Spring Cleaning for Writers

My kitchen counters are cluttered with the contents of my pantry. This is good news for a couple reasons. One ~ If I’m cleaning, I must be over the flu that hit our house just before the holiday weekend. Two ~ If I’m ready to tackle my pantry, my WIP revision will be a piece of cake.

Not that I’m eating cake. The flu helped me get through a week without sugar. I must continue to resist sweets if I want my blood sugar results to come back clean at end of June. I want to stay off diabetes medication. I fear it may be too little too late, nevertheless I will abide by these new rules my body demands. I need to be healthy as possible to write this book.

I had flu, but I wrote anyway. It feels as if I am rewriting the book from scratch, that’s how much this second draft is changing. But in truth, I’m only rearranging the words on the pages like food on my pantry shelves. I’m getting rid of expired items and building a new and better structure to support the parts I keep.

My house, my health and my book are coming together. It’s springtime and my worlds, both fictive and real, are beginning to bloom.

Revision & Research

 

My favorite part of writing is the first draft. It’s like flying on a magic carpet inside my mind. I do not bring my inner critic along. I know she’ll be back for revision, when I need her. I finished that fun first draft in November. December I took a month off to enjoy the holidays. It’s difficult to be a friend when I’m in writer mode. My closest friends understand, but many people don’t get why I am out of touch. Here’s why: I shut myself off for hours every day and come out exhausted, my mind spent. I can do mindless things like cook dinner, sip a glass of wine, and maybe watch an episode Madam Secretary. But I do need time for the magic carpet to land before I’m worth much more than that. Lucky for me, my husband understands.

In November, I saw very few of my friends, as I worked to finish a first draft of new novel. I did take Thanksgiving Day off, but I worked harder than usual the rest of the month. It’s joyful work. I really love that first draft where a story unfolds itself onto the screen from my willing fingers dancing on the keyboard. It’s a party for one, that first draft. But, like all parties, it leaves a bit of a mess to clean up. In December I avoided my messy first draft and saw all my friends, some more than once. I went out to dinner, to parties, to lunch. I shopped and gabbed on the phone. I was the social version of Cindy. I didn’t miss writing because I still got up every day and wrote morning pages which is pen to paper and a habit I love. I do those pages while having tea. It’s a wake up ritual where I sometimes plan my day, sometimes complain, sometimes make a gratitude list. 

Come January, I was ready to revise. I take revision in steps. First there’s the big picture. Is my plot tight with just the right amount of digression to make it quirky but not too much to bog it down? Are my characters fully realized? Is there conflict? Does my murderer have motivation, means and opportunity? Do a few other characters have some of that too? Are any important characters stereotypes without their own personality and flair? Yes to all the above. It happens every time. That’s okay. I figure out which characters need work and the rest of it, too. 

With bad guys, they need to be really bad and their motivation has to be more than “he’s a psyco” ~ Motivation needs to be personal and complicated, like people are complicated. Murder is seldom random. Seldom committed by a stranger to the victim. It happens. But not in my books. I want the killer there in the midst of the characters, hiding in plain sight. The other thing I do with my murderer is write his story of “why” and “how” in his own words. That doesn’t show up in the book, but it helps make the book better, just because I know exactly what the killer knows. I like research, so I bought a few books to help me with the two characters I knew needed work in the new book. The first was my villain who really is not “superbad” as he needs to be. So Sasha Black, I’m counting on you to clue me in.

img_5102The second character I knew I’d glossed over because the reader only sees her once. She’s an FBI agent involved with a main character and I kind of wanted to keep her hidden because I did so much research on police detectives and procedures plus everything about being a PI in my last novel. So I felt like hell no I don’t want to research the FBI. But really I couldn’t have the book I wanted without doing the work. I didn’t have an easy time tracking down any FBI books. I was ready for FBI for Dummies but found this instead. I’ll be reading both of these books and fleshing out these characters as the next step in my revision process.

Funny how a first draft flies for me. I can literally write one in a month. But it takes a year or more to revise that first draft. That wonderfully chaotic and rushing world will change, gain depth, but still keeps its boyant fervor. First drafts take a month, finished drafts take a year. Or more. I love every single part of the process. Even fully rounding a previously flat FBI agent.  

Dear Diary,

I have hit an impasse in my revisions. Written out and integrated all the new plots ideas I had. Was sure they’d add up to 65K but they did not. I need about 20 more pages. This is okay. I started out needing 50. Then 30. Now 20. So it’s progress even if it doesn’t feel like it.

My plan for tomorrow is to read the whole thing AGAIN and see what else is needed. My head hurts right now from thinking so hard. I am going to take a walk on my treadmill and not think at all.

Thanks for always being here for me,

Cindy xxo

 

 

The Rocky Road to True Love

Got through 30 pages of revision yesterday. Five hours of steady work. And then last night, I realized they were all wrong. Really wrong. Like, unfixable. In need of swift deletion. The saving grace was that I also knew exactly how to fix the scene sequence. I didn’t have the words yet, but I knew the pattern and how they would follow the romance in a way that makes sense in the overall scheme of the novel.

In writing romance, for me at least, the most difficult, delicate part of the plot is keeping the lovers apart for most of the book, and for very good reasons. No misunderstandings or coincidences or other contrived devices will work these days. They are too cliched. So it’s tough to come up with something original that also feels true. However there is one thing a romance writer can do to sort of illuminate the path, and that is track the romance.

My romance was up and down and a bit desperate near the end when I was pursuing word count instead of story content. I want my lovers to progress forward in a smoother way, a more honest and believable way. There are bumps, but the times when my characters find each other, lock into their attraction, and connect in deep soulful (I hope) ways should, every time, ratchet up the love a little more.

Looks like this: first contact, first touch, first kiss, maybe another kissing scene just to keep things interesting, and then, the scene I almost totally messed up yesterday, the very important “almost” scene. And the “almost” scene is exactly what it says. They “almost” have sex. Or as we like to say in the romance biz “make love.”

Thank stars I realized the problem in time. After the “almost” scene, it’s smooth sailing to the already finished love scene I worked on for a very long time. The editor enthusiastically approved that scene and the black moment that follows. From there it’s a short ride to resolution and happy ever after.

Were yesterday’s hours wasted? No. They showed me what was wrong and where I had to go to correct things on the rocky road to true love.

After Revision

Yay! I finished my revision today. Boo! I now need to add 50 pages to the novel in order for my publisher to offer a print version. I slashed through my manuscript, merciless to my darlings, mostly flights of fancy that didn’t add to the story but gave me room to monologue about how Eva was feeling instead of going into a real scene with real conflict and show it in real time on the page.

I hope I got rid of all of it because that was the big thing my editor asked me to do. The other was to end the story where it should end and not drag it on for 50 more pages just to get 65,000 words. So I did that too.

My next step is to read through the story to ascertain where I can best add 50 pages, which is approximately 10 chapters/25 scenes. I don’t expect this to be easy. I’m wondering if I can get it done before my vacation in a few weeks. Can I do it, is there enough of the story that begs to be explanded, or is this story told?

I’ll let you know:)