New Year, New News

I came unstuck!

In my last post, I wrote about being stuck on Chapter 9 of the first draft of Perceval in Love. Today, I’m writing about becoming unstuck and how I did it.  How did I do it? Haven’t a clue. But here’s what happened:

The day after that last post, I sat down at my desk, at my computer, at Chapter 9 and just started writing. I knew where the chapter needed to go, it was only a matter of putting the words on the page (or screen, as it were). So, I wrote and wrote and wrote — 6.5 pages that day. I finished the chapter! And I began Chapter 10.

The next day I wrote another 6.5 pages on Chapter 10. It felt great. It felt right in my bones. And I realized that maybe I had over-thought getting back into the draft. Over-thinking triggered fear, self-doubts, and more fear. To get beyond the fear and self-doubt, I needed to write about being stuck, to get it out of my head. So I am grateful to those blog readers out there who read that last post! Thank you. I am back on track with Perceval in Love.

With the New Year, I’m back to my Monday through Friday fulltime job and writing fiction on the weekends. And first draft writing work has awakened the frisson in me again between my creative life and my “work” life. Although I enjoy my fulltime job and the paychecks are most welcome, my creative life pulls, and pulls, and pulls at me. I have no idea why revision work doesn’t cause this frisson.

I’m always interested in novels set in the classical music world, and I ran across one whose premise really intrigued me because the protagonist was a concert pianist who is recruited as a spy during World War II. I began reading this novel this past Friday. The prose is, in my opinion, awful. The pace is glacial which is not a good thing for a spy novel. I thought about just tossing it aside, but I decided to continue reading it as a lesson in how not to write. Reading bad prose tends to be a good thing for writers in the end. I’ve read other bad novels in the past for the same reason. At the same time, reading this novel with its bad prose makes me sad. I think the characters and their story deserve better.

As I continue writing work on the Perceval in Love first draft, I feel relief and happiness that Evan Quinn is still talking to me…..


Chapter Nine and Time

I’m stuck on chapter 9.

Perceval in Love’s chapter 9, that is. As I’ve been going through my notes for the first draft and re-reading the chapters I’d written already, I’ve found it especially difficult to return to the same creative place I was in when I did all that writing. Time has passed. I’ve changed through life experience. My thinking has changed. And yet, I still agree with what I wrote before as far as the sketchy outline I left myself. So the issue is this: how do I find my way back into this story?

I thought it would be so easy. Looking forward to immersing myself in first draft writing work, I had set aside a lot of time in the last month to do the work I thought I needed to do to get back into this story. But it hasn’t worked. This is a first-time experience for me and my writing. But then, it’s also the first series of novels I’ve chosen to write, or that’s chosen me.

Chapter 9 has some Perceval action as well as some Evan Quinn action, and I see it ending with him arriving at Greta’s to have dinner with her and Alex. I have written about 2/3 of the chapter. Then the wall appeared. What is that wall about? What is it made of? Why did it appear?

As I think about this, I realize that at least some of the problem involves what is currently happening in America politically and how that relates to the Perceval series. I’ve written about this before at this blog (and here)– my astonishment and dismay at how accurately I’d predicted the social and political conditions in America during the last 20 years or so, and how I hoped it wouldn’t end up as I’d envisioned it in the novels. America is so close to it right now that it’s scary. And what is “it”? Loss of democracy, perversion of the Constitution, and a fall into the tyranny of economic class rule. So I watch the developments daily and hope that speaking truth to power will not become a treasonous offense. Or that freedom of speech becomes a thing of the past because of one man’s limited connection to reality and honesty.

Every wall I’ve encountered in my writing life has been different, born of different feelings and thoughts, and resolved in ways specific to the causes. My challenge this time is to determine what I have control over and can change, and what I need to ignore. This goes back to my original creative impulse that gave birth to Evan Quinn and his world. I’ve apparently lost touch with that as well. I can easily go back and re-read Perceval’s Secret, and Perceval’s Shadow is still fresh in my mind. I have my file on the future with all the world-building work I have done. I think I need to relieve myself of the pressure I put on myself to use the time I have for writing…for actual writing rather than whatever I may need creatively to do the writing.

We now are about 10 days away from a new year, and I want to take this opportunity to thank all my loyal readers, those who have stuck with this blog through the times I’ve been away, either writing offline or dealing with health issues.  I wish you all the best for the holiday season and for 2020! And I hope to continue to see you here…..

Writers – how to find the editor that’s right for you

Roz has done a good job of explaining what needs to be done when looking for and hiring an editor. I think I’d add that once you’ve found the editor of your dreams, make sure that you get your work agreement in writing, i.e. you agree on the editor’s fee and what the editor will do for that fee. Getting it in writing whenever money is involved is absolutely essential! It protects both you and the editor.

Nail Your Novel

I was asked this recently by Lyda McLallan who was working on a blog for HuffPost. I don’t know if the piece was published, but these are questions I get a lot, so I thought I’d answer them here.

It all began when Lyda asked…

What should you do before you hire an editor…

Me: Talk to them!

1 Establish the kind of editing that will be suitable for your manuscript. Authors are often surprised that there are many things an editor can do.

