Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Beginning of Fall

The last few months have been full of writing events, but last weekend it came to an end with the Northern Ohio SCBWI conference.  It was a wonderful event, full of encouraging talks and great company.  I was lucky enough to visit with many people during lunch and between the talks, including a few that I had not seen in a long while. It’s always so fun to catch up with fellow writers “in the trenches” and hear about their progress. Very inspiring! 

I went to a number of talks at the conference, including two by Jody Casella. She included my previous outlining method (discussed here) in her talk on revision.  I have to say, it was pretty fun to see my handiwork up there on the big screen. J I also went to a talk by Allison Weiss, an associate editor at Egmont, about creating pitches.  That is such a difficult topic and I’m still struggling with it, so it was great to hear her advice and get to work with other YA writers on a better pitch for my current WIP.  I wrapped up the conference with an encouraging critique and plenty of things to think about before I jump into the next draft of my manuscript.

This weekend also happens to be my birthday weekend (who-hoo!) so I took the time to reorganize my office and finally hang a new bulletin board that I made. I’ll need it to help contain all the business cards I’ve been collecting!  Now that fall is here, and my major scheduled events are complete, the next bullet on the to-do list is completing my draft and possibly reading a few craft books before I jump back in. Here’s to spring and all of the upcoming events in 2015!

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Joys of Conferencing

I love weekends like this. In just a little while, I'm headed out of town and up to Cleveland, OH for the Northern Ohio SCBWI conference.  Yay! I have never been to this conference before, but I have high hopes for it. Thinking back to the first SCBWI conference I attended years ago, before I really knew anything about publishing, it's pretty amazing to me how far I've already come. I went there completely alone, knowing no one and nothing about what was going on.  It was a truly eye-opening experience to suddenly be in the same room with real agents and editors who had flown in from Manhattan just for this event.  How exotic! It was also inspiring and terrifying to see so many published and hoping-to-be-published authors all sitting in the same room. I knew there were a lot of writers out there, but this really showed me just how much competition there was.  Luckily, all of the writers I met were crazy supportive and sweet, and I already knew at that conference that this was where I belonged.

Now, feeling a little better versed in all things children's publishing, I'm even more excited for this conference. For one thing, I actually know people!  In fact, I know enough people that I'm going to have to make a concerted effort to see them all during just one day.  I'm even friends with one of the faculty on the panel this year, the wonderful Jody Casella, which makes me feel famous by association.  ;) I'm also looking forward to the presentations and critiques. At my first conference I didn't know what to expect, but now I know I'm going to learn a lot and come home even more inspired to write.

Too bad we only have one state conference a year--I think I could use a little conference inspiration every month.

Friday, September 12, 2014

An Exercise in Visualization (Excel edition)

Since getting back from my Highlights retreat, I’ve been trying to keep the productivity ball rolling with my revisions. However, because the manuscript is so large and there are so many ideas in my head, it’s hard to keep everything straight.  For instance, I realized a while ago that there was some backstory that needed to be included earlier in the manuscript, but I needed to look at the manuscript as a whole before deciding where to place the additions. For my first draft, I’d created a handwritten outline of my entire manuscript using a roll of Ikea paper (a nice excuse to go to Ikea, if I do say so), but it was a tedious task to write this and it was challenging to add to unless I covered the whole thing with post-it notes (which I totally did). So, this time around I decided to do something a little more 21st century: an ongoing excel file.

I can say that I definitely like this system better then writing everything out on sheets of paper.  The logistics alone are much better because I never run out of space, the papers don’t clutter the walls or fall off (…ruining someone’s perfectly designed post-it collection), and I have it wherever I take my laptop/device. Probably my favorite aspect is that I can add columns of info as my draft grows.  I’m up to 13 columns now! If anyone’s interested, they are:
  • ·         chapter #
  • ·         POV
  • ·         scene # (for chapters with more than one scene)
  • ·         day/time (probably the most helpful of them all ironically)
  • ·         location of scene
  • ·         purpose/type of scene (action, narrative, etc)
  • ·         description of scene (I sometimes use this to write a brief outline if I haven’t finished the scene yet)
  • ·         list of potential problems/notes
  • ·         list of hallucinations in each scene (particular to this ms)
  • ·         placement of backstory
  • ·         starting page of chapter
  • ·         ending page of chapter
  • ·         total pages in chapter

Aka: a lot of info!!

