Gabrielle liked the group pride her class had, the lovely esprit de corps.

Mnemonic
At the end of his letter, a core P.S.: "without the corps I'd be a corpse."

Which sound-alike words tend to trip you up?

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Today, January 6, is Epiphany, celebrating the "wise men from the East" coming to honor the Christ child. The Magi had been watching for something good and were willing to make great effort to get close to it. It is a powerful demonstration of hope--what it looks like, how it works.

three wisemen on camels photo: Three Wisemen on Camels ThreeWiseMenblueskyandstars.jpg
Image credit: rappj at Photobucket
Hope comes from keeping an eye on the far horizon and being captivated by the good we see there. We lose hope when unhappy things in the immediate environment consume our vision and we stop regularly scanning the horizon. Big signs could come and go, and we'd miss them. The first step in getting the blessing of an epiphany is to be watchful.

My prayer group friends decided this year we would make use of the "unresolution" approach to celebrating the New Year called One Word that's highlighted on THIS site. Here's a quick description:

If you’re like most people, each January goes something like this: You choose a problematic behavior that has plagued you for years, and vow to reverse it. In fact, you can  think of two or three undesirable habits—make that four or five. Thus begins the litany of imperfections to be perfected commonly known as New Year’s Resolutions.

Our resolutions to change seldom work because they center on the type of person we regret being rather than on who it is that God is calling us to become. We need vision, not regret. Our list of resolutions also overwhelm our ability to focus.


My One Word replaces broken promises with a vision for real change. When you choose a single word, you have a clarity and focus. You are moving toward the future rather than swearing off the past. 

This approach isn't simplistic, it's holistic. The implications are huge--both wide and deep. Drawing together all these ideas--epiphany, hope, searching the horizon, following the good--I discovered my one word. What's keeping me "stuck in Persia" and not following the star, metaphorically speaking, a failure to look, to search the horizon and be captivated by the good I see there.

I've struggled for several years with having lots of ideas but getting distracted, dithering, losing momentum, losing interest, what have you. Too many starts and not enough finishes. And what's keeping me from finishing is not having my imagination captivated, the way the Magi were captivated by the prospect of meeting the great King who had come to Israel.

So my one word for 2016 is purpose. I need to stop following rabbit trails hither, thither, and yon and instead begin moving steadily toward a larger purpose. 

What about you? If you were to chose one focal word to fuel your vision for change, what would it be?
2:52 PM Laurel Garver
Today, January 6, is Epiphany, celebrating the "wise men from the East" coming to honor the Christ child. The Magi had been watching for something good and were willing to make great effort to get close to it. It is a powerful demonstration of hope--what it looks like, how it works.

three wisemen on camels photo: Three Wisemen on Camels ThreeWiseMenblueskyandstars.jpg
Image credit: rappj at Photobucket
Hope comes from keeping an eye on the far horizon and being captivated by the good we see there. We lose hope when unhappy things in the immediate environment consume our vision and we stop regularly scanning the horizon. Big signs could come and go, and we'd miss them. The first step in getting the blessing of an epiphany is to be watchful.

My prayer group friends decided this year we would make use of the "unresolution" approach to celebrating the New Year called One Word that's highlighted on THIS site. Here's a quick description:

If you’re like most people, each January goes something like this: You choose a problematic behavior that has plagued you for years, and vow to reverse it. In fact, you can  think of two or three undesirable habits—make that four or five. Thus begins the litany of imperfections to be perfected commonly known as New Year’s Resolutions.

Our resolutions to change seldom work because they center on the type of person we regret being rather than on who it is that God is calling us to become. We need vision, not regret. Our list of resolutions also overwhelm our ability to focus.


My One Word replaces broken promises with a vision for real change. When you choose a single word, you have a clarity and focus. You are moving toward the future rather than swearing off the past. 

This approach isn't simplistic, it's holistic. The implications are huge--both wide and deep. Drawing together all these ideas--epiphany, hope, searching the horizon, following the good--I discovered my one word. What's keeping me "stuck in Persia" and not following the star, metaphorically speaking, a failure to look, to search the horizon and be captivated by the good I see there.

I've struggled for several years with having lots of ideas but getting distracted, dithering, losing momentum, losing interest, what have you. Too many starts and not enough finishes. And what's keeping me from finishing is not having my imagination captivated, the way the Magi were captivated by the prospect of meeting the great King who had come to Israel.

