Update on Overall Wellbeing

           

I want to check in here since I haven’t been around much lately,
but don’t want to completely fall out of the habit of blogging
while I’m hunkered down in the revision cave.

So here’s where I’m at in my collective health:

Emotionally speaking, I’m feeling good about the positive changes I’m
making via my revisions and choices for my career.  I feel in control
of those factors I can control.

Physically speaking, I’m doing very well.  Last Friday I graduated from
PT after seven weeks of no running.  I can now run again on a limited basis
as I work back to where I was before.  I’m also able to hoop again!!
My daily plank routine is going well, and I just finished a three-minute plank. 
(I’m telling you, if you haven’t tried them, they’re a great way to firm up your core;
you see results very quickly). 

Parentally speaking, in this exact moment I’m doing a better job of remembering
I already navigated my high school years and that it’s up to my boys to do the same.
(But, oh, it would be so nice to have a magic wand to keep away the hurt and angst).

Friendly speaking, I miss everyone here.  And while I have glimmers of guilt for not
keeping up, I know you all understand.  You get why it’s important to keep my head
down and push on through.  But please know I’m thinking of you and sending good
thoughts your way.
               

Highlight This!

      

Am hard at work in the revision cave,
but wanted to share a tip that might help others.

I had concerns about continuity within a relationship
between two characters,
so I went through my entire manuscript and used the Highlighting function
to color code everything having to do with that relationship.

I used one color for interior thoughts
and another for direct interaction between the characters.

The colors made it very easy to track the progression in the relationship,
and I’m now confident the ms isn’t suffering from emotional ping-pong.
(I thought I’d already eliminated that stuff but apparently my emotionalism dies hard).

There’s a good chance you all know about this computer highlighting trick
(I’ve done this before with hard copy but never within my document),
but I’m a big believer in putting info out there.
May this tip reach the right person at the right time…
                      
I’m missing this community, but am sending good thoughts for all your writing and life projects!
               

Blogs or Revisions?

             

I’ve been scarce around here and am popping in to say
I’m thinking of everyone
but am putting my time/energy/focus into some revisions.

I don’t like neglecting my online community
but feel it’s best for my emotional/writerly health to keep forging ahead.
I’m making progress and that is good for my soul.

Know that I’m thinking of you and wishing happy stuff all the way around!

Here’s a Coco pic to make you smile:

Bonus points to anyone who can tell me what she’s thinking.
           

Talismans

         

Thank you so much for having my back.
The comments and emails have made a huge difference to my emotional state.

In the midst of all that angst, I realized I was missing something:
my PREVAIL bracelet.
The cord had worn out and I’d gone without the bracelet for several weeks.
On Friday night, Zippy and I found new cord and he put PREVAIL back on my wrist,
alongside another Laura Hamor creation:
LEAP & THE NET WILL APPEAR.

 

Now I wear them together and the lovely clinking sound they make
reminds me of the beautiful, powerful Laura, and the many other friends who have my back.

Thank you, thank you.
This community is truly a life-saver.
          

Waste Not Wednesday: Non-toxic Paint Remover

                      

Because I’m still in limbo waiting for feedback on CLOSE TO HOME,
I’m tackling some long overdue household projects.
Yesterday I stripped the scary green paint from kitchen cabinet doors using
this great non-toxic, soy-based paint remover.

I’m environmentally sensitive, and can’t walk in the detergent
aisle in the grocery store because of all the nasty odors.
The soy-based remover was fine for me with adequate ventilation
(I worked in my garage), and I highly recommend it.
Why use conventional products and expose yourself to a soup of toxic chemicals
that may harm your respiratory system, skin, internal organs, brain and nervous system?

Not to mention the harm to the planet from producing the stuff?

And, because I need to stick with my Write No Matter What attitude,
here is a little home improvement haiku:

So long now, green paint.
Wish you’d come with a warning:
"Best if eyes are closed."

                

Ms. Brain, She Desperately Needs a Song

              

There are lots of contributing factors to my current State of Grumpy:

It’s incredibly windy right now
which means I can’t work in my garden
which means no exercise
since my hip is still messed up and I can’t do much of anything else
which also means I’m gaining weight.
And did I mention it’s Monday?
A really windy Monday?

