Starting Over, One Word At a Time

I’m revising the YA I’ve been working on off-and-on for years. There are a whole bunch of reasons for the delays and procrastination but the main takeaway is that because of the down-time, I was intimidated about jumping back into it. Then I read about one writer’s approach to getting back into a story: she retypes the entire manuscript.

I decided to give it a try.

I’m taking it chapter by chapter, retyping from the last hard copy I printed out. So far, I agree with the writer who suggested it that retyping helps me revise on a deeper level than if I were only working with what was already there. In other words, my revisions would be more superficial if I was working with a hard copy and pen. Retyping seems to highlight issues such as where the text bogs down and any character inconsistencies. Most importantly, something about putting those words down, again, is helping reconnect me to the story. And in the process, it’s helping shine a light on what needs to change.

Every book I’ve written has taken a different path. There are days when I’m not sure whether that’s a blessing or a curse. This method, at least, is allowing me to move ahead.

Bartleby, the Scrivener

I’m using Scrivener for the YA I’m revising and even with all its bells and whistles, sometimes I feel a bit like Bartleby. Obviously, that’s a stretch since that poor dude had to laboriously hand copy legal documents while I’m using writing software and a printer. Still, it feels like forever that I’ve been hunched over this novel, painstakingly revising each chapter.

The good news: I’m (mostly) enjoying the process and have not yet proclaimed “I would prefer not to.” Also? I haven’t alienated everyone around me and am not sleeping in a doorway.

Around these parts, we call that a WIN.

Revision = To See Again

John Irving wrote in the opening to Trying to Save Piggy Sneed,
“Half my life is an act of revision.”

Ain’t that the truth.

I share Mr. Irving’s love of revision. I enjoy blue ink on paper, deleting the fat and plumping up the skinny parts. I love drilling down to find the essence of what I want to convey.

Right now I’m revising the first several chapters of my YA. Again. I recently received stellar editorial input on my opening pages that has allowed a minor miracle: I am reading the pages with new eyes. I’ve already worked and worked and worked some more on those chapters, yet this editor’s input changed my perception of what was there on the page. It’s as if her reaction to what she read is forcing me to “defend” each and every word, every motivation. I’m no longer reading the pages with the mindset of someone who knows the entire story and all the backstory, but as a brand new reader! I didn’t think it was possible to read stuff I’d already read gazillions of times with fresh eyes, but it is. It really is.

Wow. Amazing stuff. Yet I’m alternating between thinking, “This is so cool that I have this new heightened awareness!” and “What is wrong with me that it’s taken so long to achieve this awareness that any writer worth her laser printer should already have?!”

So, in an effort to be kinder to myself, I’m focusing on this quote from Ernest Hemingway:
“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”

Take that, nasty voice! I will prevail.
Prevail bracelet 010

Seeing Things and Doing Things

Saw this beauty sunning itself on deck rail and captured with telephoto lens:
Doves + Maple leaves + Christmas cactus 002

The maple leaves are turning and I leaned over deck rail for a close-up look:
Doves + Maple leaves + Christmas cactus 009

The Christmas cactus sits next to the window so I zoomed in on its delicate beauty:
Doves + Maple leaves + Christmas cactus 015

Haven’t only been looking at lovely stuff, but am keeping my oath and making great progress on the final scenes of my YA. The End is in sight!

You Heard It Here First

I’ve been creeping toward The End on this YA project for FOREVER. (Okay, it obviously hasn’t been forever because that would indicate a major hiccup in the time-space continuum. Not to mention that “forever” would mean I’d have even more wrinkles than I already have.) So let’s just say it feels like a mighty long time I’ve been working on this book, yo.

One of the reasons I’ve been taking it slow is that I don’t like to write myself into a ditch. I’ve learned that if I allow the words to gush willy-effin’-nilly, I often live to regret that output because it can take an awful long time to get the literary wheels back on the road. However, it just occurred to me that because I am only scenes away from The End, that I can’t possibly do great damage. Even if I write myself in a wrong direction, it won’t be any big woop. I KNOW the big picture and I KNOW how this story ends and I KNOW what needs to be written. If something doesn’t feel right, I’ll delete. No big woop.

So here’s my public announcement: I am going to finish those scenes this week!




Friday Five: The Next Chapter

(1) Zippy and Zebu were at the tail-ends of their colds when I got sick two days before we had to start our drive to Washington. Of course. We left on Thursday morning with a big box of ultra-soft tissue and the rental car trunk loaded with Zebu’s stuff. We’d chosen a chevy impala trunkChevy Impala for its impressive trunk capacity and ended up getting one equipped with satellite radio. We drove many of our 1600 miles laughing at comedy routines and only once did I fear for our safety when Lewis Black had Zebu and me (behind the wheel) in tears. I highly recommend comedy for road trips.


