Shopping List: amended

Yesterday morning I added “binder clips” to the shopping list. Because even though years ago I’d purchased a large package of assorted clips, they’d somehow disappeared, one by one. Time to restock.

Fast forward a couple hours: I decided to do some de-cluttering and focused my efforts on my manuscript boxes. Or, as in the case of the first two books I ever wrote: manuscript bins. When I first began writing novels, I thought “revision” equaled “editing,” and had printed out multiple copies of the full manuscript each time I “revised” even though my “revisions” were typically line edits. (Yes, I was a clueless newbie.) As a result, it required one 66-quart bin each to hold the many copies of those first projects. It didn’t help that I’d made another newbie mistake and wrote in Courier New font which is a big and ugly font that required more pages. Those manuscripts were voluminous! Well, I’m happy to announce those projects are now stored in letter-sized cardboard boxes.

The good news is that I understood revision better on the next two novels I wrote and, instead of bins, the stuff I’d printed out “only” required two letter-sized boxes each. Four boxes for two manuscripts. A definite improvement, but why so many pages? Apparently, I was anticipating school visits in which I’d show students samples of my revision process. In addition to the full manuscripts I’d printed out along the way, I’d also saved many, many chapters with crossed-out lines, inserted phrases, and arrows pointing to new paragraph placement. Proof of the revision process, man.

Really, Tracy?

By late afternoon, the back of my Subaru was filled with boxes of paper I’ll take to the recycling center. And now every single book I’ve written is stored in its own tidy cardboard box and stacked in my writing room closet. It’s like a happy reunion of my creative process because the projects in the bins were formerly stored in the basement!

And that shopping list? Binder clips → Binder clips.

Because guess what was holding together all the chapters and manuscripts in those bins and boxes?

Grackle logic

Today is not an easy writing day. I received positive feedback on my four opening chapters, including suggestions for increasing tension between my two main characters. As always, it’s valuable input from my Writing Roosters critique partners for which I am exceedingly grateful. However, I’m struggling to stay focused as I try to figure out which changes to tackle first. Each foray into the manuscript distracts me with “oh yeah, then I’ll also need to fix this and this and . . .”

October 12, 2016.

For some reason, this gathering of raucous grackles seems an appropriate image for the day.

Thankful Thursday

Reality is a scary and anger-inducing thing these days, and today I am grateful for the middle-grade novel I’m writing. Last week, I completed the second draft (hooray!) and then had it printed and bound. I let it sit for a few days and then eagerly began working within those tidy pages. It makes me so very happy to have a compact, mobile version that I can work on anytime, anywhere. Bed? Yes! Patio? Absolutely? Kitchen table? Why not?

And when I wake in the middle of the night with anxious thoughts that prevent me falling back asleep, I focus on Geo and Sam, the two girls at the heart of my story. I aim to do them proud.

Chipping away

Bushtit , March 11, 2019.

As I work chapter-by-chapter to revise my manuscript, my task feels similar to that of this Bushtit. We both take aim and then chip away at what’s there. The difference is, this feathered friend gets a tasty treat for her troubles while my satisfaction comes from page count.

Maybe I should print out a page or two, and see how they taste . . .

Deciding to act

After meeting with my critique group, I’m tweaking some plot lines and revising my opening chapters. I’m struggling today because I’m not 100% confident about how to change one plot line. I keep telling myself to make a decision and write it out, and that if it doesn’t work, I can write it again another way. But I want to be “right” the first time; I don’t want to write it again.

Tenacious wildflowers in Uncompahre National Forest. July 30, 2019.

And so I sit, paralyzed by indecision.

The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.  ~  Amelia Earhart

This is my public statement: I’m going to act. I will make a plot decision and keep writing. And I will prevail in these revisions because there’s one thing I can say with 100% confidence: I am tenacious.

Thinking hard

Marcel. February 5, 2020.

Or, “Thinking is hard.”

Last night I met with Writing Roosters, my critique group, to discuss my latest novel. As always, they offered solid insights and made plenty of suggestions for how to improve the manuscript. I’ve spent much of the day staring and thinking. Honestly, at times the process is a bit overwhelming.

Perhaps Marcel could plot my course forward.

Step by step

I’m tidying up the first draft of the middle grade I wrote in a modified NaNoWriMo last November and December. I’m trying something new by asking my critique group to read it for our February meeting. I’m not used to showing my work at such an early stage, but my group excels at identifying plot holes, character inconsistencies, etc., so my thinking is that if I take advantage of their insights earlier in the process, I’ll avoid a lot of unnecessary revision.

