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Worth A Second Look

RevisingI wrote a story a couple of years ago, and I just fell in love with my main character. He’s a sharp-tongued charmer, fluent in sarcasm and dry wit. He’s a flawed liar with a crooked grin. I loved him.

After a quick first draft and a couple more revisions for polish, I sent him off to a publisher for consideration. He sent me a very polite rejection letter. I tweaked a little more and asked an editor friend for an opinion. More rejection.

I took my work home and placed it on a shelf where it could stew or cure or whatever manuscripts might do when ignored by their creator. I got busy on a couple of other projects that consumed my time.

Then last week something curious happened. I started to get a few projects ready to enter in a writing contest, and my lonely little manuscript began to wave at me, begging to enter the contest, too. It was a fine idea.

I pulled the notebook out and decided to re-read the first ten pages—the only ones that really mattered for the contest. Even if other parts of the story were weak, the first chapter was terrific. I was sure of it.

Until I read it.

What was I thinking? This work in progress was still in its awkward teen years. No wonder it flailed so helplessly in the big world—it wasn’t ready to leave the nest. I decided that ten pages wasn’t too much to iron out for contest. I got to work.

I opened my document. I opened the hard copy with all my margin notes. I read the first chapter—it wasn’t good.

The mood was wrong. My main character was mean, not quirky. His flaws weren’t cute—they were just flaws. I realized that all of my main character’s sardonic wit and charm was in my head, and not on the page.

I resisted the urge to hit the delete key on my laptop. Instead, I reached for my favorite blue ink pen and a thick stack of notebook paper and curled up on my bed with my lap desk. I returned to the place where I first fell in love with the idea of writing down my stories. I let my fingers form the words with imperfect spacing and full, indigo loops. I poured my soul onto the page and connected with my character in a very physical act.

I wrote about a man who had pain that developed from a broken past. He was still scruffy and misfit, but now he had a family and a sense of humor. His methods weren’t efficient and his motives weren’t pure, but he had a mission, and so did I.

In just a few hours, chapter one was revised. My hero was reborn. I can proudly say that he is well on his way to battling his demons and winning the fair maiden. Oh, she’ll teach him a lesson first, the same lesson that a second look taught me. I had to see him with honest eyes—both his good and bad traits—before I could find the man worth loving.

Kimberly Black


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Filed under characters, Contests, description, editors, publishing, rewriting, Writing

Finding Time To Write

Are you struggling to meet your writing goals?  Just can’t seem to find the time to put your thoughts on paper?  Is life interfering with your desire to write the next   breakout best-seller?  What should you do?

Every writer is different.  What works for one won’t necessarily work for another.  If you are a planner, perhaps what works for me will work for you.  Here’s how I do it.

I schedule my writing time; every bit of it.  I schedule my time throughout the week and on weekends.  I actually write down how many hours I plan to write each day and what I want to accomplish.  When I am actually working on a project, I strive for 30-40 hours per week writing.  That’s in addition to the 50 hours per week at my regular job. If that sounds like a lot, it is.  How do I do it?  I plan.  I make a plan and I stick to it.

How do I accomplish that?  First, I have a very supportive wife.  She knows how important my writing is to me and she wants me to be successful as a writer.  Talk to your family and help them understand the importance writing has in your life.  Ask for their support.  Make sure they know your proposed writing schedule and are on board with it.  That works for me because my wife knows my schedule.  She knows when I will be writing and when I will be available to do other things around the house.  Family support is so important to writers.