But I also just realized I haven’t written much of anything in a week
as I’m still in CLOSE TO HOME limbo as I wait for readers’ responses.
I cannot work on BIRD BRAIN until I can give it my undivided attention
because I’ve started and stopped that project so many times I’m
afraid it’ll dwindle into nothing if I don’t give it the respect it’s due.

So there I was.
Crabby, crabby crabby.
Until I grabbed a book off my shelf, THE ELEVENTH DRAFT: Craft and the Writing Life from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop,
and opened it to Barry Hannah‘s piece, Mr. Brain, He Want a Song.
This is what I read:

". . . this is why I find working writers to be among the happiest folks in the world.  Among the unhappiest are those who are not working and have endless questions.  You do not want to get within a block of these people.  The Great Suck – big bottom lip, the sulk, the neurotic and despondent vortex.  But working writers are like unprosecuted felons."      

I’m off to my PT appointment but as soon as I’m home,
I’m going to write some flash fiction or a poem.
Something.
I cannot stand wallowing in The Great Suck.
However, I probably won’t go so far as to commit a felony
(unless you count writing really bad poetry as a crime).
             

Switching Gears

               

Last night I reached that point of delirium with my revisions.
You’re probably familiar with that point.
When your tweaking is possibly doing more damage than good?

So I said, "¡Bastante!"
and sent the ms off to Claudia (and another reader friend).
Then I cracked open a beer.

But today’s a whole new day, and without those revisions to shape my day I feel, well, shapeless.
What shall I do?!

I know!  I’ll dig out the file for BIRD BRAIN and reacquaint myself with that story.

(image from http://www.morguefile.com)

That creaking sound you hear?
Just my brain switching gears.
     

Of Ants and Writers

            

I’m working on my final chapter, and feel good about most all of it
except for the last few lines.

I know I’ll get there but it’s a bit maddening to have come this far
only to be flummoxed.

I’m not quite sure why, but this photo from last summer feels right for this post:


                                                                                                                                                             © 2010 Tracy Abell

Maybe because I found out via this link, that younger ants usually take care of the queen and brood,
while the older ants typically have the more dangerous tasks of foraging and defense.

I’m definitely an older ant,
and writing towards The End can sometimes feel a bit dangerous.  Scary.
But I have to keep crawling around my final page, foraging for those just-right words to end my story.

(And for a little off-topic Ha-ha, here’s a snippet from the above link:  "Ant colonies are grossly divided into queens, males, and workers. The job of the queen is to lay eggs. The males generally do nothing for the colony. They wander around accepting food from the workers until the time comes for mating. They die almost immediately after mating."  Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this the ultimate fantasy?)
          

Tiptoeing closer to The End

           

I just printed out the latest draft of my final chapter.
It’s not quite where I want it to be, but it’s definitely getting closer.

Wow.
I’m not yet giddy with excitement, but I’m fast approaching goofy.
Or maybe that should be daffy.
Punchy?
Loony?  Nutty?  Dotty?

Guess the only thing I know for sure is that whatever this is I’m experiencing, it ends with a y.
             

Mentor Monday: The Final Scenes

            

I’m in the home stretch on my revisions.
When I last met with Claudia, we decided my final chapter would be
a kaleidoscope of three small scenes.
So that’s what I’m working on this week.

I want my scenes to convey this kind of intricacy and balance:


(image from http://www.morguefile.com)

But if I don’t immediately get the scenes just right,
I can treat them like a kaleidoscope and make a slight adjustment,
and maybe that new view will be just what I’m looking for.
              

Mash-Up of Scary and Funny

              

Yesterday I worked on a scene that was hard to face:
I put a 12-year-old girl in a dangerous and scary situation.
When I reached the point at which someone steps in to help her,
I stopped writing and took a nap.

I often take 15 minute power naps.
But this nap was a deep, all-the-way-asleep kind of nap.
I think writing that scene took it out of me.

So that’s the scary (and tiring) portion of this post.

The funny portion?

Earlier this week, Melodye ( ) asked that we share belly laughs with each other.
Since I can’t find Garrison Keillor’s hysterical booger excerpt from LAKE WOBEGONE DAYS
and Youtube doesn’t have the Stuart Smalley Halloween clip,
I offer this mockumentary about the first men’s synchronized swimming team:

Are you laughing yet?
              

