Thursday, December 29, 2011

Spotting the Flaws

I'm currently reading a novel by a favorite author (who shall remain nameless for reasons that will become apparent). Though I'm near the end of the book and have decided to finish it, I've been quite disappointed, overall. Things like awkward pacing, poor dialogue, overuse of adverbs (I counted five in one small paragraph!) have left me scratching my head. This is the author's sixth novel, so the quite-obvious flaws in it make me wonder if she was in a hurry to complete a deadline.

An example of something that (I thought) needed to be re-edited: In an attempt to create suspense, the author withheld key information from the reader for about a hundred pages, so that when the details did come to light, it felt like the author re-wrote history. Either that, or the author was purposely manipulating the reader to believe one thing, while an entirely different thing was actually true. Sometimes that technique works -- but in this case, for me, it did not.

Still, even through my disappointment of these "weak spots," I'm able to gain some value in them. Reading any work through a writer's eye can always be a positive experience. Being able to spot weaknesses actually makes me a better writer. Because hopefully, by recognizing flaws in someone else's work, I can learn to spot the weaknesses in my own.

In fact, reading is such a vital learning experience that, whenever I'm consumed with grading freshman essays and don't have the creative energy to write, I always make time to READ. Because as much as I learn from well-written work (I like to study the craft, to see how they "do it"), I can also learn from poorly-written work (what not to do, which is equally important to know).

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Chipping Away

So, I was editing a scene yesterday and my gut told me it wasn't quite "there" yet. But I was feeling lazy and ignored the voice and kept reading.

But it bothered me enough today to take a second look. So, I decided to spend time working on two pages that just They needed time and care and tweaking. I didn't change anything in a major way--in fact, I was simply tightening phrases or removing words that didn't belong. Nothing earth-shattering. But now that I read over those pages again, things are smoother, better.

Chipping away at your novel can be tedious, even pain-staking. But if you keep listening to your gut, that inner editor, all that chipping can result in a better piece of work. It's worth it!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Writing Meets Art

My 90-year-old grandmother is an artist (oil painter) and we often discuss the similarities between art and writing: hard work, grueling hours, people misunderstanding us, no guarantee of payment/publication -- as well as the benefits: entering another world of our creation, feeling free while doing so, both abandoning ourselves and finding ourselves through our work, etc.

Well, this Christmas, her art met my writing as she painted me this BEAUTIFUL rendition of a pub that's in one of my novels. Just, wow. What a treasure.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Be a Fan of Your Own Work

So, I'm sitting here editing a scene in my novel (yes, I'm "working" on Christmas break!), and I've just read through a scene I enjoyed. Like, really enjoyed. So much so that I nearly forgot I was the one writing it.

And it occurred to me that I would buy a book like this if I saw it on the shelf.

That's not as arrogant as it sounds--it just means that I've succeeded, at least in that scene, in meeting one of my writing goals: enjoying something I've written as a reader. That's a great litmus test for whether a scene is "working" or not. Take off your writing hat and put on your reader hat to see if a scene passes muster.

I think it's important that writers become fans of their own work. That they occasionally have the thought, "Hey - I would actually pay money to read that!"

Also, becoming a fan of a specific scene tells you whether you're on the right track. If you get so absorbed in the characters and the story that you "forget" to edit? Well, that's a pretty good sign that you're doing it right.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Querying Statistics

I found a really interesting blog entry (from writer Adam Heine) on query statistics. I love it when authors are kind enough (and bold enough) to share their real-life stats like this....

EDIT -- I've been reading several pages of Adam's blog, and enjoyed it so much that I've added it to my right-hand blog list! The blog is called "Author's Echo." Some really great stuff there.....

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Permission to Use a Thesaurus

I'm currently editing one of my novels, and I'm being picky, picky, picky with word choice. As someone once wisely said: "A word must earn its right to live on the page."

I couldn't agree more.

To that end, I occasionally use a thesaurus. And I still can't seem to shake the idea that it's a "crutch" that's frowned upon by good writers who don't "need" it. But I know that's not true. A thesaurus serves a specific purpose -- it spotlights a word that was already there, somewhere, floating around in my brain anyway. It's a tool, a device, and I think writers should use it boldly and proudly.

In fact, this past semester, I gave my students "permission" to use a thesaurus when they write. And half the class seemed grateful--as though perhaps they, too, had felt the same bit of ridiculous shame as I, when using one. Now sure, if a writer has to rely on a thesaurus for every other word, I do think it becomes a crutch. And, even more importantly, I think it squashes a writer's natural voice. Sometimes, a writer's initial instinct, his own personal wording, is the best wording of all. Because it is natural.

I do find myself using a thesaurus for those occasions where I'm repeating descriptions in a passage. When I need a new way to describe things like: "he smiled" or "she shrugged" or "she sipped her tea." If I'm constantly describing actions and using the same words, it becomes much too repetitive. That's where a thesaurus comes in handy.

Anyway, here, today, for anyone reading this entry, I hereby give you permission to use a thesaurus--proudly, and guilt-free. ;-)

Friday, December 16, 2011

"Date a Girl Who Reads"

Totally brilliant blog post by Rosemarie Urquico: Click here

Love this. Love, love, love.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


First, a confession: I watch The Young and the Restless. I know, I know. It's cheesy/campy, melodramatic. But I've watched it since college, and it's a guilty pleasure I just can't quit.

Anyway--yesterday's episode was....unusual. And not in a good way. The writers tried to get all creative and have an entire episode written BACKWARD. Like, every scene was in reverse of the bigger picture. It started out with something shocking (Nikki marrying Deacon Sharpe!), and then kept reverting back - 20 minutes earlier....40 minutes earlier....4 hours show, at the very end, what led up to that event.

On the surface, yes, it does seem creative. I understand the motive--to create suspense, interest. But as a viewer, I've always hated "backward" episodes. Seinfeld did it once, and even my favorite show, Thirtysomething (which was better written than any "backward" episodes I've ever seen).

Here's my beef with this kind of episode. It forces the viewer to work too hard. Now, don't get me wrong--I love to watch or read something that makes me think, makes me ponder. But watching an episode backward is like trying to fit in missing puzzle pieces that are being kept from us. We don't have all the information we need to form conclusions. And all that does is frustrate me.

I realize this is a personal choice, my loathing of backward episodes/stories. And some writers can clearly handle them better than others (again, the Thirtysomething episode was more than tolerable, though I still didn't enjoy it very much).

Maybe it's just a pet peeve I have, but I think stories should generally be told in the order in which events occurred. I mean, we don't live life backward, do we? So, it just feels unnatural to watch a story unfold that way. *shrug*


Well, I turned in my 1,300 (<--or thereabouts) grades yesterday and attended graduation in my cap and gown. Then I promptly slept 9 1/2 hours, lol. That's what grading for 2 weeks straight can do to a body, I guess.

So--Christmas Break is officially here! Which means something else for the writer in me. I get more time to WRITE! I have a month--in between the wrapping, baking, socializing, cleaning, Christmas-ing--to work on my book. And that thrills me to no end. I've missed it!

Isn't it interesting, how some people (non-writers, of course) would look at me and think I'm strange, for essentially using a break from work in order

But writing isn't work. Well, not the kind I dread or the kind that makes me cringe. It's the kind that fills me up with something no other job I've had does. I can't put my finger on it, really, why writing means so much to me, why I use precious breaks in my "real" job to toil on it.

Maybe it's better left a mystery. That makes it more fun. ;-)