Thursday, October 6, 2011

Celebrating the Firstdraft

Last Friday was a red-letter day in my home office. I finally finished the first draft of my novel, Beneath the Surface. What a great feeling and a surprise, because, as you know, I haven't been writing this novel in sequence. All of a sudden, when I was looking for the next piece of the puzzle, I realised there weren't any more chapters to write--I was finished. Just like that!

How long have I been writing this novel? Years! Don't ask how many times the plot has changed, I lost count when the setting switched from the US to Canada. Then the back story changed from the 1600s to the 1800s. Complete re-write both times.

I've come to love this story. Of course, it's inspired by an ancestor, Eliza Ann Huff, my great-great maternal grandmother, who is descended from William the Silent of Holland c. 1533. No, Eliza wasn't hanged like fictitious Johanna Huff and they settled in Baysville, Ontario, not Tweed, where I've set the novel. Okay, the only similarity between them is the surname, but they were both pioneer women with large families and farms to keep them busy. Sometimes when I'm writing the back story, I can feel Eliza guiding me, showing me how they survived without any modern conveniences.

Celebrating the completion of the first draft didn't last long when I realised how much more work is left to do. I have folders of notes and changes to incorporate into the manuscript and I'm slowly tackling that chore. I almost wish I'd added the changes when I thought of them, but I didn't so I'm stuck crossing off each note as I find its proper place.

Then the real work will begin. I'll print out a fresh copy of the manuscript, which is already over 500 pages. I'll check the pacing and make sure each chapter contains conflict. Check to make sure each character is consistent and believable. Check both past and present time lines. I'll read dialogue separately and of course check the spelling, grammar and punctuation. Have I missed anything?

That should keep me busy for the next month or two. I guess the celebration is over for now.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Summer Reading

Thank goodness summer has finally arrived. The flowers are blooming, birds are singing and life is good again.

I love to read. On any given day of the year, you'll catch me with my nose in a book, but there's something about summer reading that gives me the ultimate reading pleasure. Maybe it's because I can sit outside in a comfortable lounge chair with a frosty glass of iced tea and occasionally glance up from my book and see the garden or the lake.

This summer I'll buy books new and used, and borrow books from friends or libraries. There will be no vampires or werewolves between the covers and definitely no winter settings. I prefer lighter themes in the summer, and of course, I'll still read biographies and self-help books.

I just finished Susanna Kearsley's The Rose Garden. By far, it's her best novel since Marianna and sales are doing well in Canada. The Great Gatsby is one of my favourite books and I usually dig it out each summer. I love F. Scott Fitzgerld's old-fashioned settings and colourful characters.

I have a pile of books awaiting my attention, but no hurry, I have all summer. I'm looking forward to reading The Pillars of the Earth although it's quite different from Ken Follett's other novels, which reminds me that I've been meaning to re-read Eye of the Needle again.

Mauve Binchy doesn't write as prolifically as she used to, but any of her books would satisfy my summer reading needs, especially the ones set in Ireland or Greece.

Jean A. Auel has finally published her sixth installment of Earth's Children, The Land of Painted Caves. It takes her ages to research and write each thick tome. Twenty years ago I was reading Plains of Passage when I met Tom. On our tenth anniversary, Auel released her next novel, Shelters of Stones and here it is ten years later.

Some current novels on Publishers' Weekly's bestsellers' list are, Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks. The story takes place in 1665 Martha's Vineyard, about a young Native American who graduates from Harvard and mixes with the world of Puritan men and women. It's based on a true story.

Summer Rental by Mary Kay Andrews is about three women (all with problems, of course) who spend a month in North Carolina's Outer Banks. The setting alone is enough to make me buy the book.

The Kitchen House has been on the shelves at Chapters for months and I've been biding my time, waiting for it to go on sale. The plot takes place in 1790 and is about a young girl, separated from her family while travelling by ship from Ireland to America. She has no memory of her prior life and is put to work in a plantation kitchen, where she becomes close to the family.

Those are just a few of the books I have lined up to read during the next couple of months. So what's on your summer reading list?


Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Cosy Spot to Write

Writing isn't easy--the only people who think writing is easy haven't actually sat down with a blank piece of paper and a pen. I have friends who say they're going to write a novel--they have the perfect story to tell. I smile and encourage them, knowing it will never happen. At the very least, writing takes discipline, time and energy.

It's taken me years to figure out that there is a right time and a place to write and forcing myself to write during other times or in other places won't work.

I need a cosy spot to write, which happens to be my office. It's a small room on the second floor of our house, painted Wedgwood blue. Some of my favourite things are kept there, among them, a large print of Monet's water lilies, an antique French rug that I carried home from the Antique Market in Toronto twenty-five years ago on the subway, stuffed animals I've collected over the years and a marble urn containing my father's ashes. I like to think he's helping me now as he did when he was alive. Of course there are white book shelves and a comfortable leather chair that creaks.