Now, I love having all of this in one place, and I don’t regret trying this, but it still has some drawbacks. For one…I actually have to keep this updated. Honestly, that’s probably the hardest thing about this excel file. Sometimes I just want to write and it’s annoying to have to spend my precious writing time filling in all of this.  It’s also extremely annoying when I add a chapter earlier in the book because then I have to remember to change all the chapter numbers in the excel file and book file.  (Side note: Is that annoying or am I just lazy? I’m not sure about that one.) What I do know is that my chapter numbers are messed up most of the time.

I’m getting close to finishing this draft so my goal is to keep this excel file relatively updated for the short-term.  Then I think I’ll move onto my next project—moving and organizing all of these files in Scrivener! I figure I’ll keep trying new methods until something sticks (because my post-its aren’t anymore).

Thursday, September 4, 2014

My first Highlights Retreat: Tight Focus

I’ve already written about my experiences at the Highlights retreat, but I just didn’t feel like one post could cover everything. I had so much to say about the food and forests that I didn’t even get a chance to talk about revision, which was the entire reason for attending in the first place! Now that I’ve had a few weeks to think about it, I can definitely say that the timing of this retreat was perfect for me. I was (and continue to be) in the midst of writing the second draft of my current WIP, but I knew that I needed to learn more revision tricks and techniques in order to improve this manuscript. Thankfully, I learned all that and much more during the retreat.

I’m happy to say that our faculty, Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson, gave us enough different techniques that I’ll have more than enough to work on when I finish this draft. (In fact, I wish I had a little less work to do!) We went over holistic vs. analytical techniques for viewing the ‘big picture’ in a story, including essential questions to ask yourself, plot checklists, revision mapping with excel files, and storyboarding, as well as many techniques for tightening and line-editing once the big picture is museum quality.

In some ways, the big picture review was reassuring because it showed me that I was on the right track. Specifically, we discussed creating an excel file where you can list a brief description of each scene, the purpose of the scene, the POV (if needed), the setting and time, chapter length, and so on ( and it could practically go on forever). I started an excel file like this a month or two before coming to the retreat and I was happy to know this hadn’t been a horrible waste of time. Having said that, there’s definitely room for improvement and one addition I’ll make is ‘type of scene.’ I sometimes struggle when trying to categorize my scenes (which seems silly given that it should be objective), but now I have a list of scene types which will make it easier. I’m hoping this will be a way for me to visualize pacing and see whether I have too many scenes of one type (i.e. my MC’s constantly thinking to themselves!)

The Lodge where we learned all about revision!

There were other aspects of revision that I had never tried before. For instance, I have never gone through my manuscript and highlighted adverbs. Having now done this (in the first few chapters) I can say that it is a very sobering task! Eileen gave us 16 (!) page list of adverbs which included words that I'd never known were adverbs. I already knew all of the “-ly” ones, but I honestly didn’t realize that words like “after” or “just” counted too. As Steven King has said, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs,” and now I realize that I have enough cement to go down to the underworld and back up again. Oh well, that’s why line-editing was invented. J

In addition to reviewing revision, we also did a creativity exercise that was extremely challenging but ultimately great. Sometimes I think my story ideas need to trickle down from the writing gods, but this showed me that I can generate my own ideas with a little time and effort—I don’t need to wait for a plot to magically appear in front of me.

Finally, all of the attendees were able to put this new knowledge to good use by working together in critique groups.  I really loved this part of the retreat because it was a wonderful way to bond with other writers, learn from their ideas, and share your interests. A fellow YA writer, Debbi Michiko Florence, and I bonded over our shared love of YA romance and I’m already looking forward to trading more work with her in the future!

It really was a wonderful retreat and the best way to wind down this summer. I also think it’ll be a gift that keeps on giving because revision never ends. I can’t wait to see what workshops are offered next year!