Revision: A New Year, A NewLook

DSC06595I finally decided on a new theme. I went with Splendio. I’m still tweaking things, but I hope you find this easier to read and enjoy the new look.

Anyone else out there using Splendio have any tips or tricks to make this site look even better?

What do you think? Do you like the new look, or should I keep hunting the elusive perfect theme for this blog?

I look forward to your comments.

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Revision: The Plan and then What Really Happened

Heron in the reflection of Mt. Rainier

Reflection

Today’s revision was inspired by two things. One, last weekend at writers meet-up we were each challenged to come up with a goal to accomplish during the two weeks before our next meet-up. I announced to the group that I would have a re-write of my first chapter done. This felt like a reasonable goal as I had already presented the first page to my critique group. Two, I read a chapter in The Road to Somewhere (second edition) on reflection that inspired me to read through my first chapter and write a reflection piece.

The plan–To read through the first chapter of my novel and journal on some of these prompts:

Why did I want to write this piece in the first place? Where did it come from?

Has the original idea Changed? In what ways?

What problems have occurred in writing it? How have I resolved them? What problems remain?

What really happened–I forced myself to read through the whole chapter which was only nine pages but took a while because I couldn’t stop myself from making changes as I went. I became overwhelmed by the issues I had with it, but after some deep breathing went back and cut large chunks that didn’t move the story along and weren’t insight into the character’s motivations. I made sure to paste these chunks into a file of removed sections in case I want them later. Then I went back and rewrote page two and three of the chapter.

While rewriting, I wanted to revisit the idea of starting with chapter two, so I jumped ahead. I decided my original starting point is the correct place to start the story, but started editing the second chapter until my brain hurt. So, as with most of my writing, reflection and revision are non-linear processes. A goal of rewriting the first chapter before next meet-up may be more difficult than expected, but a good goal none the less.

Revision: Ask for Help and Listen

Gator McBumpypants offers to help Herman

When you ask for help, you have to listen.

Today I finished the second book in the Gator McBumpypants picture book series, Gator McBumpypants in Herman Learns to Fly. I thought it would come together more quickly and easily than the first book since I was ready for the formatting, but it ended up being about equally difficult because I was much more critical. Once I had the pdf ready to send off to createspace, I stopped myself: Since I was too impatient to step back for the time it would take to come at it with fresh eyes, I sent it off to two people I knew would give me the honest feedback I needed, a writer (who my writing group lovingly calls the comma police) and an artist (who sees the shapes in the empty space).

I admit I wasn’t completely surprised when I was told that the word angries isn’t a word. I like to make up words or use words in unexpected ways and we had already discussed it in writing group. I was a little surprised that it was the Artist who told me it stopped the flow of the writing and needed to be changed. The same artist who made an eight foot portrait of me called “Maria fights the Robot Spiders” (an obvious representation of my inner two-headed boob dinosaur), told me I needed to stay within the norms of word usage. So, after being only so slightly disappointed, I listened.

Then the feedback from The Writer: I believe I’ve mentioned I am the luckiest girl in the world. I called her worried that she plainly didn’t like it and didn’t want to tell me. No, she was coming up with wonderful changes for every other page by paragraph and sentence. One would think I might be disappointed by my imperfections, but I’m not: I’m  excited to know someone as mindful of good writing as I am that I can trust to find my flaws and be honest with me.

That is the main issue of wanting to share your work with the world; you have to be willing to ask for feedback AND listen to it, if you want to make your best work.

Revision: Overused Words

Whole story word cloudAn important aspect of revision is the hunt for overused words. One good way to do that is to use the “Find” option in your word processor: type the culprit in the find field and see how many times you’ve used it and where it is located. Each writer has different words they tend to gravitate toward. Creating a personal overused word list will become very helpful. I know that I overuse just which I can usually just find and remove. There are many lists of overused words on the internet to help you get started. Here’s an example:

From Claire Fallon’s article in the Huffington Post:

Here are 12 words that have been so overused they really don’t mean anything anymore:

  • literally: Originally meant “in a literal or strict sense,” but is used as a more general intensifier for things that are not strictly true. Because of this, “in a figurative sense,” the exact opposite of the original meaning, has now been added to the dictionary as a definition for literally.
  • unique: Originally meant “unlike anything else,” but is used to mean “different, to some degree, from the standard or the norm.”
  • awesome: Originally meant “causing feelings of fear or wonder,” but is used as a general, positive descriptor like “great” or “cool.”
  • amazing: Originally meant “causing overwhelming surprise or astonishment,” but is used as a general, positive descriptor like “great” or “cool.”
  • totally: Originally meant “completely, in every part,” but is now used as a general intensifier, much like “really.”
  • basically: Originally meant “essentially” or “fundamentally,” but is now used as general verbal filler.
  • incredible: Originally meant “impossible to believe,” but is now used as a general, positive descriptor like “great” or “cool.”
  • really: Originally meant “actually true,” but is now used frequently as a general intensifier.
  • very: Meaning “to a high degree,” we all just need to stop using it in every other sentence.
  • honestly: Originally meant “in an honest and genuine manner,” but is now often used as general verbal filler.
  • absolutely: Originally meant “in a complete and total manner,” but is now used as a general intensifier.
  • unbelievable: Originally meant “impossible to believe,” but is now used as a general, positive descriptor.

I recently read a book that had a serious seemed problem.

“seems”
—This word weakens the sentence it is
used in. If something happens it shouldn’t “seem
to” happen it should simply happen.
                              from slcc.edu
 Thesaurus: seem
Jullianne Q Johnson said this about the word seemed: A new problem word arose, and I blame it on writing reports for a job I had working with at-risk kids. In these reports, we were not allowed to say anything like “Bob was sad,” because we didn’t know it, we were only observers. So we had to write things such as “Bob seemed sad.”  Seemed. Unless one is a lawyer or an eye witness in a court of law, seemed is a very boring word choice. My usage was under 100 times, but I axed quite a bit of them for being too uninteresting to live. If it wasn’t for my word cloud, I wouldn’t have known “seemed” was a problem.
She recommends using a word cloud to find overused words. She puts her whole manuscript into  Word it Out. I decided to try it with the first ten pages of my middle grade novel. Word cloud for first ten pages of My Monster is Better than Your MonsterThat was fun. Hitting the Random Settings button changed the colors and font and the Redraw button changed the arrangement. It looks about right. I’ll head back to my manuscript and “find” looked and like to make sure they aren’t overused.

Revision: Adding Videos to Your Blog

You can see why I put this under the revision topic, I’m revising my post of Gator McBumpypants’ first movie. Why didn’t I think of this yesterday? So, how did I do it? It was much easier than I thought.

When I clicked on Add Media above my draft’s text box, like I usually do to add pictures, I looked around and in the column on the left I clicked on Insert from URL. In a new tab, I went to the Youtube page for Gator’s video and copied the URL. When I pasted it into the box, TADA!, the video is now playable on my blog. So fun.

Now that Gator McBumpypants and his friend Herman have a youtube page, they wanted to find some fun videos to share. First they subscribed to other children’s books about alligators. Hear are a couple fun book videos:

I tried to change the video sizes so they were about half as big in this post, but assigning height and width in the html didn’t work (I turned off mobile in theme settings as per instructions) Any one know how to change the video size?

This morning I had an idea for other content to add to Gator and Herman’s YouTube page: Alligator crafts! First I thought of origami, but to Herman’s happy surprise, the Pterodactyl origami video was WAY cooler.

The best video for alligator crafts (Gator forgives the artist for saying he drew a crocodile) so far was this one:

One thing I have yet to figure out is how to get the videos I’m following to come up in the right hand column of my video. Does anyone have any advice? I’ve made a favorite videos playlist, I’ve picked out kids book channels to follow, but none of these things are showing up when I play my video. If you’d like to see Gator McBumpypants and friends favorite videos playlist, it is a tab on their YouTube channel here. I’ll keep working on this and update when I figure it out.

While I was searching for fun Pterodactyl kids books, I happened upon this great video and learned something I think I don’t want to know– Pterodactyls Aren’t Dinosaurs!

Of course, I had to immediately do some research and if you wanna listen to Science then hears a link

However, if you wanna keep believin’ hears some info here

I’m not facing facts yet, and I’m not ready to share this with Gator and Herman, so sadly the great video did not get in their favorites, yet.

Another thought on revision– Learn from my mistake. Make sure to pay attention to current events before launching your marketing campaign. Planning my big push the same week as the Ferguson decision, could have been avoided if I was paying attention to current events. I had no idea this could be a factor, but it is what people are talking about and paying attention to (as they should). The story of a cute bumpy stuffed alligator is a bit out of place in that discussion, except for the theme of not being afraid of people different from you. Perhaps that could be part of the discussion with children. That said, when planning a marketing campaign, give yourself enough time to see what else is  happening during your time frame that could eclipse your efforts (again, as it should in my case).