Building Tension and the Big O

              

I met with Claudia yesterday to go over revisions.
The take-home quote of the day?

You’ve done an excellent job building tension in the story; it builds and builds and builds. 
Like an orgasm.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, I create orgasm-worthy middle-grade fiction. 
But I don’t think I’ll mention that as a selling point when it comes time to schedule school visits.

             

Revisions R Us

             

In case anyone wonders where I am today,
I’m hunkered down in the revision cave.

Thank you for the kind words of support yesterday.
I made progress and feel good about it even though I feel a bit like this. . .


                                                                                           © 2010 Tracy Abell

(I don’t, however, have the catfish-like facial hair and anyone who says different is lying).
                    

Focus, Tracy!

               

I meet with Claudia on Thursday to go over revisions.
You may remember my glee at the progress I was making.
At that point in time, I was confident I’d fly through the rest of the revisions.
I told Claudia we were going to celebrate Earth Day together by reviewing all remaining chapters.
As in, every single chapter through The End!

Well, soon after shooting off my mouth I slammed right into a Wall of Doubt.

There is no way I’ll have the revisions finished by the day after tomorrow.
There’s only thing left to do:  Get as much done as possible and hope Claudia isn’t overly disappointed.


                

Mentor Monday: Trusting My Gut

    

I heard back from Claudia yesterday on the two chapters I sent last week.
She had much good to say about the stuff that worked,
and offered a couple excellent points about places I needed to lay a little groundwork.

She also had some thoughts on how to handle a certain plot point.
I’m mulling over her suggestion, taking notes in my trusty notebook as I unravel my thoughts.
So far I’m thinking I need/want to go with my initial idea for this story line
but am mindful that part of me might be rebelling against outside influence.

The thing is, Claudia has had lots and lots of good ideas during this revision process.
I’ll have an idea and she’ll tweak it just a tiny bit to make it an even better idea.
I’m thrilled that my story is so much stronger than before
but I’ve also had a few insecure moments in which I wonder if the improvements are because of her or me.

I’ve never worked one-on-one before to revise an entire manuscript
and am wondering if anyone else has experienced any of these feelings.
Have you ever worried your story is better only because of someone’s input?
Or have I just gone out and invented a whole new brand of writerly neurosis?
               

My Process

          

I’m about 110 pages into my revision,
and am officially in love with this story.
Often when writers love their projects,
they go into some euphoric state in which they crank out words and revise like mad.

I’m not that kind of writer.

For the past week or so, I’ve been fine-tuning a couple chapters
in order to strike the perfect emotional balance.
These chapters are pivotal and are very different from the original,
so I’m charting new territory here.

I told Zippy it’s as if I’m sneaking up on my story,
getting one part "just right," and then tiptoeing up to the next moment
that needs to be just right.

Lots of times I stop at the point of decision, and do something else.
Nap, work on a crossword puzzle, watch birds.  Watch clouds.
That break gives my middle mind a chance to do its thing,
so that when I get back to it, I know how to strike the emotional balance.

Revision truly is a thing of beauty.


(Crocus from my front yard)                                                          © 2010 Tracy Abell

                         

Waste Not Wednesday: Opportunity

 

Okay, so this doesn’t fall in the environmental tips category,
but this post is not only a reminder to myself but also a way to hold myself accountable.

My kids in Florida PLUS my mate at the office EQUALS writing opportunity.

I have revisions to complete, darn it.
So I am not going to waste this opportunity for making headway on CLOSE TO HOME.

If you see me around the LJ-playground, please send me back to my pages.
But hopefully you’re seizing your own writing opportunities,
and wouldn’t notice even if I started hooping next to you.

Here’s to us accomplishing a whole mess of literary feats today!
                   

Mentor Monday: Looking back in order to move ahead

             

I’ve revised about two-thirds of my manuscript
and when I met with Claudia last week,
she cautioned me that in the final third
I must deliver on the tension developed thus far.

She’s right, of course.

But when you’ve ripped up your story’s floorboards
and knocked down a bunch of its walls,
it’s a bit overwhelming to figure out how to construct the remaining pieces.
Especially when you’re not entirely sure what pieces will be there.