This requires me putting on my big girl pants and trying not to let the terror take over.

Photo by Leon Macapagal from Pexels

I’m trying to focus on little bits at a time. Sometimes that means a chapter, or plot point, or character arc, or just a page. A sentence. Whatever it takes to keep me going. The anxiety is real, though. I have only a few more days to smooth out the roughest edges and then hit SEND.

Step by step, I’ll get it done.

On cultivating bold freedom

State Forest State Park. June 13, 2019.

How does the Meadow flower its bloom unfold? Because the lovely little flower is free down to its root, and in that freedom bold.    ~ William Wordsworth

So it’s after 5:00 pm here in Colorado and I haven’t yet added one single word to my work-in-progress. Why? In part, I had much to do today. But in greater part? I’ve reached the point in which I need to write BIG climatic scenes and I’m intimidated. It was easier to tend to other business today.

I need to make like a Meadow flower and feel free to try and fail, all the way down to my roots. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Thankful Thursday: No sun means writing fun

Loki on Oct 3, 2018

Here’s Loki more than a year ago, basking in sun so bright his pupils are slits. None of that toasty warmth today. It’s gray. Cold. Drizzling and threatening snow. Soul-crushing, if I’d allow it. BUT. I’m parked at my standing desk, drafting my new novel.

Maybe if it was sunny and warm, I’d be curled in a patch of sunshine. Napping instead of writing. Guess that’s my silver lining on this miserable day. Color me grudgingly grateful.

In which Emma keeps me in line

I’m drafting my way through this new project and am past the halfway point, which certainly feels good. I’m noticing, though, that the “mushy middle” angst is suddenly alive and well. And I find myself thinking about jumping. Or running away. Or maybe abandoning this particular ship for a different ship .

“Don’t jump, Tracy!”

But that’s silly. Because as Emma and I both know, every project has moments in which it ceases to feel like great fun /  feels less shiny than another idea / intimidates the crap out of me.

So I’m gonna stay on the beam and keep drafting. I promise, Emma.

Got to have the terror

Today is cold and icy. Again. Unlike two weeks ago, I am not venturing outside because I very much do not want to slip and fall again. Instead, I went in search of an appropriate quotation for this ice-encrusted day. I found the following . It speaks to me, despite never having directed a film. I read it as “Writing a novel is mystifying…”

Directing is mystifying. It’s a long, long, skid on an icy road, and you do the best you can trying to stay on the road… If you’re still here when you come out of the spin, it’s a relief. But you’ve got to have the terror if you’re going to do anything worthwhile.
~ Mike Nichols

Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay

Suffice to say, I’m firmly in the white-knuckle, can-I-pull-this-off portion of the writing process right now. First drafts can be simultaneously exhilarating and puke-inducing.

Coffee shop writing

Last year I officially signed up to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and so am getting emails from the Colorado NaNo people. As noted earlier, I’m taking a modified approach** this year, so when I received an email about a write-in happening at a coffee shop near me I decided to attend. Big deal, right? Wrong.

I do about 99% of my writing at home and wasn’t sure it’d be a good fit. But I liked the idea of all that collective energy, so packed up and went. I arrived two hours into the session today and people were busily writing away. I found a seat in back, put in my ear plugs to muffle the loud music, and got to work.

Wow. I wrote 2500 words (many of which were keepers) in about three hours. Part of my success was because I didn’t ask for the wifi password which meant I couldn’t procrastinate online. When I’m at home, closed off in my writing room, I find all sorts of ways to waste time. Despite all the sounds and movement taking place around me, something about writing in public kept me more focused. It felt all official-like or something.

I thought I’d be writing this novel at my standing desk, but will most definitely be going back to that coffee shop for more writing sessions!

** My goal is to finish a draft by the end of December.

Infinite possibilities

I’m brainstorming and jotting notes for a new middle-grade novel, and sometimes feel slightly overwhelmed by the possibilities for this story. Is it this? Or that? Here or there? There’s so much to consider.

This photo of me feels like the perfect image for this stage in the process and I’m posting it here as a reminder to myself: infinite possibilities are a gift.

Rustler Gulch Trail, July 26, 2018.

May I continue enjoying the creative journey as much as I did that wonderful hike. May I continue embracing the infinite landscape of my creative mind.

Hoping to burst into bloom

Centennial Cone Park hike. July 10, 2019.