Anyone have other video suggestions for Gator and Herman to add to their YouTube Favorites?

Revision: Some great tips on youtube

DSC05771

Finding a spark of motivation

Hi everyone. Last week, gnlong so kindly shared a link to a youtube video about revision, Novel Revision: Craft a Story Readers Can’t Put Down a presentation by James Scott Bell. It had a lot of good information and tips for revising a manuscript. Surprisingly, the tip I took away from the presentation was to create a cover for my novel, just for myself. To even create an imaginary blurb/ glowing review to get myself thinking of my manuscript as a finished novel. It’s time to get my mind set on the finished product, so I’ll push through to that end.

I then searched youtube for other videos on revision and found another one I liked Revising, Rewriting & Overcoming Obstacles:editing

Have any of you found youtube videos that you found helpful to your writing?

P.S. If anyone is looking for 2015 calendars, I’ve made a couple of my photography and have them available at redbubble.com

(P.P.S. I apologize for missing a couple days, I have a bad cold and today is the first day I can keep my eyes open long enough to write a coherent sentence.)

Mother Nature Wouldn’t Let Me Post: A Three-Stomached Blob Monster

fantasy TappsActually, Mother Nature is being mean! I woke up yesterday morning to a tree branch, brandished as a projectile by the wind like an arrow, through the rear windshield of my car. Shortly thereafter, the power went out and stayed out until around midnight. This morning, a huge tree branch had completely removed the rear windshield of my mate’s car and dented the hood. Really? Twice in two days? I still can’t believe it. And the wind is still howling. Looking at the news, I’m just grateful a tree didn’t fall on the house.

Needless to say, my writing routine is a little out of whack.

However, I did make a sketch of an illustration idea for my Middle Grade Fiction. I want the illustrations to look like a little boy who loves to draw made them. What do you think?

A Three-Stomached Blob Monster

A Three-Stomached Blob Monster

Revision: Exploring my characters’ motivations

A nice sunset

A nice sunset

And after a few revisions in Windows Photo Gallery

Sunset with revisions

I love playing with simple photo editing software. All of those fabulous colors were in my photo just waiting for me to draw them out–slough off a bit of brightness, delete a bit of shadow, redefine the contrast and saturate the hues. Now, to apply the same principal (drawing out the good stuff) to my manuscript.

This morning I approached my task in a new way. My goal is to make the motivations of my characters clear to my readers. I had planned to read through my manuscript and note my characters’ motivations for each major action in the margins (and I am still planning on doing that), but as I wrote my morning pages, I started exploring some of the hermit’s major motivations: Abandonment, Rejection, Betrayal, Judgement. Then I explored events in her childhood that would have led to these feelings. I quickly filled my morning pages with ideas. One of the ideas for betrayal seemed to be a better motivation for my other main character.

Looking at the origin stories of my characters’ motivations, I saw a common theme–Perception. Specifically, how incorrect perceptions both internal and external can negatively affect one’s life. At first it felt like a revelation to define this underlying theme, but really, it is no surprise. I got my M.S. in perception, be it the biopsychology (behavioral neuroscience) of visual perception and memory, but I am obviously (though somewhat subconsciously) writing what I know.

Now, I’m daydreaming about quoting my own journal articles and bringing in quotes about the physical aspects of perception and anxiety. It could be a fun tie-in for chapter titles. I’ll see where it takes me.

Today, I’m excited to be making some progress toward taming the beast named First Novel.

Anyone have revision tips? Every idea is welcome and appreciated.

Finding the Balance: Critique and Creativity

singing or bird watching
singing or bird watching

Balance critique with things you love to do.

In a way I’m lucky. I grew up in a hyper-critical environment and still chose to perform in public. However, criticism gets old and it sticks in the psyche more than praise, which, sadly, is part of human nature. To be a writer, especially in the world of anonymous online comments, we have to prepare for the worst of criticisms. I don’t have a television that works for anything but being a screen for a DVD player, but I have found, “celebrities read mean tweets” online and find it quite enlightening. I also enjoy “@ midnight” as a glimpse into critique that is hilarious.

So, how do we prepare ourselves, or at least find enough balance in our own lives to combat the constant negative responses that, for no apparent reason, go along with creative effort? We find our joy. What I mean is, balance the amount of time that you purposely spend critiquing your work and others’ with the same amount of time writing something that makes you happy, or, engaging with friends and not talking about writing, or bragging about your work if that makes you happy. An artist needs both feedback and free creation, or love becomes a job.

