Write Now!

Write Now!

Due to complications of my husband’s broken jaw, I have to Write Now!

This afternoon’s writing time was unexpectedly pushed aside to pick up liquid Ibuprofen, a pill crusher, a WaterPik, and energy drinks for my husband, who’s had his broken jaw wired together this morning and will be on a liquid diet for weeks. I rushed home to cook dinner for friends arriving from Great Britain momentarily, and I haven’t written Tuesday’s post yet.

Write now!

I remember days when writing time would be supplanted by a childcare-giver’s day off, a sick child, a grandmother’s broken ankle, chicken pox, strep throat and a child’s broken ankle. Emergencies happen, yet one can still write in the waiting room, in the car, in the sick room, while the kids are playing dress up or make believe or watching a movie.

Write now!

Write now!

You can write anywhere, write now!

Then there are the planned trips to the shop for car maintenance. I’ve come to love those waiting rooms. With earplugs to drown out the TV, I use the hour to write.

I’m driving on the Interstate, headed to or from a gig at a library and the words for a commentary start bubbling up. I pull over, pick up my pen and notebook.

Write now!

The dishes are piled in the sink, the clean laundry needs to be folded, the trash needs to go out. Take care of the trash. Everything else can wait.

Write now!

I’m told my mother-in-law sold her washer and dryer, subscribed to The New Yorker, and read it in the laundromat every week. Have to do laundry? Write now!

The emails are incoming thick and fast. Turn off email – write now!

If social media is no longer a tool but a distraction, turn off your internet connection – write now!

Whatever you’re doing, write now!

www.deborahleeluskin.comEven though I prefer to write in my studio, life happens. I write here, there, and everywhere, at all hours of the day or night. I always have paper and pen with me. I’m always ready – write now!

 

 

Friday Fun – Humor and Comedy in Writing

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION:  Earlier this month, Jamie posted a heads up about an opportunity to take an online writing class with comedian, actor, and author, Steve Martin.  This got us thinking about the role of humor and comedy in our writing. What role does the comedic element play in your writing? How comfortable are you with the idea of being funny? What makes you laugh? What effect does humor have on you as a reader?

JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace: Clearly, since I brought this topic up, I’m intrigued by the idea of humor and comedy in writing. I’ve never thought of myself as a “funny person” … at least not in the “ha-ha” way. (Funny/odd is a whole different story.) But, I’ve always had a great appreciation for people who are able to make other people laugh, whether they accomplish this with written stories, standup, or acting. There are many different kinds of humor – slapstick, dark humor, parody, satire, standup, dry wit, and so many others. Humor is a very flexible and adaptable tool for any kind of storyteller.

I rarely have the opportunity to employ humor in my client-based work because most of that is a bit more buttoned up and corporate. Every once in a while, though, I do have the chance to lighten things up a bit, and I really enjoy that – both having the outlet and the challenge of the exercise. In my more personal writing, I don’t think I’ve found my comedic voice yet. I stray into that territory every once in a while, but not with any consistency. I’m learning that, like any other writing skill, wielding humor is something that must be studied and practiced. (Hence, my signing up for Steve Martin’s class.)

As for the kinds of humor I prefer, the answer to that question depends totally on my mood. My daughter was home sick the other day and we we spent a few hours laughing out loud together while watching the classic movie Caddyshack and several episodes of the more contemporary sitcom Big Bang Theory. Later in the week, I indulged in an episode of the BBC’s Sherlock, which employs an entirely different kind of humor. To my mind, any laughter is good laughter, so whatever it takes to get you to the place where your mirth is bubbling over is fine by me.

Deborah Lee Luskin: Humor is disarming, which is more effective than tongue-lashing your readers, especially those who don’t agree with you. And humor doesn’t have to be belly-laugh funny; it can be humor that bites. I used humor in America’s Smorgasbord, a post about immigration.

Reading out loud for a final edit

The kids are all back at school, Marc is out of town, and I have reserved this week to do a final edit of my manuscript.

“But how do you do that?” my son asked me last night at dinner.

Behold the new "Red Pen"

Behold the new “Red Pen”

“Well,” I told him, “I start on page one and I begin to read the entire thing out loud.”