I hope you will go out and let stories happen to you, and that you will work them, water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom,
till you yourself burst into bloom.
~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes

I’ve mentioned before that I’m usually a one-project-at-a-time kinda writer. It seems my brain and creative juices struggle when I switch focus. BUT. I think it’s a good skill to cultivate, juggling projects, so I bought myself a brand new notebook for a brand new middle-grade novel idea I’d like to noodle on while working on my work-for-hire nonfiction project. If you hear the sound of shrieking gears, that’ll be my brain right before I burst into bloom.

Fungal in the picture book jungle

I’m trying to add layers of text to my nonfiction picture book and am feeling a bit overwhelmed by the gap between my vision for this project and the reality of what it looks like thus far. In my mind, this project is pure AWESOME. However, the manuscript currently feels more like a collection of fits and starts.

So I’m posting this magic mushroom as a reminder of how intricate details come together to create a whole. One gorgeous layer at a time.

Bring on the colorful fun!

Revising a manuscript can be overwhelming, especially when your agent sends two pages of notes. I’m hugely grateful for her insights and feedback, but there are moments when I panic and think it’s gonna be impossible to bring coherency to this messy draft. That’s where the colorful fun comes into play.

Highlighters + sticky notes + bound manuscript = me forging ahead.

I’m holding tight to my color-coded revision process because it keeps me organized, but also because using different colors bring me happiness. Novel-writing should include joy and happiness as much as possible. And because coffee and peanut butter rice cakes also bring joy and happiness, they are equally mandatory to my process.

I will bring order to this messed-up draft. You heard it here first.

Sunday Confessional: ten years later and I still don’t know

I’m revising a young adult novel I fast-drafted in 2009. Since that time I’ve, in a very on-again-off-again manner, written several drafts. I’ve known the protagonist’s emotional arc pretty much all along. The action plot has come more slowly, but I’ve also had a pretty good grasp of that for quite some time.

My struggle is with the climactic scene. I’ve written several versions and like each of them. Today as I wallowed in confusion and indecision, I decided maybe the best solution would be to make this manuscript a Choose Your Adventure story. That way, the reader’s choices would dictate how it all plays out and I’d be off the hook.

It’s either that or I flip a coin.

Emulating Marcel

As I work this afternoon to get ready for my NaNo adventure next month, I’m trying hard to be like Marcel. Not so much by waggling my big pink ears or biting my toenails (although I would welcome that kind of flexibility), but in maintaining my focus. When Marcel’s in grooming mode, that’s all that matters. Don’t even think about interrupting his session.

Um, guess I should get back to my prep work.

In which I make like a guitar string

Enthusiasm is everything. It must be taut and vibrating like a guitar string.
~ Pele

Today as I continue exploring a new story idea, filling pages in a new notebook, I’m filled with excitement and anticipation. There’s nothing but pure potential at this point. I haven’t yet taken any wrong turns or gotten bogged down in the swampy middle of the novel. It’s just me and a 12-year-old boy finding our way.

Enthusiasm is running high.

Revision tip: bind that manuscript

As I wait to hear back from my agent on the middle-grade manuscript I sent her way, I want to document a new approach in my revision process. For the first time ever in the history of me writing books, I paid to have a manuscript bound. Here it is:

I was inspired by this tweet from author-extraordinaire Laurel Snyder:

Intrigued by the idea of revising in that tidy format, I asked Laurel if she printed single or double-sided and she responded that she did single sides because then she could write on the backs of pages. She also said she requested extra blank pages bound in the back for notes. Genius!

Before having my manuscript printed I switched it from the manuscript default (Times New Roman 12-point) to Garamond 12-point. I did that so my brain would see and read the pages differently. It came out to about 200 pages and cost me $22.

I applied my usual revision approach of reading the entire manuscript in one sitting. I always set the goal of reading without revising or making notes, but this time around was not at all successful. I tweaked sentences here and there early on and then forced myself to merely mark troublesome passages with CLUNKY. I made other general notes in the margins and then after finishing the manuscript wrote out big-picture thoughts/questions on a blank page in back.

Verdict? I loved working with a bound manuscript. All my notes and thoughts were in one place. I transferred my edits to my Word doc that was also color-coded with revision threads (green for anything dealing with X and yellow for Y and blue for Z and fuschia for wording still in need of tweaking). It was so easy to follow a plot/characterization thread from beginning to end.

I can’t wait to use this process again.