24 January 2011

Creative Nesting

For those interested in hearing about some of my revision experiences, I present the first in a four-week series. (For those not interested, you can stop reading now. Thanks for playing.)

The week before I started revising, I found it helpful to spend some time organizing...or, as I like to call it, "creative nesting." First, I made a To-Do list for all my non-writing tasks. As you may know, I'm a huge fan of lists; they keep me calm, they focus my brain, and I get a certain thrill from crossing things off.

After the To-Do list was made and out of sight, I downloaded Scrivener (at the recommendation of many writing friends), and now that I have the hang of it, I find it indispensable. The program invites you to break up your novel into bite-sized scenes, which makes the whole process seem more manageable, in a Bird By Bird sort of way. And it allows you to keep all your research and notes (family trees, maps, photos, etc etc) on-hand, so there's no toggling between multiple applications. I have a little notebook I keep in my bag, where I scribble down revision thoughts and ideas when I'm on the go, but when I'm at home, I transcribe most of it into my project file.

Also, I love Scrivener's outline function, which boils your story down to its bare bones...it's quite list-like in its way. I used this to plot my revision schedule; looking at how many scenes I needed to revise vs. how many days I'd given myself, I started with a five-chapters-a-week mini-deadline. I later adjusted this to three chapters a week, which feels more comfortable. And so far, I've stayed on target.

For me, organization goes beyond the manuscript itself. I need to feel that my environment is neat and organized, too. So I'm engaged in the ongoing process of cleaning my house top to bottom, starting with my office. I clean and organize a different room or area every few days; there's something about the sense of everything being in its proper place that motivates me creatively. On a smaller scale, merely doing the dishes or a load of laundry or making the bed can give me the peace of mind I need to get back into my story, especially when I have a thorny scene to get through.

So...those are a few of my pre-revision rituals. What are yours? Or do you just jump in?

Next Week...The Getaway

21 January 2011

Quitters Never Win

Have I mentioned I wrote a novel while I was going through chemo? During each of my four treatment cycles, I'd have one good week, and I'd write as if my life depended on it. Because it did. Really, keeping my mind active and focused on creative pursuits helped me get through the not-so-good days, and there were more than a few of those. When I was feeling particularly crappy, I'd just remind myself, "Your story is waiting. And another good week is coming."

Before I knew it, I'd finished a draft. This seems like an accomplishment in and of itself, but of course, it's just the beginning of the process. And now that my treatments are behind me, and I'm on the road to recovery, I have a revision to face without the same sense of immediacy. I have a lot of experience helping other writers with their novel revisions, but this is relatively new territory for me. For those who have been reading this blog for a while, you might remember I finished a draft and attempted a novel revision (for a completely different story) about a year and a half ago, before I got sick. At a certain point, I got stumped by a fundamental flaw in the story, and then I psyched myself out, and set the story aside.

I've realized this is my m.o.; while I consider myself a go-getter in every other part of my life, when it comes to writing longer fiction, I've been a low-down, dirty quitter. Over the past few weeks of this new year, I've looked through my old project files, and guess what I found? The beginnings of no fewer than FIVE novel first drafts. And many of them are not terrible! I think I've just lacked long-term confidence and focus. Also, I have a tendency to get discouraged just when things are getting challenging, aka interesting.

Well, NO MORE, I say. This time around, I absolutely refuse to quit. And I refuse to allow my precious creative energy to be compromised by fear or insecurity, or the unwillingness to make my own writing a priority. From now on, I'm going to do whatever it takes to keep myself motivated, and positive, and brave.

Are you with me?

12 January 2011


I always like to start the year with about ten resolutions, knowing I have about a 30% retention rate. Already, I can see a few clear winners and losers, and at least one I shouldn't have attempted in the first place. Not necessarily in this order:

1. Revise at least one of my novels and send it to my agent. Slowly, carefully, sometimes painfully, I'm making this happen. This weekend, I'm going away on a mini writing retreat with a good friend of mine, and hope to make some serious revision headway. More on my progress (and my revision process in general) next week.