And then, I explained, I look for areas where there are continuity breaks. For example when I was working on a chapter yesterday I noticed that I had written about “taking Motrin *again*” and yet I hadn’t mentioned any previous times that we had taken it. Oops – I went back and added that first instance.

Gone are the days of using a red pen, now I read out loud from the screen to find words that have been dropped and spellings that made it through spell check but were the wrong word. (Form instead of from.) All edits are done using my computer.

If I come across a passage that is particularly clunky and I can’t think of how to fix it, I highlight it to remind me to come back to it and I move on.

Quotation marks that weren’t added because they are a pain in the neck when you are brain dumping your story need to be added to dialogue.

When you read out loud, you “hear” the areas where your voice might have changed. Where you (I) might have added a snarky bit that doesn’t add anything to the story – out it comes.

When I read out loud, I also hear where I might have gone a little too light on descriptions. I stop to recall what it was I saw and felt and I add in those details.

I also hear some of the repetition that I didn’t seem to catch when I wrote the piece. When spoken, those words jump out front and center.

Reading out loud isn’t for everyone, it’s a slow process and I have to have absolute silence which is why this week is so good to do it – Please don’t interrupt me when I’m deep in my story.

But for me, it’s the best method for a review.

How about you? How do you do a final edit?

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Persistence

While I’m hiking The Long Trail, I’m reposting old favorites. This one originally published January 20, 2011.

ITWplainSeeing the galleys for my first book was like seeing a sonogram of a baby that’s been growing inside me for years. I was giddy with excitement to see the cover, the type, and the design of the chapters. Like one of those biblical matriarchs, I felt as if I’d been waiting six hundred years for this birth. In truth, it had only been twenty-five. 

In February, 1985, I received my first rejection letter for a novel I’d written the previous year. The letter arrived on my twenty-ninth birthday, and I despaired of achieving my goal of having a book published before I turned thirty. I didn’t start my next novel until ten years later, and I was well into my forties by the time it was complete – and it’s still not published. I wrote Into The Wilderness in 2002, when I was forty-eight.

During the twenty-five years I’ve been writing but not publishing novels, I’ve also raised a family and worked to help support it. I’ve done some interesting things, like taught literature to health care workers and writing to inmates; and I’ve done some less interesting things, like laundry. I’ve worried about my children, argued with my husband, witnessed my parents age, and – always – kept writing.

A few years ago, a published friend said to me, “The single thing that separates those who get into print from those who don’t is persistence.”

I persisted.

I have the requisite number of rejection letters to wallpaper not just the fabled bathroom, but also the interior of a small house. Some are simple form letters; others are full of high praise. I’ve come to prefer the form letters that start with, “Dear Writer” to those that say what a splendid writer I am and what a wonderful book I have – for someone else to publish. There were months when I could have been working in a boomerang factory, when all the typescripts I sent out kept homing back. But a year ago, I received the letter I’d been waiting for all this time, and now, my book is in print.

This long, slow, journey has made me wonder what gave me the tenacity to keep writing despite so many other things to do (help with homework, wash dishes, plant peas), and what gave me the chutzpah to keep refusing to accept repeated rejection. My answer: my cats and my dog.

My dog doesn't know how to read.

My dog doesn’t know how to read.

As Groucho Marx famously said, “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” My dog is a great companion, but she’s illiterate. She dislikes the indoor, sedentary pleasures of literature. She’d rather be outdoors, on a walk. I did a lot of thinking on those walks, which are a kind of moving meditation in which I work out narrative difficulties. I also watch my pooch in her mostly futile attempts to catch the chipmunks. Despite her dismal record of failure, my dog never fails to take up the challenge. She flings herself over stonewalls and gives herself whole-heartedly to the chase. And she’s never discouraged by her failure to catch a chipmunk, only by my failure, some days, to take her out.

My cats, on the other hand, want me to do nothing but sit at my desk all day, so they can drape themselves decorously across my papers, my lap, or my keyboard. They approve of literature, and like to lie across the page of any open book, but especially on the page I’m reading. One of them likes to watch the cursor progress across my computer screen; the other likes best to curl up in a manuscript box, anchoring the pages in place. As far as they’re concerned, the only reason for me to leave my desk is to open a can of cat food.

