Happy New Year!
It’s important for me to learn as much as I can of the craft of writing from, not only books, but from writing communities. These are a few things I have learned while writing and completing my first manuscript in 2009. I would like to share them with you.
1. Develop a plan with goals and write it down. Make sure it is realistic to your life. Be sure it’s obtainable and date it. This has helped me immensely in designing a schedule that works for me. Remember time is but a perception, it doesn’t exist. Okay so I have to be at work at 8, home by 5. I have boy scouts, school activities and laundry to do and all that takes time. But I also have to take care of me. And writing, believe it or not, keeps me sane. So my perception is this…Time is not tangible. Time is what I perceive it to be because I control what I do within those twenty-four hours that constitute a day. Though at times it feels like I don’t, I do.
2. Organize your thoughts when writing your manuscript. When I get an idea I have to rush and write it down. What I end up with is a very long outline. With this first manuscript, I just viewed it as a layered document. Okay, I remembered Shrek and his onion. I went through the first crude draft and started elaborating more, then again, then again. Each time the layers moved the story forward. Well guess what? If I continued layering the document, I would never finish. I needed to strategize. I purchased Book in a Month and used the guides in organizing the story and it helped. Though with the second manuscript I still wrote the first draft as I did the first, I also included an outline, scene cards, character description cards etc. It made going back much easier.
3. Don’t rush to send your manuscript off! I don’t know about you, but I’m the type of person that if I don’t do something while I still have the nerve to do it, I usually won’t do it. I finished my first manuscript and I revised, had a few family members look at it and revised again and said Okay, I’m done. It is ready. It wasn’t. I’m glad I only sent a handful of queries. Revision and editing requires different skills. You are no longer the writer while in this stage; you are the critic, the grammarian, the researcher etc. Creativity goes out the window because it takes more than just a great idea and creativity to get published. I’m sure you all know this already. It took my critique group to inform me that I needed work with my grammar, duh. It took my own learning and understanding of the craft for me to realize that there actually is a structure in writing fiction. Nothing is random. Now remember, you are the only one that can determine when your little angel is ready to spread its wings. When you decide, remember that it needs to be perfect. It took me over two years to write this one, why rush it?
4. Flexibility. You may not be able to change your husband, your kids, or the size of your house, but you can make changes to your manuscript. Be prepared to contemplate that very real possibility. Don’t take it to heart. It isn’t that Emily and Richard’s travels through dangerous country isn’t important; it’s just not relevant to the story as a whole. And so what if you have written such a great fighting scene, and have intensified their love story so that later on it is clear why they got married, Emily and Richard are not what the story is about. Yes, I cut a substantial part of Emily and Richard, about 5,000 words, because it just didn’t move the story forward. And so, I learned that I should not fall in love with my incomplete manuscript. It is the completed version, when I’m able to put “the end” and mean it, that I will love. Whenever I have to cut such beautifully written prose (yes, I am giving myself kudos), I save it with the hopes of resurrecting it in another of my manuscripts. It helps me sleep at night.
5. Read, Read and Read some more. Don’t only read because you enjoy it, but read to learn. Read with a writer’s eye. Look for POV switches, active verbs, tense, etc. What I have done is photocopied random pages, or pages with scenes similiar of the one I am trying to write and highlighted POV switches, character thoughts, when the author was telling and when he was showing etc. I’m a visual learner. It gave me a reference I could work with.
6. And finally, I have completed an audio recording of my manuscript and would highly recommend it. During the recording sessions, I picked up on some errors. If the sentences didn’t flow out of my mouth easily and coherently as I read them, then I made sure to go back and change it so it does. I was also able to catch words I tend to repeat. I realized that I tend to overuse sighed, smiled, bear, smirked, cried, perfect, unsure and “ing” words. It really is lazy writing, but with a manuscript of 127,000 words who can blame me? Excuses, excuses, I know. It goes back to that state of being that eludes me, perfection. And believe it or not, you know when your manuscript is iffy, at best. You can feel it deep inside that something is off, missing, just not right. Go with your gut. The recording also helped me in connecting with the characters on an emotional level. After all, why is it that reading the book is better than watching the movie? It’s that deeper connection you have with the characters that a movie can never duplicate. A good story is not just about a bunch of characters doing something thrilling and allowing us to tag along, it’s about drawing us into the characters and bonding with them. It is through their senses that we see the world and we have to care.
I would like to know what you have learned. If you have the time, please share. Thanks.