3 Ways Writing is Like Swimming

My daughter likes to swim. She started swimming at age 3, was on her first swim team at 6. She has been on a swim team every summer for 4 years.

In order to compete in swimming, you need 3 skills: form, speed, and stamina.

Turns out, you need those same 3 skills if you want to compete in writing, too.

FORM

In swimming, getting your body to form the right patterns in the water is vital. If you perform the strokes correctly, if your body parts all work in perfect sync, you go faster with less effort.

Writing is similar. Our craft is our form, and the sooner we master the elements, the smoother our writing process becomes. As we get the myriad craft elements from structure to grammar to work in sync, the stories flow faster and with less effort.

SPEED

Efficiency of form helps you cut through the water faster, so you increase your speed. You can’t win if you are slow. However, swimming is not just about beating the other people.  It’s also about personal bests, competing with yourself and trying to lower your times every time you compete.

Writing efficiency will help you compete in the publishing trenches, because you can put more work out more quickly. This does not mean you need to be a speed demon in writing. I am not, and other successful writers are not. Some are. But you can’t focus on other people’s speed. All you can do is hone your process so you can write efficiently without losing quality in your work. You are always looking for a personal best.

STAMINA

Competitive swimming requires endurance. When my daughter started swimming, her first races were more a matter if she would make it the full 25 meters without having to stop. Now, at age 10, the freestyle is 50 meters and the other strokes are still 25. But next year they all go up to 50 meters. That will require building stamina (and mastering how to turn).

A writing career is a long-haul career. Success usually does not come early or quickly. And if you write novel-length books, each project can be a marathon in itself. We need to cultivate creative and emotional stamina to get us through. There are many paths to success, so we need to master turning when one route is blocked. Sometimes our muscles hurt and we can barely catch our breath, but if we persevere we will eventually touch the wall.

Whether we write for fun or for profit, all writers share the joy and passion for writing. But for those who do want to publish, we also need to develop form, speed, and stamina.

Once we do, we can swim with the best of them.

NaNoWriMo 2019: Week 3

When I started this project, I wasn’t sure I’d make it to week 3. It’s a difficult thing, trying to write 1,667 words a day when you have multiple other responsibilities. But I surprised myself by managing to stay on top of things.

Until this week. This week killed me. I have been so busy with other obligations that I have had to schedule time to breathe. Write words? Forget it! I’ve lost 2 days to zeros and am likely to lose one more.

All is not lost, however. November 21st (today) is 3 weeks. If you wrote 1,667 words a day, you would have 35,007 words by the end of today. As of this writing, I stand at 37,007 words. So even with those 3 zero days this week, I am 2,000 words ahead. A little over a day’s work ahead. It just feels like I am falling behind because I am losing my cushion.

I should be able to keep up and hopefully forge further ahead in the coming days, as my schedule lightens considerably. Thanksgiving may well be another zero day, but hopefully I will be comfortably in the home stretch by then.

I’m also not trying for the 50,000, although if I do it will be icing on the cake. I am trying to get a first draft of this story. I figure I have about 8 more chapters at most, so that would put me short of the 50,000—maybe about 45,000. But as long as my last two words are THE END, I will count this as a success.

I will be writing over my holiday, as much as I can. I wish all my fellow authors some productive creative time, whether you are doing NaNo or not, and I wish everyone a happy and safe Thanksgiving with friends and family.

NaNoWriMo 2019–hitting the wall

I told you all last week that I am unofficially doing National Novel Writing Month. Only I guess since I’ve announced it to all of you, it’s semi-official now. But I haven’t joined on their website, so it’s not official-official.

Anyway, I’m doing this thing. 50,000 words in 30 days. And I’m a bit shocked at how well I’ve been doing. I’m almost halfway there. As of Tuesday night, I was at 24,500 words. Cool, right? But then Wednesday I hit a wall. Kinda like a runner when they’re on that last few miles of a marathon.

I guess I should have expected a wall at some point. I am not an outliner, although I have a basic plan to follow for the book, and I’ll admit I am a tad unsure of where to go next. But I think my brain is also just tired. I mean, I just spewed 24,500 words out in 11 days.

That’s a lot of words.