They usually know about the mistake-spotting edits – proof reading or copy editing – but they don’t know there’s a more fundamental stage to do first, especially for an author who’s new to publishing or is working outside their normal area of experience – I work with a lot of authors who are converting to fiction after a successful career in non-fiction or drama. What they…

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Book Review vs. Book Critique

The November 2019 issue of The Writer has an interesting article about “How to be a good Critique Partner.” I’ve been asked often enough to critique someone’s manuscript, both as a member of writing groups and individually, and one of the things that will always be at the top of my mind before I start is this: Focus only on the work. The second thing is: Stay positive, even when pointing out a negative by being constructive in criticism. I’ve heard horror stories about critiquing sessions that attacked the writer personally or shredded the writing. That kind of experience can be extremely traumatic. That kind of critique actually reveals more about the person critiquing rather than the writer or the writing and is far from helpful.

Anica Mrose Rissi, the author of The Writer’s article on critiquing has some good points I’d like to share here:

  • “Be discerning about what you sign on to read” — From my personal experience, I know I’m not the person to critique (or edit) a military story, horror story, or western. I don’t like those kinds of stories and so I haven’t read many of them. A good critique comes from someone who loves the genre of the book, has read a lot in that genre, and enjoys it.
  • “Ask questions first” — talk with the writer about the work and what stage it’s in. Find out what the writer’s expectations are, and what the writer wants to know about the book you’d critique for her.
  • “React with your head, heart, and pen (or comment button)” — what every writer wants to know about their work is this: what’s it like to read it when you haven’t written it? Be kind. Be generous with feedback.
  • “Don’t hold back on the compliments” — Noting what the writer has done well is just as important as what the problems might be with the writing.
  • “Be kind but straightforward” — or in another word, be professional. Be honest in your assessment. Say what you mean and move on. And be respectful of the work.
  • “Remember, it’s not your work” — I’ve found it helpful to remind myself of this when I start to think about how I’d change what I’m reading. That’s not my job. My job is to ask questions about what I don’t think works, point out problems, and help the writer see what I see. Then trust the writer to do what will be right for her characters and story and leave it.

Lately, I’ve been writing more book reviews than doing critiques. What’s the difference, you might ask? Well, there are some very big differences, starting with the fact that book reviews are done for finished and published books, and critiques are done on manuscripts that could go through several more drafts before they’re ready to publish. The approach for each is different: for a critique, I’m thinking about the writing and how to help the writer see its potential as well as its problems, while for a book review I’m trying to answer the question: would I recommend this book and why? Every time I finish a book and sit down to write a review, I’m thinking about the book’s strengths and weaknesses, what’s unusual about it, what I really disliked as well as loved about it. What was the experience of reading this book like? It’s rare that I find nothing to recommend about a book, actually (and I feel much the same about classical music), but there are two aspects that can make or break a book for me, i.e. the characters and the use of language, or just how easy is this writing to read?

Characters: I don’t have to adore all the characters. In fact, I expect not to like the antagonist, although I do hope to find him or her interesting in some way. I think of George Warleggan in the Poldark series, for example. I cannot stand this character but at the same time he fascinates me — I want to know why he does what he does, and I want to know how he’ll end up. He is not an evil person, just a selfish narcissist who has felt hurt and slighted in the past by the Poldark family. But what he does often turns out to be evil in its results. Characters need to be real to me, as if I could invite them for coffee and a chat some afternoon, with plausible motivations, thoughts, behavior, and reactions to the world of the story.

Language: Word choice, syntax, paragraph construction, and dialogue all affect the ease of reading and establish a writer’s “voice.” Right now, I’m reading a novel by Jennifer Lash entitled Blood Ties. Lash’s language is dense which makes for slow reading. In fact, her writing style reminds me a lot of Virginia Woolf. I continue to read because her word choice, her English usage, is so rich and colorful. It’s a literary novel. Such writing in a thriller would probably hurt the pace and suspense of the story that belong in a thriller. How a writer uses language can challenge a reader or make it a smooth, easy ride.

Book reviews are not the same as book critiques, even though both are about reading a book with a critical eye.  Both can be valuable to a writer for improving the writing of future books. And doing either one can also be helpful in being a better writer.

What your readers will never notice… a small point about reader belief and story logic (with a little help from Terrance Dicks, Rod Hull and Nina Conti)

I revel in finding plot holes and inconsistencies in movies, TV shows, and books. But I don’t revel in finding them in my own novels!

Nail Your Novel

In our house, we have a catchphrase: ‘Nobody will notice, Jon.’

We adopted it from Terrance Dicks, script editor of our favourite era of Doctor Who. He said it while discussing a cheeky plot bamboozle in The Sea Devils, for which I have great affection (excepting the cheeky plot bamboozle). During filming, it seems that Jon Pertwee (Who Himself) had concerns and Dicks reports the following conversation:

Pertwee: ‘But Terrance, how could the Master hypnotise the nurse, switch outfits with him and tie him up… all in 30 seconds?’

Dicks (valiant in the face of a scorching deadline): ‘Don’t worry, Jon. Nobody will notice.’

We did notice, and Pertwee noticed, and probably all of Whovania noticed. It’s now a house phrase, chez Morris.

What the reader will never notice

There are some things readers will never notice. Suppose your character has to take a train to Birmingham…

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