2. Exercise every day. This one's easy; per my physical therapist, I HAVE to do a series of specific exercises every day, to keep my arm and shoulder limber. Beyond that, I actually enjoy the treadmill; it's one of those places, like the shower, where I let my mind go. That's when the best ideas happen. Recently, I had a client who needed some ideas for a new title for her novel. I hopped on the treadmill and had 4 or 5 ready to go. (Mind you, they weren't GREAT titles, but they were a good jumping-off point for further brainstorming.)

3. Be up by 8:30 each morning and in bed by 11pm each night. This is a tall order. So far, I'm mastering the "in bed by 11pm" part pretty well. Not so much for the "up by 8:30" part. Maybe I'm just not meant to be an early bird; sometimes, we just have to accept who we are (and aren't).

4. Drink more water and less coffee. I don't know what I was thinking. Have I even met me? I can't even quit the decaf.

5. Travel. Fact: I have not been on a vacation longer than a long weekend since the summer of 2000. That includes my honeymoon. It's clear I really need to get away more than I usually do, and experience some new points of view. Where should I go this year? Any ideas?

6. Eat more healthily and locally. Farmers markets. Thoughtful shopping lists. Local dairy with delivery service. More grains and legumes and fruits and vegetables, less sugar and fried food, no red meat or fast food or HFCS. I can do this. And now that my arm is feeling a little more mobile, I actually feel like cooking again. Last weekend, I cleaned and re-organized my pantry, which sounds pretty mundane, but was an extraordinarily satisfying experience. It was also when I came across the petrified gummy bear pictured above. Bye-bye, little ursine sugar-blob!

7. Entertain more often. If you know me, you know I love a party. And yet, we rarely entertain at our house. Why is this, when there is so much in life to celebrate?

8. Live more simply and frugally. An ugly secret: we maintain a collection of disorganized, unused stuff in our basement and on our second-floor landing. Some of it is still in boxes from when we moved in! Finally, I think we're ready to face our surplus, and let go of most of it. I can't wait to turn those over-stuffed areas into usable space. And I'm looking forward to living a more unencumbered life.

9. Read more, watch less TV. This may seem like a no-brainer, but really, there's just SO MUCH brilliant storytelling on television. Don't believe me? Watch the last season of Dexter, or Men of a Certain Age, or Damages, or Nurse Jackie, or Friday Night Lights, or Mad Men. And then there are my own personal faves, the true crime/forensics shows, like Most Evil and City Confidential and Forensic Files and Cold Blood, or the recent stunner The Will: Family Secrets Revealed. See what I mean? It's a wonder I get anything done! Thankfully, I bought myself a nice, big, juicy stack of books for Christmas, and I maintain a running list of "must-read" titles — which is now a good deal longer, thanks to this week's ALA Youth Media Awards announcements. But having great books on-hand is only half the battle. The other half is gifting myself with time for pleasure reading. In general, I'm going to try to be more generous with myself this year.

10. Keep writing. Believe me, I'm workin' on it.

Have you made any resolutions this year? How are you doing with them so far?

04 January 2011

Onward and Upward

Happy New Year, everyone. I don't know about you, but I was ready to put 2010 in a drawer as of...oh, probably last New Year's.

Now more than ever, I'm in a very "onward" sort of mood. I have lots to do and lots to look forward to this year, and I can't wait to get to it all! I've been organizing and list-making, doing everything I can to give myself the peace of mind I need to make it all happen. I'll post a list of my "resolutions" next week, and then I'll take you behind the scenes and show you some of my favorite organizational tools. This month, I have a whopper of a novel to revise; I'll be talking about that process, too.

In the meantime, I thought I'd let you know that I'll be back to work at Bluebird Works as of February 1. If you think you need some editorial assistance, take a look at my website and drop me a line. I'm eager to help, and I have plenty of creative energy to spare!

K : )