(2) Zippy and I are now officially empty nesters (if you discount the two dogs and two cats), and I’m handling the transition pretty well. We arrived back home late Sunday night and while I did wash my face and brush my teeth on Monday, I spent the day in my jammies on the couch, watching flawless movie stillmovies (Party Girl with Parker Posey and Flawless with Philip Seymour Hoffman, pictured here with Robert DeNiro), some television (The Mindy Project and Californication), and staring into space. I’ve since roused myself, put on real clothes, and rejoined society.

(3) Now that we have Zebu settled at college, I can no longer put off finishing my YA. I thought my slow progress was solely due to feelings of trepidation regarding what happens when a manuscript is polished Daggerand ready to go (something that feels like the equivalent of putting my heart on a platter so that others can stab it over and over again), but a couple days ago I had an epiphany about my slow progress. I haven’t just been procrastinating in an act of self-preservation, but have been writing slowly because I was headed in the wrong direction. I thought I knew the ending, but I did not. Rather, I knew the final scene but had a few key details wrong. I believe my middle-office mind knew that and was patiently waiting for me to wake up to the truth of the story.

(4) I applied to and was accepted into the Rutgers One-On-One Plus Conference held next month, which is another motivator for finishing my manuscript. Yikes.

(5)  I don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing, but as a result of all the preparations and then the emotional aftermath of getting Zebu off to school, I’ve largely ignored the fear-mongering and bloodlust dominating the airwaves. May I just say, for the record, that I am so very tired of the U.S. government thinking it can end fundamentalist ideology by bombing it out of existence? It hasn’t worked before and it won’t work now. Also? Not only is it stupid, this latest bombing is illegal. But, hey, we’re Team USA! However, . . .


Updates: Reading, Writing & Running

READING: After giving up on The Portrait of a Lady, I went back to my shelves and selected Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser. I’m happy to report I read the entire novel and, when I was able to push aside my prejudice against authors who explain-explain-explain their characters’ emotional landscapes, found myself pulled into the story. Hooray!

However, I then started another book (this one published in 1998) and read 90 pages 2515913-lbefore I’d had enough. I absolutely loved this author’s debut novel, but now wonder if it was equally bad and that I didn’t realize it because I wasn’t reading as critically at that point in my writing life. The one I quit today is nearly 900 pages (!) and narrated by someone I find unlikable and whose dialogue is not-at-all believable. Reading it made me angry on several levels (for one, knowing many trees died for this New York Times bestselling book), and when I get angry at the writing, it’s time to look for another book.

I’m plugging away at my YA and have, at least momentarily, quit beating myself up for working at such a slow pace. SONY DSCI’m essentially now writing the first draft because these later scenes are all new to the story, but because I’m being thoughtful and deliberate in my writing I’m confident I’m not driving the story into the ditch (or cornfield).
Also? Thoughtful + deliberate = doesn’t read like a first draft.


RUNNING: Per my PT/rehab instructions, I’m easing back into my running. The rules are (1) that runs must always have at least one day in between and (2) I can add 5 minutes to the run after having at least two solidly good runs at the previous time length. “Good runs” translates to reasonable pain (that can be addressed via stretching, massage, rest) and feeling halfway decent energy-wise. For my last three runs, I ran for 35 minutes each time. This whole thing has been such an adjustment for me, not just physically but also psychologically. I’m learning to cut myself some slack, to celebrate the gains and to not beat myself up when I don’t perform as well as the previous run. The key word here is “learning.” This is all very much a work in progress. Zippy encouraged me to run a 5k with him this past weekend, but because I knew I wouldn’t run nearly as well as I had last year, I declined.

Running hard as I can, but not yet flying . . .

Running hard as I can, but not yet flying . . .

You Talkin’ to Me?

“This is not a book that should be tossed lightly aside.
It should be hurled with great force.”
~  Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker was 50 years old when George Platt Lynes took this portrait in 1943.

Dorothy Parker was 50 years old when George Platt Lynes took this portrait in 1943.

Okay, so Ms. Parker was not referring to my work-in-progress, but the quote strikes a nerve. Wandering the wilderness of my creative mind is always a scary endeavor, and one which I’m currently going to great lengths to avoid. I would very much appreciate a sign . . .