So my one word for 2016 is purpose. I need to stop following rabbit trails hither, thither, and yon and instead begin moving steadily toward a larger purpose. 

What about you? If you were to chose one focal word to fuel your vision for change, what would it be?

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Photo credit: DanielaTurcanu from morguefile.com
Another year is ending, which naturally tends to make us stop and take stock of where we've been and where we are hoping to go next. I've done well with some goals, less well with others.

Reflecting on what worked, I realized there were some influential articles and blog posts that were especially helpful to me. As my year-end gift to you, here they are:

Most helpful posts of the year


The procrastination doom loop, and how to break it via @TheAtlantic
It's very easy to become slave to your moods when you're doing creative work. This is one of the best explanations about how to overcome this. Truly a game-changer for me.

The Redemptive Arc via @DavidCorbett_CA
Really helpful discussion on how guilt and shame operate in a person's life, and how to harness these powerful emotional forces to build stories that resonate.

Five tips for making writing a daily habit via @premieressay
Some of the advice here will seem like old hat--goal setting, accountability. Other tips are unique to creative writing, like being always prepared to capture ideas when they come. Not putting parameters on what "counts" as output for the day is great too. Check it out.

Discovering our writing process via @JamiGold
Whatever gets you to "the end" is worth trying. Don't let the plethora of advice online paralyze you, or worse, make you waste your creative life chasing the Holy Grail of  "a perfect writing process." If the thought "I must be doing this writing thing wrong" ever crossed your mind, check out this post.

More than one adjective--Comma or no comma? via @CathleenTowns
This is my favorite editorial discovery of the year. I've never before heard the rules of how to order adjectives, even in graduate-level editing courses. If commas drive you batty, go check this out!

How POV can solve your writing troubles via @Janice_Hardy
This one crossed my Twitter feed when I was struggling to ensure my denouement would remain dynamic and dramatic, not devolve into a dull info-dump. It helped me with with more than this--I was able to revise several other scenes I knew weren't quite working yet.

"Can you make this worse?" Thoughts on rituals of self-care when the writing is hard via @gingermoran
Are you genuinely taking risks in your writing, daring to go deep when it would be easier not to? This post discusses teasing out the deep emotions that are difficult to access, and also how to not lose your mind while doing so.

The unfair truth about how creative people really succeed via @JeffGoins
A look at why networking is important, and helpfully gives tips on how to do it better. For the reticent and shy, this is good stuff. It's all about being supportive and trustworthy, not flashy.

My favorite writing books from 2015 


Story Trumps Structure: How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules by Steven James
At last! A writing craft book for pantsers that doesn't try to force you to become a plotter. James's approach is to help you develop more deeply what you do well--follow your instinct toward the most compelling direction a story can go. His chapter on "status" in character interactions is worth the purchase price. Pure gold.

Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Solve Writer's Resistance by Roseanne Bane
A great all-around resource for building better work habits while gaining a deep sense of satisfaction and creative joy. This book isn't just about routine and schedule, but caring for and feeding your muse. Her most powerful concept is the importance to entering a relaxed state in order to create. If you struggle a lot with writer's resistance (fear-based procrastination), you MUST read this book. It is hugely helpful. A great follow up to Pressfield's The War of Art.


Any powerful lessons you learned this year? Favorite links you'd like to share?
11:57 AM Laurel Garver
Photo credit: DanielaTurcanu from morguefile.com
Another year is ending, which naturally tends to make us stop and take stock of where we've been and where we are hoping to go next. I've done well with some goals, less well with others.

Reflecting on what worked, I realized there were some influential articles and blog posts that were especially helpful to me. As my year-end gift to you, here they are:

Most helpful posts of the year


The procrastination doom loop, and how to break it via @TheAtlantic
It's very easy to become slave to your moods when you're doing creative work. This is one of the best explanations about how to overcome this. Truly a game-changer for me.

The Redemptive Arc via @DavidCorbett_CA
Really helpful discussion on how guilt and shame operate in a person's life, and how to harness these powerful emotional forces to build stories that resonate.

Five tips for making writing a daily habit via @premieressay
Some of the advice here will seem like old hat--goal setting, accountability. Other tips are unique to creative writing, like being always prepared to capture ideas when they come. Not putting parameters on what "counts" as output for the day is great too. Check it out.