Between the cats and the dog, I’m blessed with companions who provide inspiration, in the case of the felines, and a model of persistence, in the case of the dog. They have been good company for this long haul. They’ve helped mitigate the loneliness of writing in silence, a silence that has at last come to an end.

Deborah headshotDeborah Lee Luskin will resume writing when she returns from hiking The Long Trail. Meanwhile, you can still receive An Essay Every Wednesday emailed directly to your inbox – just subscribe at www.deborahleeluskin.com. It’s easy, it’s entertaining, educational, and it’s free!

“Well duh” and “Show don’t Tell”

 

You know that old writers’ adage “show don’t tell?” It’s an incredibly important piece of advice. As important as tight lug nuts on the wheels of your literary car.

Okay, maybe that wasn’t the best one, but you get the picture. “Show don’t tell” means that you include enough imagery, enough action and dialog for the reader to figure things out on their own. It’s as important to your progress as wheels staying on your car.

colferI recently picked up a book by Chris Colfer – he played Kurt on Glee and it turns out he’s quite the writer. I like him. I think he’s funny and talented.

But my praise for him falls short in his most recent book. The Land of Stories – an Author’s Odyssey Book 5. Granted I hadn’t read the previous books (shame on me for not paying attention when I bought this book) and granted it’s written for a young (middle school) audience but Geeze Louise!  Just take a look at the following passages.

“I’ve brought you all here to witness the birth of an era,” the Masked Man preached. “But before we achieve a new future, the ways of the past must be destroyed  and the leaders of the past are no exception!”

The Masked Man gestured to a large wood platform below the balcony, on the lawn between the palace and the dried lake. A very tall man in a long black cloak climbed to the top of the platform and placed a large wooden block in the center.

A dozen flying monkey pulled a wagon out from behind the place. It carried all the former kings and queens of the fairy tale world…(long list of names)

The tall man on the platform withdrew a large silver axe from inside his cloak. The civilians began screaming and shouting in horror once they realized the purpose of it – the Masked Man was going to have the royal family executed!

It’s that last sentence that I object to. Colfer had done a great job to that point of showing his audience what was happening. The characters in the story even figured it out, but then he threw in a sentence to make sure we were told what was happening.

Look at the passage again and remove that last italicized part of the sentence. It leaves us hanging with horror and outrage, an appropriate response. It does not leave us with an exclamation point of excitement. This is an excellent example of how showing is so much more effective than telling.

I read that passage out loud to my daughter emphasizing the italicized sentence.

“Well duh,” she said “it’s an execution.”

Little bit of writing advice here – writers NEVER want their readers to say “Well duh.”

A few pages later, we read about how a trap door opened and how the entire royal party managed to escape by way of horses and a carriage hidden underneath the execution platform.

“To his horror, he saw Goldilocks on Porridge and Jack on Buckle! The couple steered the horses and the carriage into the forest beyond the palace, knocking over dozens of Winkie soldiers as they went. The execution had turned into a rescue mission right before the Masked Man’s eyes!”

Again, “well duh.”

Once again, remove that “telling” sentence at the end (and while you’re at it get rid of about half of the exclamation marks he uses) and you end up with a tighter, more vivid story that relies on the reader to connect the (very obvious) dots.

Now granted I haven’t read the first 4 books and this may be Colfer’s style. I know that his audience is young readers, but please – as writers you must give your readers credit. If you’ve done a good job with the descriptions, action, and dialogue you shouldn’t have to spell out *anything*. Your readers should be able to figure it out on their own.

Next time you hear “show, don’t tell” think of this example. When you write, it’s your job to set things up clearly enough for your readers to “get it.” If you haven’t, then it’s also your job to go back, figure out why not, and then strengthen your work so they do.

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Our Summer Vacation: Editing

OUR WRITING ROADMAPWeek three of our summer series, and a topic I know very well. Editing. I just submitted book #3 of my Clock Shop Mystery series, and the editing is still raw. Before I go into more specifics about my process, let me frame what editing is/when it comes in.