What about life’s little interruptions?  How do I overcome unanticipated schedule changes?  By being flexible in my planning and revising my writing schedule as I go, much the same as how I revise my writing after the first draft is complete.  On the occasions when my day job calls for me to be at work at 8:00 AM instead of 6:00 AM, I get up at the same time and try to be at my computer by 5:15 AM and write until 7:30 AM.  That makes up for the two hours I know I will lose at the end of the day by going to work later than usual.  My kids live out of town.  When my wife and I visit them, I take my laptop and write while I am there.  How do I do that and still find time to spend with my kids?  One way is that I am an early riser.  I get up long before anyone else in my family.  I take advantage of that and I write until everyone else gets up.  I sometimes combine that with staying up and writing after everyone else goes to bed.  Either way, I always try to accomplish something and advance the project I am working on.  Again, I must emphasize the support of my family.  My kids also support my writing and know how important it is to me.  As you establish the importance of your writing to those around you, and adopt the writer’s lifestyle, finding time to write will become the norm rather than the exception.

What about research time versus actual writing time?  Research doesn’t count as actual writing time, but it still has to be done.  How do you reconcile that?  The way I do it is by scheduling my research time just the same as I do my writing time.  Remember. My written schedule includes what I want to accomplish as well as the actual time scheduled.  Sometimes that goal is primarily research rather than prose.

Even though I am a meticulous planner, I have discovered something that runs contrary to the way I plan that has turned out to be a very pleasant surprise.  If you are a planner, rather than an organic writer, the basic plot outline is a great place to start.  However, if your plot starts to go elsewhere as you write, let it!  You might be pleasantly surprised at the results.  I was!

Here are some other tips to help you be a more productive writer.  Friend of PPW, Candace Havens (www.candacehavens.com) presented a session at the 2012 Frontiers in Writing Conference entitled Fast Draft.  The end result is to have a 280 page first draft in 14 days.  Sound like a lot?  It is.  How do you do it?  You plan it out.  Here are some of the highlights:

First, do all research, plot outlining, scene sketching, etc. ahead of time.  Those activities are not part of the 14-day Fast Draft process.

  • Next, get your family members on board.  For 14 days, this will be your primary focus.
  • Next, find an accountability partner.  You need someone who will ask you every day if you met your goal the previous day.  If you didn’t, they will want to know why.  To be successful, you need a partner who won’t accept excuses!
  • Set your goal for the number of pages you want to write each day.  Candace recommends a goal of 20 pages per day.  This results in a 280 page first draft in 14 days.
  • One important point is that there is absolutely no self-editing allowed during the Fast Draft process.  Simply put words on the page.  Remember, your goal is a first draft, not a finished product.  Major revisions will be required.

Once you have completed your Fast Draft, the revision process works just the same as the original process.  Get your family on board, find an accountability partner, and set a goal for the number of pages you want to revise each day.

Another thing to remember is that you pick the number of pages for your daily goal.  Be realistic.  If you know yourself well enough to know that 20 pages is too much for you, pick a realistic number, whether it is five, 10 or 13 pages.

One last thing to beware of; writing related tasks can interfere with your writing time if you let them.  What do I mean by writing related tasks? I’m talking about blogging, or social media related to your writing.  If you blog as a way to promote your work or if you use Twitter or Facebook to promote your work, plan and schedule that time separately from your writing.  Otherwise, there is a danger that you will discover you are spending valuable writing time doing something other than writing!

The bottom line is that how you write is just as unique as what you write.  What I’ve covered here works for me because I’m very structured and organized.  My method is not for everyone.  Find what works for you, commit to it and write!  You’ll be glad you did!

Matt Sherley

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Three Common Mistakes in Writing

Improper word usage can be a major pitfall to any writer.  Here is a lest of a few of the most common errors.

(1)  farther vs. further.  Both are comparative degrees of “far.”  In today’s usage, farther is used to indicate physical distance; further for figurative distance.  Examples: The exit is nine miles farther down the road.  And furthermore, I don’t want to hear anything else about Google plus.

(2)  fewer vs. less.  Fewer refers to number, and less is the word for degree or quantity. A common misuse of these terms is often found at the checkout sign that states “this line for 10 items or less,” (which should say “10 items or fewer”).

(3)  lie vs. lay.  The best way to remember this is lie is to recline, whereas, lay is to place.

NOTE:  The above information from GMAU (Garner’s Modern American Usage) by Bryan Garner, Oxford University Press, $45

Harry Haines

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