But Claudia has a great method for writing the second half of your book:
Go back to the first half to see what’s there,and then use those elements in the latter part.

Stuff like:

  • The nosy neighbor down the street
  • The red and white twirly skirt
  • The dripping faucet
  • The neglected lawn
  • Best friend’s activist Grandma
  • The tiny photo album

These final chapters will require lots of new writing,
but at this point I’m only taking notes.
Lots of notes.

My middle mind had me include those elements for a reason,
and I trust that in time I will see how to construct a satisfying ending.

But sometimes you have to look back in order to move ahead.
                 

Everybody Needs a Mentor

          

I’m back home after my fourth meeting
with my mentor, Claudia Mills.
And I just want to say,
if you ever have the opportunity to participate
in a SCBWI-sponsored mentor program,
do it!

Claudia isn’t just an ace at pacing and tension,
unafraid to tell me when I’ve struck the wrong note,
but also a mentor who is generous with her praise.

I practically float home after sessions with her.
She not only makes me feel good about what I’ve accomplished
but also fills me with a steely determination to meet her expections.
I never, ever want her to regret the compliments she’s given me and my writing.

And because so much of this journey is spent alone, in my head,
I’m going to be bold and link to Claudia’s blog post from today
in which she said insanely nice things about my writing.

You know, for those days when I’m feeling delusional.

Check out your local SCBWI chapter to see if you have a mentor program.
If not, maybe you can get one started.

Because every writer needs a Claudia in her corner.
                 

Mentor Monday: Storytelling

           

My revisions are due to Claudia in two days
and I’ve still got lots to do.
I’m cutting some stuff I hope to use later,
adding new material to make the story flow,
and moving scenes around.

Claudia said during our last meeting,
"I think I’m better at structure [than you]."

I had to laugh because this revision process
has proved something I already suspected:
while I’m a very good writer (meaning, I use words well),
I have to work harder to be a good storyteller.

I have to consciously think about structure and pace
so that I do my characters justice in the way I let their stories unfold.

However.

I am learning.
All this work with Claudia is helping me think 
about my writing in a whole new way,
and I’m confident the lessons I’m learning while
revising CLOSE TO HOME
are lessons I will carry with me on every book to come.

And that’s what being a writer is all about:
bringing your always-improving game with you to each and every story.
                 

Mentor Monday: De-Blurring a Story/Picture

    


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So I’m at about the halfway mark in my revisions
and am very pleased with the changes I’ve made.
I met with Claudia the day before I left for Florida
and went over the chapters I’d revised plus
mapped out a strategy for the next chapters.

Claudia said many nice things about my work
and pumped up my enthusiasm for pushing ahead.

I took my trusty notebook and pages on the plane the next day,
and worked and worked from those notes
(plus had a delicious margarita with my pb & j sandwich).

And I realized something:
I wasn’t wrong to love CLOSE TO HOME as it was written before;
it’s a great story with complex characters.
I really had created a good picture.
The problem was, the picture was slightly off.
Blurry and confusing in places.
But with Claudia’s help, I’m bringing the picture/story into focus.

So my big epiphany is that we should never say our manuscripts suck
(I’ve said that and other awful things, and am going to try hard to never say such things again).
The truth is, when you write a book, you’ve created a unique word picture.
A picture that no one else in the whole wide world could paint.
And while it is possibly true that you could have employed better word choice,
or maybe used those same words in a different order,
or given more thought to how and when your characters speak their words,
that stuff is all fixable.

Writing novels isn’t like photography.
If part of our stories seem out of focus,
we can go back in there to bring clarity.

I’m really, really glad I didn’t give up on CLOSE TO HOME.
          

Getting Ready to Fly

        

I’m a bit sad that most photos I took while in Florida
didn’t turn out too well because of my lens limitation.
But the images I captured are enough to revive memories.
They help me remember the laughter and oohs-and-ahhs
I shared with my sister, brother, and nephew.

As I look at this Great Blue Heron taking flight,
I’m not only grateful for the gift of Kapok Park and time spent with family
but am also inspired to get back to my CLOSE TO HOME revisions.


                                                                                       © 2010 Tracy Abell

I’m going to flap my wings and soar into literary greatness.
Or something like that.