Random Image, Random Thought

Clicked at random and this photo by Wildebeest came up. It feels very YA and appropriate to my project, except for the fact no one in my book skates. But still . . .
Skating2 063

Maybe I should write a Lizard King into my story.

Friday Five: The TracyWorld Edition

1) While much of Bob Dylan’s HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED is good music to run to, Ballad of a Thin Man is not a song that will put pep in your step.

2) Zebu is binge-watching all six seasons of LOST (and luring me in from time to time), and what pops into my head at least once per viewing is How are none of these people badly burned and peeling?! Yo, Dharma Initiative, you remembered the lima beans but forgot the sunblock!

3) I want to live in a world in which cookies and beer have no caloric consequences.

4) I have SO. MANY. PHOTOS on my computer that haven’t seen the light of day, so here’s a random selection (capture of a Red-Tailed Hawk eyass from the Cornell Labs cam a couple years ago):Capture

5) I recently read T.C. Boyle’s WATER MUSIC and Zadie Smith’s ON BEAUTY (part of this effort), and am trying hard to be inspired by their prowess for description rather than allowing their mad skills to intimidate me so much I take a match to my manuscript.

In My Head and Out My Window

I’m drafting a scene in my YA,
slightly confused about the sequence of events.
Then thunder rumbling in the distance brought me to the window
and I found reassurance in the sky; there’s confusion up there, too.
Clouds 001Me and the sky, just two peas in a pod.


Writing Through the Distractions

It’s slow-going on my YA, but I’m making progress despite the usual distractions:

  • books I want to read
  • food that may or may not be in the refrigerator so let’s take a look, shall we?
  • the internets and its many permutations
  • bird action at the feeder and/or bath
  • that patch of sunlight calling for me to come take a nap
  • etc., etc.

All that’s hard enough, but now I have these lovable cats in the house and they demand my attention.Loki and Marcel 002A few minutes ago I was working on my manuscript as Marcel sat in the window behind me, looking at birds and making that funny chuckling sound cats make when they see something they’d like to de-feather, but I was stoic and blocked out his bizarre noises to keep writing. Until, that is, he climbed over my shoulder and down onto my chest where he curled up and aimed his big goofy eyes at me. Really, I’m supposed to have the willpower to ignore such overt emotional manipulation?

And how about his brother Loki who has no respect for my writing boundaries or, for that matter, any boundary?Loki in dishwasher

Loki in dishwasher 2

Maybe I’m supposed to treat him like a Muse?

Twofer Tuesday

Confession time:

(1) I did not work on my YA at all today, but instead worked on a non-writing project, using my Front Office Mind, and really hope my Middle Mind was thinking YA-related thoughts in preparation for tomorrow’s writing.

(2) I’ve suffered bed-head all day, proudly embracing Zebu’s assertion that I resemble Woody Woodpecker.

Woody Woodpecker


Not Ready to Quit

I’ve been at this writing thing for a while, working toward publication. There have been highs and lows throughout the journey, validation followed by rejection. It’s been tough, but I’ve always been tougher. Something inside wouldn’t let me quit. Something inside knew I did not want to give up.

Several weeks ago, I began to seriously consider quitting.

Seriously, as in, I actually said out loud, “I’m thinking about quitting.” And I spoke those words to a new non-writer acquaintance who’d asked about my writing. That was a huge moment, because during all the years of writing in the bleachers during Zebu’s basketball games and being asked by other parents if I was a teacher grading papers, I always said, “No, I’m a writer.” If they asked more questions, I’d let them know I was writing novels for kids and when the inevitable question came, I’d say, “No, I haven’t been published yet.” And it was okay. There was a core of steel in me that allowed me to have those conversations. I knew I’d keep writing until my stories were published. I knew I’d prevail.

Nothing specific happened in the past month or so to shake my convictions, but somehow I felt I’d reached my limit. As in, maybe it was time to quit putting my work out there to be judged because maybe, just maybe, it was unhealthy to continue making myself vulnerable to others’ opinions. Sending out a manuscript is like offering my heart on a plate so that it can be stabbed, sometimes repeatedly.

So I gave myself a little break. A break from writing and a break from decision-making about writing for publication. I kept reading, though. One of the books I read was a YA from an author who’d written one of the best books I’d read in 2013, an author who sells gazillions of books and seems to be an awesome person. The YA I read was a huge disappointment. Weak, weak, weak. I was flabbergasted. And slightly annoyed. I knew better than to write a protagonist who doesn’t change and secondary characters who serve as placeholders and plot lines that go nowhere, fizzling out into big nothings. Why do I know that? Because I know how to write.

