August 28, 2009

All Who Do Brain Work

"Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead." Louisa May Alcott
I just watched the Hallmark adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's The Inheritance and came across an article at The Writing Spirit blog.
To read about writing methods of classic authors in their time (this article was written only five years after Alcott's passing and just at the invention of the typewriter) is amazing, and to connect with those methods is pretty cool. Little Women was the first "big book" I ever read. I still remember sitting on my bedroom floor in front of my open closet, running my hands over the green linen cover, feeling its weight, then opening it up and plunging in, quickly carried away to a different time and place in the language. Love it when that happens. You know those kids whose mothers yell, "Get outside and enjoy the summer!" I was that kid, because I was inside, lying on my back on the floor, my knees up and bent over the bed, my ankles crossed on top of my quilt, reading about Jo and Laurie and another world I wanted to be a part of.
The Writing Method of Louisa May Alcott
(by Dr. H. Erichsen, “Methods of Writers,” The Writer Magazine, June 1893)
Louisa_May_Alcott_headshot The method of Louisa May Alcott was a very simple one. She never had a study; and an old atlas on her knee was all the desk she cared for. Any pen, any paper, any ink, and any quiet place contented her.
Years ago, when necessity drove her hard, she used to sit for fourteen hours at her work, doing about thirty pages a day, and scarcely tasting food until her daily task was done. She never copied. When the idea was in her head, it flowed into words faster than she could write them down, and she seldom altered a line. She had the wonderful power of carrying a dozen plots for months in her mind, thinking them over whenever she was in the mood, to be developed at the proper time. Sometimes she carried a plan thus for years.
Often, in the dead of the night, she lay awake and planned whole chapters, word for word, and when daylight came she had only to write them down. She never composed in the evening. She maintained that work in the early hours gives morning freshness to both brain and pen, and that rest at night is a necessity for all who do brain work.
She never used stimulants of any kind. She ate sparingly when writing, and only the simplest food, holding that one cannot preach temperance if one does not practice it. Miss Alcott affirmed that the quality of an author’s work depends much on his habits, and that sane, wholesome, happy, and wise books must come from clean lives, well-balanced minds, spiritual insight, and a desire to do good.
Very few of the stories of the author of “Little Women” were written in Concord, her home. This peaceful, pleasant place, the fields of which are classic ground, utterly lacked inspiration for Miss Alcott. She called it “this dull town,” and when she had a story to write she went to Boston, where she shut herself up in a room, and emerged only when she could show a completed work.
What are your writing methods?
  • Do you prefer writing in the sunshine, or by artificial light?
  • Do you use a lead pencil or a fountain pen?
  • Do you create a skeleton first?
  • Do you use any stimulants to spur the creative process?
  • Do you compose the sentences and stories to completion in your mind before committing them to paper, or let your ideas flow out as they may?

August 25, 2009

We Hate Long Goodbyes... Don't We?

"I have made this letter longer than usual, because I lack the time to make it short." Blaise Pascal

I don't know who Blaise is, but I understand completely. Carla brought over three books and a file of articles before I started the revision. This book (pictured) was the most helpful by far.
Several things I learned:
Never use two words, when one will do (ie. horrible, slithering vs. writhing).
NO: There was a pathway lined with petunias.
YES:Petunias lined the pathway.
Don't over-explain. Readers are smart. This alone made it so much easier to chop 30 pages off the ending.
Avoid word repetition. Stood up, turned around, shouted out, nodded his head... stood, turned, shouted, nodded.
Start mid-scene. Just get right in there.
List all characters and subplots. Those that are not a vital link to the main plot get cut. Bye-bye.
Endings: Know when to shut up. Be bold, be brief, be gone. This is taking practice. I like the characters. I didn't want to leave them just yet! But I must. Maybe that is the real reason I wrote sequels.
And, after all these rules and guidelines, it was so great to also learn that none of this should sacrifice the voice of the storyteller, the emotion, or imagery. We want to love what we read, as well as write.
I am learning so much and it's all good. The second book, The Inn, should be a much cleaner manuscript when I submit it. Thank you James Scott Bell and the other authors who share their wisdom.

I have said what I have to say. Shutting up.

August 21, 2009

Editing My Heart Out

"Omit needless words. Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts."

William Strunk, Jr. Elements of Style

I use a lot of words. I am a wordy writer. When I re-read my first manuscript the first time, I felt like I was doing aerobics...

She dropped her chin, looking up over her glasses, stood up, raising an eyebrow and pointing a finger. "How dare you."

He whirled around and reached for the doorknob, paused and took a deep breath, tapping his fingers on his thigh and counting to ten. Before he left, he turned slowly, clenching his jaw. "How dare you." He spun and jerked the door open, breathing his fury away as he strode out of the room and down the stairs.

Sheesh. That is not from any of the books (just made it up right here and now), and may be a little exaggerated (and corny), but not by much. Pretty wordy, huh? So I have been learning to do this...

The chair scraped as she stood, glaring over her glasses. "How dare you."

His anger struggled to take over as he reached for the doorknob. He paused, then turned back slowly, clenching his jaw. "How dare you." The door shuddered as he jerked it open. He couldn't leave fast enough.

I cut out 29 words. And the scene moved much more quickly, as it would in real time.

My friend, Carla, made an eye-opening point, a revelation, just before I began the third edit and still needed to lose pages. She calculated that if I got rid of 10 words per page, I could shear about ten pages off the novel. I had already lost 38. 10 words per page sounded far less daunting than 50 pages. Keeping her simple formula in mind, I lost 21 more pages.