I am also very lucky because when I wanted a group of writers to work with, I found two great people who balance me out. Finding the right critique group is so important. Don’t let yourself get desperate to find collaborators, or think that more opinions are better. The right people are patient and understand that writing is an art, and a craft. It takes daily effort, but also time for thought. Art often comes upon a person and takes time to control. A good critique group needs people who are comfortable and trusting, but always want to push harder and learn something new. A good critique group is never complacent.

Critique, sadly is part of everything a human does. Why? Because for some reason, as entities on earth, we have the initiative to improve ourselves. There are plenty of theories and beliefs on this topic, but self-improvement is a consensus. Being part of a critique group prepares a writer in many ways for the world of criticisms to come after the work is done. Healthy critique is three fold: being open to critique, being willing to take critique, and giving useful critiques. None of this is easy, or innate. It takes time, patience, learning, trust and skill.

First – Being open to critique: This is not easy. It means you are willing to change. It means you are willing to hear that your work is not perfect, that it needs changing based on other people’s opinions. Sometimes, some of your work will never get to this step and you need to really ask yourself if you want to try something you wrote that you don’t really care about (like that exists) and see if you’re ready. If you get mean to the people in your critique group because they thought you could use a comma before “but”, you might not be ready.

Second –Willing to take critique: I have plenty of pages from my critique group that are full of copious notes, but until I am willing to change, I will repeat myself. I didn’t like learning that I had a “he, she, I” problem. That meant I wasn’t perfect and I had to research sentence structures and change! So I did, but it was not easy. I still have issues with “read it out loud, you’ll figure it out”, because other people think if I just read something out loud, I’ll figure out why my sentences are clunky, to them. They have yet to pick up on the fact that I speak that way. Eventually my voice will be its own clunky-graceful self, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have to do the work. Every critique asked for should be taken seriously and that is the whole point of being willing to take critique. If you’re not willing to listen and try to see the other point of view, even (and especially) if you think you know better, then you are not ready for a critique group.

Third – Critiquing: This is the hardest. I was quite uncomfortable with critique as a practice when my group first started and that is a good place to start. In order to critique people who are working in the same manner that you are, who spend so much time and energy putting their words together to tell stories and trying in every way they can to get their voices heard, those are the people who need as much support as criticism. Honesty is the hardest medicine to administer, but honesty is expected and wanted.

So how do you give a good critique? The answer is it takes time. No matter what you do, find something you honestly like about the writing, and start with that. Then make sure any grammatical corrections you address are based on fact, not opinion. When addressing any content issues, make sure to acknowledge that the work is not your own and any changes you recommend are your opinion offered with the best of intentions.

With all of that in mind, get your favorite activities ready, because creating a balance is the other half of the work. And remember, reading is part of the work of a writer, so unless the book you’re reading makes you lose yourself in happiness and you aren’t dissecting every other sentence, it doesn’t count.

Time Warp – recognizing flaws in the timeline

First, I want to thank Sherri Ann DeLost for inspiring me, by actually doing a storyboard. I hadn’t worried that my story timelines wouldn’t be securely matched in my mind as I wrote, until recently. One of my characters was lingering in his thoughts and being told he may have to spend some time in different behaviors than originally expected. That, in turn, would change the timeline from the perspective of the third character. Sherrie’s announcement of success with poster board reminded me that I needed to physically draw out my story’s timeline. My current work is telling a story from three perspectives and though I could wait to fix incongruities in a rewrite, it will be easier if the timeline meshes during my draft. I started my storyboard by cutting a couple pieces of butcher paper, and tacking the double layer (no marks or bleeds)to a well-lit wall. Then, I quickly reread my draft looking for the timeline, and took notes charting the story by weeks. I quickly found a flaw. The early part of my story was keeping to real events which no longer make sense in my fictional story. After reviewing the events week by week, it made a better story to reduce from fifteen weeks to thirteen weeks and change an event from week two to week six. The quick fix on the timeline, however, leads to a complete rewrite of the first point of view of the story. Luckily, with my new timeline poster on my wall, I can easily change  ‘two weeks passed’ to ‘one week and one day later’ and ‘the next week’ to ‘that weekend’ while I get my timeline to mesh. With my chart, I can now feel secure as I delve into each character’s point of view. Now, I have a tool to make notes where my new scenes fit and chart how they could interact for my next rewrite. The plot of a story exists within time. Physically plotting out a timeline early in the planning, or first draft process, can create an anchor for a writer to hold a story together as s/he reaches for larger risks. I had a roll of butcher paper, but you can use what you have ; broken down boxes;taped together scrap paper; recycle; just make it big.