The best time for me to write is in the afternoon at my desk under a window overlooking the backyard. I love the sound of birds singing in the trees, but will only get off my chair to look at blue jays and cardinals. I'll write for a few hours, make supper, walk the dog and settle down in the guest room beside the office. With the TV on, I'll plot out the next scene of my novel on paper with a pen or pencil. The next morning, first thing, I'll sit down at the desk and review the chapter I wrote the day before. Everything seems to fall into place early in the morning. I don't even require my reading glasses.

I get more work done when I stick with this format. I like to write a fairly decent first draft. I'd rather have 2-4 pages that require minimal revisions, than 8-10 pages slapped down in an undecipherable mess that will take me another whole day to repair. The next time you find yourself writing something that flows effortlessly, make a note of the time and place. It might just be the best time and place for you to write.

As for blogging, I prefer Sunday afternoons, while the dog and hubby nap in the living room. I'll tiptoe upstairs with a glass of wine and a plate of grapes and cheese and type my feelings and thoughts to people who understand the art of writing.



Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Book Recommendation

Continuing on in the vein of Aleksi's post, another book that sounds similar to Heather Seller's (2) books are Anne Lamott's 'Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life'.

She made me feel like she's suffered through all and more of what I'm going through and left me with the assurance, that above all else, we are not alone. It's crammed with biting honesty and oracle advice. Above all, it's uproariously funny, even the parts that ring so true that you wince.

Here's an excerpt from the book:

"Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, 'Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'"


Software & Books: Scrivener & Sellers

Here's the software I mentioned last night at our Tim Horton's conference:
  • Scrivener, the first writing software I've come across that actually complements the way I work, rather than forcing me to fit into its paradigm. (It's native to the Mac, but apparently they have a windows beta available; you'll need to hunt around for the download.)

  • Aeon Timeline, the only timeline tool I've discovered that does what I need it to do. It's a beta that is only available for the Mac.

And here are the books I mentioned:

Page after Page and Chapter after Chapter by Heather Sellers.

Some nuggets:
  • To create a writing life, you will need to fall in love — deeply, seductively, passionately — with your writing life. (Page, 27)

  • Anxiety is part of the force that makes us create. (page, 80)

  • The secret to writing a book: Don't miss a day. (Page, 87)

  • Dare to Suck (Page, 109)

  • You have to allow the book to wrap itself around you. All the time. Everywhere you go. Your mind needs to be turning it over, chewing it, stirring it, working it. All the time, in the back of your mind. (Chapter, 55)

  • The best way to learn to write a book is to write one. (Chapter, 109)

  • The book is your teacher. It shows you, productively, a tiny bit at a time, what to focus on learning next. Writing a book is like taking a perfect class on how to write a book. (Chapter, 109)

  • You're stuck because you haven't been writing, not writing because you're stuck. (Chapter, 170)

Reading them, they're like the books I would have written myself about the creative writing process once I emerged into the other side. I feel like she trod ahead of me on the same path I'm on, which gives me some hope that I can actually complete my novel.

If you're looking for books on the writing process instead of the technical aspects of story and novel construction, I highly recommend these. They fill an important gap on our writing-books shelf.

And if you don't know the book Page Fright, I also recommend it as a veritable encyclopedia of the writing experience through the ages, from the birth of ink and paper to the outlandish rituals great writers devise for themselves to overcome their page fright.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Wordcount Dilemma

It seems as though I've been writing this novel forever. Still not finished, but at least I can see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Yesterday was so beautiful outside and we've waited so long for warm weather that I abandoned the computer and puttered in the garden all afternoon.

Back to the computer today and on with the novel. A quick word count told me that I've written 83,440 words. Yikes! Last time I checked, the word count was 65,000. I still have 15 chapters to write, albeit short chapters, but now I'm worried that I'll end up with 100,000 words.

I've read several articles by agents who claim that 85,000 words is the golden number, especially for first time authors. Some writers don't seem concerned about word count and a few genres do have larger word counts. Historical, horror and fantasy are a few. Fortunately thrillers can go over the 85,000 word count and my novel is a psychological thriller.

The point is, why spend years researching and writing a novel that agents and publishers will trash simply because it's too long? Here's where self-editing skills come in, but it's hard to edit your own work so it's a good idea to have another editor/writer read it through. Someone who isn't as emotionally tied to the work as the author.

My plan is to keep writing the novel, get my outline down in first draft and then I'll start editing out the weak parts, repetitions, cliches, etc, and aim for around 90 to 95 thousand words.

That's the plan. Just keep on writing, one word at at time.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

WCDR Breakfast Speaker, May 14th

The breakfast speaker for the WCDR breakfast meeting on May 14th has posted his speech on the website. For those who are interested, you can read it by copying the below address to your browser. I found it to be nourishing food for thought.

What’s Real?
by William Humber
Presentation to the Writers Community of Durham Region (WCDR)