And just like that I knew I wasn’t ready to quit writing for publication. Not because I have any delusions about knocking that author off the best-seller list. And not because I’m angry with the publishing world that has, thus far, excluded me from the club. I’ve gone back to work on my YA because I want to continue doing what I know how to do, and to continue learning how to do that even better.

I am a writer. And no, I haven’t yet been published. Whatever.

Image from by Alvimann

Image from by Alvimann

My Insides Match My Outsides

For the past several days I’ve been working on the first 90 pages of my YA, zooming in on one particular relationship between two characters. I first went through the pages and highlighted every interaction between them in yellow. Then I went back to the beginning, highlighting in red the words I want to delete and using green highlights for the new words I added. It’s been a slow process but I feel as if finally, finally these characters are unfolding at the right pace and that I’m avoiding the dreaded Emotional Ping-Pong (something that was rampant in a YA I read over the weekend).

So imagine my delight when a few minutes ago I opened my computer to resume work on my project and I realized the screen mirrored the glorious colors outside.More fall leaves and computer screen 001

Nature always wears the colors of the spirit.  ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Making Courage a Habit

A great part of courage is the courage of having done the thing before.          ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Because I didn’t write much over the summer, it’s been difficult finding my groove again. That nasty little voice whispers in my ear, calling me delusional as I try to shake off the rust and gain some traction on my project.

I’ve had a few starts and stops, but for the past three days have written 1000 words per day. It’s starting to feel like a habit again although each day there’s a flutter in my chest as I prepare to sit down to work. “What if today I can’t do it?”

But as the wise Mr. Emerson pointed out, courage gets a bit easier each time you face down a particular fear. So right now I’m off to write my 1000 words for the day with the knowledge that I’ve done it before and can surely do it again.

Courage.Cowardly Lion receiving courage

The Story Is In the Details

It’s been a very strange summer in terms of my productivity and sense of passing time, but school is back in session and I’m trying to get back in the groove. I’m working again on the contemporary YA I focused on during the online revision course with the ever-wise editor Cheryl Klein, and realized I needed to know much more about the setting. So I’m taking the time to create a map of the community, including local businesses. I’m getting to know proprietors and citizens and landmarks.

I’m adding detailed texture to the story.Sedum 052Just having that map and sketches of those additional characters makes me feel like an authority on my story. Taken separately, details can seem like tiny, sometimes insignificant things. But when you add them up, those tiny details turn into a solid foundation.

Wordless Wednesday: The Thirst Edition

Northern Flicker 008(I’m going to cheat and add some words…)

Today I’m feeling a bit like this squirrel sipping at a less-than-pristine pool: my YA revision process has suddenly turned murky. However, it’s what I’ve got to work with so I need to suck it up. (And maybe sometime soon, some kind being will clean and replenish my brain pan!)


Wisconsin Death Trip

When Zippy and I lived in Anchorage, we took a black and white photography class at UAA. Our instructor (hey, Bob!), learned I was originally from Wisconsin and asked if I’d ever read WISCONSIN DEATH TRIP. I had not. But I filed the title away in the dim recesses of my brain until a couple weeks ago when I came across the book while doing research.

Wisconsin Death Trip cover

From Wikipedia: “[Wisconsin Death Trip by Michael Lesy] is based on a collection of late 19th century photographs by Jackson County, Wisconsin photographer Charles Van Schaick, mostly in the city of Black River Falls, and local news reports from the same period. It emphasizes the harsh aspects of Midwestern rural life under the pressures of crime, disease, mental illness, and urbanization.”

This book dispels any notions about “the good old days,” with its pages of matter-of-fact newspaper accounts of death and insanity. It boggles the mind to contemplate living in that time and place, and the grim expressions in the photographs make me ache for everything those people endured. It’s not easy to read, yet the book is incredibly compelling; I feel almost obligated to finish it as a sort of tribute to them and their monumentally difficult lives. (One newspaper excerpt mentioned the small town where I grew up. A grave was excavated — the article didn’t say why — and when the coffin was opened, it was discovered the woman had shifted position inside because she’d been accidentally buried alive. As if life above ground wasn’t horrible enough during that time . . .)

What’s the takeaway from all this? I’m very grateful I did not live in Wisconsin in the late 1800s because I’m quite sure there’d be a notice in the newspaper about my admittance to the state psychiatric hospital. Unless I took the attitude of Mary “The Window Smasher” Sweeny, and broke plate glass windows wherever and whenever I had the chance.

