Dec 27, 2011

Writing Challenges for The New Year

Considering a writing challenge to inspire you for the new year?  Perhaps one of these will be just the thing.

A River of Stones


Fiona Robyn, who began this micro-poetry movement, describes a small stone as "a very short piece of writing that precisely captures a fully-engaged moment."  She encourages others to join her in writing a stone a day through January. Need more encouragement?  She offers a lovely ebook at no cost: How To Write Your Way Home. This is truly one of those inspired projects destined to grow.

As a side note:  I learned about River of Stones from Anne Stormont when she participated in 2011.  She is currently writing stones for advent and her descriptions are so beautiful. The River of Stones had slipped my mind in the past year but, because of Anne, I'm seriously considering participating in January.

100 Themes Challenge


The history of The 100 Themes Challenge is well-documented here.  It became really big when Deviant Art became involved.  Basically, it's a list of themes (Introduction, Love, Light, Dark. . .) that serves as a jumping off point for artists.  I first heard of the challenge in the contexts of writing and photography, but you can apply the list to any creative endeavor.  To share your work, get involved with a community of others working on the same challenge. I know there are groups on DeviantArt.com, Fanfiction.net, and LiveJournal and I'm sure there are many more.

FridayFlash


This is a fantastic way to share short fiction in a supportive community. Although you don't have to write a story every week, many of the authors do.

Here's the brief description: "Friday Flash is an Internet meme designed to increase your visibility as a fiction writer. The idea is simple enough. Write a piece of flash fiction, defined as 1000 words or less, post it to your blog, and then on Friday announce it to the world via Twitter or some other social network along with the link to your post. If you use Twitter be sure to include the hashtag, #fridayflash."  Find out more on the #fridayflash website:  http://fridayflash.org/press/about-fridayflash/

Flickr 365

You might consider joining any one of the Flickr 365 groups.  The idea?  You choose a theme. You take a photo every day.  The big one, Project 365, has nearly 25,000 members, but there are lots and lots of smaller groups (many of which still number in the hundreds).  Some photographers focus on self-portraiture.  Some focus on their kids.  Some are a bit more obscure.  One of my favorites is bench standing. (There are multiple groups devoted to this:  Bench Monday, Happy Original Bench, Bench Anyday, Bench Monday (Anything Benchlike), and for those not inclined to limit themselves to benches, we have Standing On Stuff.)  If you can imagine it, there very well may be a group devoted to it.

The point?  Creativity.  By looking at the same subject or theme on a daily basis, you begin to stretch.  It's a gorgeous idea.

Make Something 365

Brought to you by Noah Scalin who made a skull a day for a year, the Make Something 365 website encourages you to pick your own subject and go with it.  One of my favorites is Librarian's Daughter.

Quick Thoughts About Long Revisons


I've been working on a major revision of Claire Morgane Almost Saves The World since August.  I finished the main part of the revision on last week and am now looping back through chapters to play with words. I need to read aloud and integrate reader feedback from the whole book.  But seriously? All that is play compared to the work just completed.

I can tell when I'm writing a serious revision because I keep hitting that point where I'm sure there's no way, ever, that I'm going to be able to pull off what I'm attempting.  And yet, I keep going.  And when it doesn't work that first time, I loop back and make it better.  And when that version doesn't quite work, I loop back and make it better.  And when that version is almost there, but not quite?  Yeah.  I loop back and make it better.

And when I end up with a copy that my readers race through for the thrill of the ride--and the ride doesn't go off the rails--that's pure joy.

I've written easier stories, but I'd rather write the difficult stories and make them look easy.

Over the course of this revision, I've written a few posts on my process:

The Craft of Writing:  Revision (December 14, 2011)

Raising The Stakes (September 21, 2011)

Approaching A Big Revision (August 24, 2011)

Leading up to this revision, I wrote these two:

When I Say I #amwriting. . . (July 27, 2011)

Tools For The Writing Process (June 1, 2011)

I also read this post by Mary Kohl, which I found incredibly validating: Big Revision.

Dec 20, 2011

Winter Solstice Inspiration


Winter Solstice always makes me cry before it makes me happy.

I suppose I have my rural roots to blame. Somewhere in my evolutionary DNA is the knowledge that I must work hard at the equinoxes if I intend to live through the solstices.  Establish the crops before the heat of summer. Harvest and preserve food before the winter.  We talk of cycles and seasons, but in my heart I feel the panic.  Even though it's no longer necessary, I still feel safer after putting up food in my cupboards and stacking wood in the barn. And I still feel relief when the earth tilts once again and the days grow longer.  The solstice always reminds me of the yearly near-miss of death. And the yearly near-miss of death reminds me that life is precious and work is meaningful.

So yes.  Every Winter Solstice, passing through the darkest day, I'm desperately thankful. I remember all we survived in the previous year and I let my heart go out in mourning for all the losses. Then I build a fire and burn my grief and cry.

And then the earth tilts.

And I begin again.

I wish you warmth and food and love this season. I wish you relief from sorrow and illness. I wish you all the things you need, including meaningful work that sustains you.

As you release last season into this, shifting your focus to the horizon of a new year, you might want to consider one of these challenges:


A River of Stones

Fiona Robyn, who began this micro-poetry movement, describes a small stone as "a very short piece of writing that precisely captures a fully-engaged moment."  She encourages others to join her in writing a stone a day through January. Need more encouragement?  She offers a lovely ebook at no cost: How To Write Your Way Home. This is truly one of those inspired projects destined to grow.