Discovering our writing process via @JamiGold
Whatever gets you to "the end" is worth trying. Don't let the plethora of advice online paralyze you, or worse, make you waste your creative life chasing the Holy Grail of  "a perfect writing process." If the thought "I must be doing this writing thing wrong" ever crossed your mind, check out this post.

More than one adjective--Comma or no comma? via @CathleenTowns
This is my favorite editorial discovery of the year. I've never before heard the rules of how to order adjectives, even in graduate-level editing courses. If commas drive you batty, go check this out!

How POV can solve your writing troubles via @Janice_Hardy
This one crossed my Twitter feed when I was struggling to ensure my denouement would remain dynamic and dramatic, not devolve into a dull info-dump. It helped me with with more than this--I was able to revise several other scenes I knew weren't quite working yet.

"Can you make this worse?" Thoughts on rituals of self-care when the writing is hard via @gingermoran
Are you genuinely taking risks in your writing, daring to go deep when it would be easier not to? This post discusses teasing out the deep emotions that are difficult to access, and also how to not lose your mind while doing so.

The unfair truth about how creative people really succeed via @JeffGoins
A look at why networking is important, and helpfully gives tips on how to do it better. For the reticent and shy, this is good stuff. It's all about being supportive and trustworthy, not flashy.

My favorite writing books from 2015 


Story Trumps Structure: How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules by Steven James
At last! A writing craft book for pantsers that doesn't try to force you to become a plotter. James's approach is to help you develop more deeply what you do well--follow your instinct toward the most compelling direction a story can go. His chapter on "status" in character interactions is worth the purchase price. Pure gold.

Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Solve Writer's Resistance by Roseanne Bane
A great all-around resource for building better work habits while gaining a deep sense of satisfaction and creative joy. This book isn't just about routine and schedule, but caring for and feeding your muse. Her most powerful concept is the importance to entering a relaxed state in order to create. If you struggle a lot with writer's resistance (fear-based procrastination), you MUST read this book. It is hugely helpful. A great follow up to Pressfield's The War of Art.


Any powerful lessons you learned this year? Favorite links you'd like to share?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Revisions. Love 'em or hate 'em, they're a necessary step to strengthening your work. But it's easy to get really overwhelmed by the prospect of fixing problems, or simply bounce randomly from place to place in the story doing small tweaks without tackling the bigger issues.

Once you have a manuscript that's complete, you can try to identify weaknesses yourself, after you've set the manuscript aside for a while. Or you can ask a few readers to give it a look. I've done both before digging into a full revision.

Your goal is to identify a set of major threads--perhaps character arcs or plots--that need to be shored up or perhaps re-conceived. Between reader feedback and my own re-reading of sections and scenes they identified as somehow lacking, I came up with four major threads. With this knowledge, I next do the following:

Gather supplies


I find it helpful to work with a printed version of my manuscript. It's easier to navigate than an electronic one and I'm less likely to end up with version confusion if I do the messiest marking up on a physical copy. For my method, you need

The manuscript printed, two pages per sheet (see example below)

A three-ring binder


A three-hole punch


Post-it flags
































Flag and list


Prepare your manuscript by hole-punching the pages and inserting them in the binder. I prefer the ring at the bottom of the page, with the back of the previous page as note jotting space. But punching the top would work as well, with note jotting space above.

Assign a colored flag to each of the revision threads you will be tackling. (I happened to have patterned ones, but plain, as shown above, work great too. Color coding is the key.)

Open a new document in Word and list the major threads. This will be where you keep a record of all your concerns, ideas and plans: a revision running list.

I like using the space below to jot notes.
Go through the manuscript, scene by scene. Look for opportunities to add or replace material for each thread.

Flag the scene with the appropriate colored flag. Jot a note in the margin or on the adjacent page about what's bothering you.

In your  running list Word document, under the appropriate thread,

~List the page where you see the opportunity.
~Describe what isn't working.
~Brainstorm possible solutions.
~Jot down dialogue or descriptions that occur to you

If ideas to fix later scenes involving the same thread occur to you as you read earlier scenes, describe them in your running list under the appropriate thread. When you eventually get to those scenes in the read-through, add flags to the pages and page numbers to your running list.

As much as possible, try to tackle this identification process in a linear manner, progressing from the beginning to the end of the story. Otherwise, you risk missing minor details that affect your revision threads and need to be changed.