For some people, a first draft is a slog through molasses going uphill in January. For others, it is an easy brain dump that gets you to the shaping part of your novel.Everyone has a different first draft experience, so have your own. But always remember two truths. First, no matter how wonderful a writer you are, editing is part of the process. Give yourself time to do it, and don’t shortchange that part of the process. Second, someone said you can’t edit a blank page, and they were correct. I am a firm believer in moving forward while writing. A reminder, I am a plotter, so my first draft has some surprises (you can’t anticipate everything the muses offer), but I have a roadmap moving forward. I have learned to trust that, and keep moving.

Editing is an art. As a writer, you can do a lot yourself. Here are some of the layers of editing I’ve discovered.

Developmental. This layer of editing is big picture, first reader editing. Does the story make sense? Are there plot holes? Are the characters consistent? Does the scene order make sense? Do things need to be shifted around? I have a trusted first reader who is a friend, knows the genre I write in, and gives me some tough love. I find this to be a vulnerable time in my process, so I have chosen this first reader carefully.

Structural. I had a tendency to make leaps of logic that make sense to me while I am writing, but I don’t always connect the dots for my readers. Or I make a change in my story (he becomes a she, he goes from married to single, her cat becomes a dog) and the change isn’t consistent throughout the novel. Maybe a subplot needs to be fleshed out, and interwoven with more elegance. This phase of the editing makes sure the frame of the story is strong.

Enriching. He said. She said. He said. They did. All great for scenes. But add some physicality to the scene. She’s making dinner. He’s folding laundry.  That grounds the scene. Add descriptions. Help the reader understand your intention not by telling them, but by showing them. This layer is where the art comes in. For my most recent manuscript, I was thinking about the theme of the novel, and how each scene supported it. Then I realized that one of the subplots could be tweaked and would better serve the overall theme. It was fun adding that layer to the work.

Polishing. Final layer of editing is cleaning things up. Spell check. Reading not for content, but for words. Checking grammar. Triple checking punctuation. Doing a “find” for words that you overuse, and getting rid of them. (This blog post is a big help in finding some of those words.)

Final step? Letting it go. There comes a point where you need someone else to look over your work. You can get an editor at any one of the above stages. But you will need to know when to let your work go, either for querying to an agent or submitting it to your editor. I try to stop working on my manuscript before I screw it up. Sounds like I am being funny, but I’m not. Tweaking and adjusting becomes addictive, but at some point practically perfect becomes a hot mess. Let it go before it gets to the hot mess stage.

Spend time on editing–all phases of editing. It is where the fun of writing lives.

Dear readers, do you prefer one phase of editing over another? Where do you bring in others to help?

*ClockandDagger********************
As Julianne Holmes, Julie writes the Clock Shop Mystery series. The second book in the series, CLOCK AND DAGGER, will be released on August 2.

The most important thing I’ve learned about writing

 

I was recently asked by a student – “What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about writing?

My answer to this question is – Behold the power of time.

clockThere are so many instances where I’ve budgeted time to write and then *something* happens. The kids need a ride, I get a call in the middle, I’ve clicked on one too many articles on the internet, etc.

I’ve learned that if you want to write, really want to write, then you have to write. If that means closing a door, so be it. If it means going somewhere else to write, setting a timer so you stay in your seat to write, if it means you do anything you can in order to write then so be it.

Because you can’t be a writer if you don’t write.

I’ve also recognized that a written piece needs its own time. Time to mix and muddle – until its purest essence comes out. When I was in college I never did much more than 1 draft (why should I? I knew my writing was already amazing.) Now with years of experience behind me, I know that I have to do at least 3, if not more drafts on every publishable piece. Turns out I’m not as amazing as I once thought I was. You’d be surprised at how many typos I catch (my mind is already racing to the next sentence that it knows is coming.) And how I can whittle a piece down when I have some distance from it and I can begin to see redundancies and areas that need clarification. I’m a much better writer when I have reflection.

I’ve also realized that some pieces take longer than others. As a journalist I’m used to working on deadline.

“Wendy, have a 1500 word article in to me by end of day.”

“Yup, you got it, getting started on it right now.”

While I can do articles and assignments fairly quickly, (they follow a familiar template) my own creative writing takes a little longer. It needs to be coaxed and sometimes even pulled screaming with protest from the depths of my soul.

Different types of writing take different amounts of time.

So my answer to that question is -Time. It’s what I’ve learned is the most important thing about writing. You have to have it and you have to manage it well.

How about you? What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about writing?

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.