As a side note:  I learned about River of Stones from Anne Stormont when she participated in 2011.  She is currently writing stones for advent and her descriptions are so beautiful. The River of Stones had slipped my mind in the past year but, because of Anne, I'm seriously considering participating in January.


100 Themes Challenge

The history of The 100 Themes Challenge is well-documented here.  It became really big when Deviant Art became involved.  Basically, it's a list of themes (Introduction, Love, Light, Dark. . .) that serves as a jumping off point for artists.  I first heard of the challenge in the contexts of writing and photography, but you can apply the list to any creative endeavor.  To share your work, get involved with a community of others working on the same challenge. I know there are groups on DeviantArt.com, Fanfiction.net, and LiveJournal and I'm sure there are many more.


FridayFlash

This is a fantastic way to share short fiction in a supportive community. Although you don't have to write a story every week, many of the authors do.

Here's the brief description: "Friday Flash is an Internet meme designed to increase your visibility as a fiction writer. The idea is simple enough. Write a piece of flash fiction, defined as 1000 words or less, post it to your blog, and then on Friday announce it to the world via Twitter or some other social network along with the link to your post. If you use Twitter be sure to include the hashtag, #fridayflash."  Find out more on the #fridayflash website:  http://fridayflash.org/press/about-fridayflash/


Flickr 365

You might consider joining any one of the Flickr 365 groups.  The idea?  You choose a theme. You take a photo every day.  The big one, Project 365, has nearly 25,000 members, but there are lots and lots of smaller groups (many of which still number in the hundreds).  Some photographers focus on self-portraiture.  Some focus on their kids.  Some are a bit more obscure.  One of my favorites is bench standing. (There are multiple groups devoted to this:  Bench Monday, Happy Original Bench, Bench Anyday, Bench Monday (Anything Benchlike), and for those not inclined to limit themselves to benches, we have Standing On Stuff.)  If you can imagine it, there very well may be a group devoted to it.

The point?  Creativity.  By looking at the same subject or theme on a daily basis, you begin to stretch.  It's a gorgeous idea.


Make Something 365

Brought to you by Noah Scalin who made a skull a day for a year, the Make Something 365 website encourages you to pick your own subject and go with it.  One of my favorites is Librarian's Daughter.

Dec 6, 2011

The Craft of Writing: Revision

Revising is not the same thing as editing. When I edit my work, my vision of the story remains the same.  I may eliminate entire chapters, rewrite complete scenes, change every sentence in the book, but the structure remains. I have a stack of edits sitting beside me: pages full of marks and squiggles and notes to "tighten" or "rephrase" or simply "fix."  Edits are often about wordsmithery. I pour myself into a world of sound and rhythm and presentation. Editing is a delicious way to spend time if you love words.

The world of revision is a messier place.

If editing is rearranging furniture, revision is knocking down walls.

Revision takes a good deal more skill than writing or editing and I'm not convinced most writers ever do it.  It's not that they can't do it. It's just a hellishly frightening leap and it's enormously difficult.  The easier path, always, is to set aside a book that needs serious revision---and write a better one from scratch.

Remember: you don't have to make a lifetime commitment to every book you write. My first book was so bad, I don't even claim it as my first book.  I call it Book Zero.  I'm convinced gazing on it directly may cause blindness. I'm not going back there. And that's okay.

So why revise? If revising is more difficult than writing a new and better novel, why do it?

I've found only one reason: because a really wonderful idea chose me and I discovered, through the process of writing, that I lacked the skills to do it justice. I wanted to tell that story more than any of the stories I possessed the skills to tell.

We revise to become better writers, to earn the right to tell complex tales.  Is that worth our time?  Maybe it depends on the story.

So what do some of those scary revisions look like?

During the course of revising five novels, I have:

  • Changed the point of view. Changed it again.  Oh why not? Changed it again.
  • Changed from past to present tense. Fell in love with it.  Fell out of love with it. Changed it back.
  • Eliminated a significant subplot, including a major character.  (The first major character I eliminated was named Mim.  Now, whenever a character disappears from a novel, my early readers and I call it "being mimmed.")
  • Changed the focus of the entire book by changing what the main character wants. I've done this one more than once. This usually results in eliminating more than half the chapters, inserting new ones, and rewriting the ones that remain.
  • Changed the rules under which my world operated.
  • Pulled out a tightly-woven subplot to make it the focus of a separate book.
  • Eliminated an entire setting, creating new bridges from Point B to C and Point D to E.  (The real challenge here was working in the material I wanted to keep.)
  • Discovered that an existing plot hole revealed more of interest than the current plot line. Reconstructed the whole thing.
  • Changed the relationship between major characters.

And what did I gain from all this?

  • Confidence. I'm no longer afraid of any change request. I know I can do it.
  • Loyalty to a story above any set of words. If I can make the story better, I'll cut my favorite scene in the book. It will make room for one I love even more.
  • Material for future narratives.  The beloved bits I eliminate become polished material for later writing.
  • Skill and flexibility. Not only can I make the changes, I have energy to play, to see which version I like best.
  • A wicked sense of humor about my characters and the changes they go through.

What's the biggest revision you've ever undertaken?  What did you learn from it?