I still like the last sentence of the first example better, but when you are asked to shorten a novel by 50-80 pages, it quickly becomes clear what stays and what goes. Then, maybe there will be room to go back and add that really good but wordy descriptive later.

And my novel moves along nicely, now. Thank you. I wonder if this experience will make me a more concise writer next time. I know it will make me a better editor of the manuscripts I have already written. Maybe there will be less breathing away my fury.

Yeah, right. Not even to fury yet. I love this too much.

August 20, 2009

A Portion Of My Cover Letter

The Orchard is a fictional romance set in the Flathead Valley of Montana, an area I know through summer vacations spent there. One of my favorite but lesser known novels, Jane Austen’s Persuasion, inspired the basic plot line, but my attempt is to tell the story behind Miss Austen’s characters, and adapt it to modern life, weaving elements of the gospel throughout.
The book is a romance novel and is intended for that audience of young adult and adult women, though my husband loves it, too.
Gospel elements in the book include missionary work, trials, sacrifice and attained blessings, choices, healing blessings, love, spirit and earthly family, prayer, and the influence of the Holy Ghost.
The first half of the book is written in answer to questions I asked myself about how the characters could have gotten themselves into the places they were when Jane Austen’s novel picks up. The reader does not need to be familiar with Persuasion to understand and appreciate The Orchard, though some subtle references are made with respect and a little humor. The second half of the book takes those characters and intertwines them into Miss Austen’s plot.

After the sudden death of her mother, Alisen Embry finds comfort and purpose working the cherry orchard adjoining her family's home on Flathead Lake. When she meets Derick, a boy with dreams and spirit, she realizes his answers fill a void in her life she did not know she had. Their connection is threatened by the prejudices of her father, and just when Alisen thinks she has found everything that could make her happy, she is given choices testing her love, and loyalty.
Derick Whitney is a compulsive returned missionary with his future mapped out, and beautiful Alisen quickly seals her place in those plans, and his heart, with her endless questions and obvious desire for the truth. But when his plans are ripped apart, he buries the whispers of wisdom and direction in bitterness and blame.

One letter and many decisions bring these two lost spirits to face the choices they have made, and learn that losing themselves may be the only way they find home.

Music for The Orchard

Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones
As I write, I cannot listen to music or television, humming, gameboy, or even gum-chewing. Too distracting from the movie I am watching in my head and desperately trying to describe with words. But I do listen to music when I am not writing; when I exercise, run errands, cleaning the house... I put together playlists like soundtracks, assigning a song as I hear it, for the first time, or an old song, to a particular place in the novel. It is not something I set out to do. It just happens naturally. Music is a huge part of who I am, a driving force.
Do not think I am a musician. I was once asked to stop playing the piano by the primary children as I tried to plink out a song we were learning when our piano player was a no-show. "Please, Sister Jensen, we can sing it without the piano." Hm. They were very polite.

There are three key songs I could no longer find on Playlist. My Sweet Embraceable You, by Nat King Cole; All We'd Ever Need, and Can't Take My Eyes Off You, Derick and Alisen's waltz, by Lady Antebellum.
I had written a waltz into the barn dance scene, and so it was in the back of my mind when I was finding All We'd Ever Need on Playlist. I had heard that one, and browsed around to hear Lady A's other songs. When I heard Can't Take My Eyes Off You, I couldn't believe it. It was a waltz, hard to find and SO perfect. It was the waltz they danced to in Ben's barn.
These songs are so utterly romantic, I suggest you look them up and have a listen. Here is a Lady A site with some samples. Wish I could find a feed to upload them on Playlist. Ah, well. I have the CD's if you'd like to borrow them. By the way, their number one hit, Run To You, was on the soundtrack for The Inn before it was even released, and One Day You Will is the theme song to the entire series. Yeah, I'm a fan.

August 19, 2009

Visualize It

Several weeks ago, Carla, Norma, and I decided that we would start thinking like authors. Who cared if we hadn't been published? That didn't mean we wouldn't be. We were investing time, language, thought, research, and imagination to reach that goal, weren't we? So, I read books about publishing, cleared off my desk, put a lamp on it, bought some colored pens and sticky note tabs, organized my novels, and began writing as though it was a done deal, that these stories would be read. And I prayed. It had been nine months since I had heard anything definite from my last submission, The Orchard.
Then, last Thursday, right after I got home from a birthday lunch out with my friend, Jamie, I checked my email.
There was one from Covenant Communications.
They like my book. They listed the reasons, naming my characters. They said it was too long, and I needed to cut about 80 pages, but they love it, and there were exclamation points, which I heard that a writer should be very frugal with. But the Managing Editor used TWO. As in, the manuscript is excellent! and, What a fun story!
So after I stopped jumping up and down and screaming with my daughter, I called my mom and my sister and Carla and my B (actually, I would start jumping up and down again with each phone call), and my B hurried home and we jammed on Rock Band. I pounded out Round and Round, Everlong, and a few more drums on fire songs, and Brandon was just laughing because I ROCKED and I couldn't stop smiling.
Over the last few days I have done a quick revision, and I am now deep into a second, more thorough overhaul. I have learned that I prefer writing the story in the first place, over rewriting it, but I can already see the revisions they suggested will make a stronger, tighter story.
It's just hard to cut characters I know and love, and leave the others wondering what the heck is going on. But not to worry. I will take care of it. I am an author. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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