In light of all I’ve read about life back then, smashing glass seems like a relatively healthy coping mechanism.


Honoring the Periphery

Sometimes a photo is exactly as it seems. Bird shots 001In this case, an Eurasian Collared-Dove dipping its tail in a heated, slushy bird bath.

Other times, however, photos contain bonus details the viewer might miss. Take a look at this picture: Bird shots 007If you’re like me, you didn’t immediately notice the safflower seeds falling from the pointed beak of this Northern Flicker.

How about this photo? Bird shots 009Did you notice the incoming finch in the upper right-hand corner? Or how about the finch suspended in flight in this next one? Bird shots 015Pretty cool, huh?

I have gazillions of feeder photos taken over the years, and I’m loathe to delete any of them because it seems there’s a surprise hidden in each if I take the time to see what’s there. I’m having a similar experience in my writing life as I work with a fast-drafted manuscript I wrote and put away for four years. I’m creating a bookmap (an analysis/breakdown of each scene) and am tickled by the little gems hidden in the rough of that first draft. Granted, there’s a lot of not-so-good and, of course, the distractions of various plot and character possibilities. But I’m trying hard not to be blinded by the obvious so that I’m open to all possibilities. I want to honor everything: the written, the implied, and the subtle-yet-powerful details dancing on the periphery.

Breaking Bad in Downton Abbey, Yo

I have a long-time habit of coming late to television shows. Recently, I began watching both BREAKING BAD and DOWNTON ABBEY. I can’t imagine two shows more wildly different yet I find them both quite compelling (and sometimes imagine Carson the butler cooking meth in the servants’ quarters).

Carson from Downton Abbey

Me enjoying a violent contemporary program and a feel-good period piece might indicate a split personality, but the truth is, I have about as much admiration and respect for the British aristocracy as meth cookers/dealers; neither would make my birthday party list. However, I’ve grown fond of these characters (although, In the case of DOWNTON ABBEY, I’m much more invested in the servants than the pampered, with the exception of Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess who is a rude delight).

I jumped into DOWNTON ABBEY in season three, and have had no real difficulty easing into the characters’ lives and their story lines. While I wouldn’t want to spend time with any of the aristocracy, it’s not a huge stretch for me to (mostly) root for them or, at least, not wish them any ill will. BREAKING BAD is a whole other premise.  I’m watching it from the start (am halfway through season two), and am so glad I went back to the beginning.
The writers do a phenomenal job making me care about those characters. I could easily loathe Walter and Jesse if I hadn’t gotten glimpses of their lives before they broke out the beakers and masks. But not only do I not loathe them, I root for them. As in, last night I caught myself being glad for them as I watched sale after street sale of their crystal meth. Whoa.Meth lab from Breaking Bad

At the same time, Walt’s character is becoming less and less sympathetic (and I’m so glad Skyler is giving him a taste of his own attitude!), but there’s no way I’ll stop watching. And from the rave reviews, no one else stopped, either. DOWNTON ABBEY, on the other hand, has pissed off plenty of viewers by killing off the second major character of the season and may well slip in the ratings.

What does it all mean? Hell if I know. I’m just filtering everything through my writerly perspective while pondering how to apply these same can’t-turn-it-off principles to my own storytelling.

Friday Five: Satisfaction Edition


1)  My new whiteboard is working out very well, despite the injury it sustained on the way home from the store.
For those interested, here are great directions for making and installing a whiteboard.

2)  With the help of the aforementioned whiteboard, I’m figuring out all sorts of stuff about my YA project
and am preparing to dive into the second draft.  And it doesn’t feel as if this dive will be a belly flop, either.

3)  My garden is lush and jungle-like because of all the rain.

4)  Zebu and Wildebeest have transitioned nicely into summer vacation and, dare I say it?, are getting along.

5)  Today is Zippy’s last day of cardio rehab following the stents he received, and I’m so impressed by his hard work
and dedication to good health. 

Wishing all of you a most satisfactory weekend!


Ginormous Whiteboard Envy


I’m at just over 200 pages of this first draft.
Wrote 1000 words every day for 71 days.
And am just now thinking I know the story.

Don’t laugh.

But as I wrote notes the last couple days
trying to find my way out of the wilderness
I kept thinking
"I wish I had a huge whiteboard"
one large enough to pace in front of
and step back to look at
in order to see the big picture.

Guess what?
All sorts of kind people have posted
DIY directions for making your own ginormous whiteboard.

I hope to be back soon with photos and helpful links!