Resist the urge to actually fix any of the problems. Simply list them. If you have a perfect solution, add it to the running list.

Conversely, if you don't have a solution, there's no pressure. You're aware of the issue and can come back to it later. Perhaps once you've tackled other things, a solution will come to you

Revise your manuscript


Print out your complete running list.

Tackle any revision you clearly know how to fix. Then remove the colored flag from that page in your notebook, and check it off your running list. (I find it helpful to also use strike-through on the electronic version of my running list as a back up, because I may end up adding to the list as I actually do the revisions.)

Move on to the more and  more difficult revisions and rewrites. If any revision will affect a later problem scene, add the information about what changes to your running list.

Continue until you've removed all the flags and crossed off everything on your list.

Print a fresh copy of your story. Set it aside for a few days.

Read through it aloud. Mark rough transitions, voice issues, repetition, echoes, wordiness, and typos.

Make those corrections.

Pass the manuscript off to beta readers or your editor, depending on how confident you feel after your copy-editing read.

How do you typically tackle revisions? 
12:33 PM Laurel Garver
Revisions. Love 'em or hate 'em, they're a necessary step to strengthening your work. But it's easy to get really overwhelmed by the prospect of fixing problems, or simply bounce randomly from place to place in the story doing small tweaks without tackling the bigger issues.

Once you have a manuscript that's complete, you can try to identify weaknesses yourself, after you've set the manuscript aside for a while. Or you can ask a few readers to give it a look. I've done both before digging into a full revision.

Your goal is to identify a set of major threads--perhaps character arcs or plots--that need to be shored up or perhaps re-conceived. Between reader feedback and my own re-reading of sections and scenes they identified as somehow lacking, I came up with four major threads. With this knowledge, I next do the following:

Gather supplies


I find it helpful to work with a printed version of my manuscript. It's easier to navigate than an electronic one and I'm less likely to end up with version confusion if I do the messiest marking up on a physical copy. For my method, you need

The manuscript printed, two pages per sheet (see example below)

A three-ring binder


A three-hole punch


Post-it flags
































Flag and list


Prepare your manuscript by hole-punching the pages and inserting them in the binder. I prefer the ring at the bottom of the page, with the back of the previous page as note jotting space. But punching the top would work as well, with note jotting space above.

Assign a colored flag to each of the revision threads you will be tackling. (I happened to have patterned ones, but plain, as shown above, work great too. Color coding is the key.)

Open a new document in Word and list the major threads. This will be where you keep a record of all your concerns, ideas and plans: a revision running list.

I like using the space below to jot notes.
Go through the manuscript, scene by scene. Look for opportunities to add or replace material for each thread.

Flag the scene with the appropriate colored flag. Jot a note in the margin or on the adjacent page about what's bothering you.

In your  running list Word document, under the appropriate thread,

~List the page where you see the opportunity.
~Describe what isn't working.
~Brainstorm possible solutions.
~Jot down dialogue or descriptions that occur to you

If ideas to fix later scenes involving the same thread occur to you as you read earlier scenes, describe them in your running list under the appropriate thread. When you eventually get to those scenes in the read-through, add flags to the pages and page numbers to your running list.

As much as possible, try to tackle this identification process in a linear manner, progressing from the beginning to the end of the story. Otherwise, you risk missing minor details that affect your revision threads and need to be changed.

Resist the urge to actually fix any of the problems. Simply list them. If you have a perfect solution, add it to the running list.

Conversely, if you don't have a solution, there's no pressure. You're aware of the issue and can come back to it later. Perhaps once you've tackled other things, a solution will come to you

Revise your manuscript


Print out your complete running list.

Tackle any revision you clearly know how to fix. Then remove the colored flag from that page in your notebook, and check it off your running list. (I find it helpful to also use strike-through on the electronic version of my running list as a back up, because I may end up adding to the list as I actually do the revisions.)

Move on to the more and  more difficult revisions and rewrites. If any revision will affect a later problem scene, add the information about what changes to your running list.

Continue until you've removed all the flags and crossed off everything on your list.

Print a fresh copy of your story. Set it aside for a few days.

Read through it aloud. Mark rough transitions, voice issues, repetition, echoes, wordiness, and typos.

Make those corrections.

Pass the manuscript off to beta readers or your editor, depending on how confident you feel after your copy-editing read.

How do you typically tackle revisions?