It’s also cold as all get out here right now, so it’s perfect weather for curling up with a warm drink and a good book, not for pulling words out of your brain. On Wednesday I realized I wasn’t going to write. I scrolled Facebook, I fought with a webpage as I tried to make an appointment, and did other work–like this blog post and the links-roundup over on The Author Chronicles. So while I didn’t write any fiction words, it was overall a productive day.

Hopefully this “day off” will let me jump back into my manuscript today with some energy and push through that notoriously difficult middle of the story. They don’t call it the “sagging middle” or “muddy middle” for nothing, after all.

So that’s where I am in NaNoWriMo–a bit lost, a bit tired, but not giving up. Any other fellow NaNo writers out there? How are you doing? And if you’re not doing NaNo, what are you up to these days?

5 Lessons about Writing from Recess Runners

My daughter’s school has a program called Recess Runners. It is a totally voluntary program where kids can come at recess and run or walk around a 1/4 mile track. When they amass a mile, they get a token to hang on their necklace.

Now, if anyone had told me in school that I had the option of running a mile at recess for fun, I would have told them “No way!”. But the program is very popular. Lots of kids running/walking. And I realized I could take some writing lessons from those kids.

1. Find the joy

These kids are having fun. Some are running because they love to run. Some enjoy walking and chatting with their friends. But it is fun for them. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in the business side of writing that I forget to have fun. Or I lose the fun of writing under the constant worry that this book won’t be good enough. I need to find the fun again—feel the wind in my face as I write.

2. Go at your own pace

They all start at the same line, but they all go at their own pace. Some zip around 4 or more times in one recess. Some make it twice. For some it’s a struggle; for some it’s easy. But they all made progress. It can be hard not to compare your own career to other people’s. Some authors are prolific, pouring out books like coffee. Some are snails, a book every few years. My journey is different from theirs, and I need to remember that.

3. Remember this was voluntary

The kids don’t have to participate. They don’t even have to participate in every session. It’s a choice for them. Writing is, too. Well, maybe not the urge to write, but the choice to write for publication. I chose to go the extra mile to continually improve my craft and pay for workshops and conferences and edits. I chose to seek representation and the rejection that inevitably comes with that process. So if it ever becomes too much, I can choose to reassess and see if it’s still where I want to be.

4. Set your own goals

Every kid has a different reason for being there. Some just want to run and get energy out. Some are competitive and want to rack up as many tokens as they can. Some are there because they want to be healthier and get more exercise. Some just want to walk and chat with their friends. Every writer has their own goals, too. Some only have one book and just want it out there. Some don’t care about the money and just want to see their work available. Some want to make a living at this writing gig. My own goals are modest, realistic, and so far largely unattained. But I am working toward them, just like all those kids are.

5. It’s the effort that counts

The biggest thing I’ve taken away from this, however, is that it’s all in the journey. The striving is what needs to be applauded. We can’t always control the outcomes of our efforts, and we won’t always reach our goals. But we are in control of our effort, our dedication, and our attitude. I won’t use the platitude that the work is its own reward (although sometimes it is), but sometimes the effort leads to opportunities and rewards we didn’t expect, if we are open to them.

So kudos to all the kids having fun running, and I hope to incorporate the lessons I have learned from them in my writing life.

Philadelphia Writers’ Conference 2019: My Biggest Takeaway

This past weekend was the Philadelphia Writers Conference. I consider it my “home” conference, and I have been going for about 10 years.

Every year I think about what my biggest takeaway is from the conference. I learn so much every year, it’s hard to pick. This year, one thing echoed in almost every workshop: there is no one right way to write.

There are so many ways to write a book. Plotting vs. Pantsing. Linear vs. The Jigsaw Puzzle. Scientific vs. Intuition. Efficient vs. Meandering. And you know what? They are all valid. As long as you end up with a finished, polished product, it’s all good.

The thing I have found about the writing process is that it changes over time. It changes as your skills mature, and according to the needs of your book. For example, my multiple-POV, multiple-subplot YA scifi required more planning than my middle grade single-POV quest story.

Young authors often think there is only one correct way to write a book, and that the professional teaching the workshop is the holder of that Holy Grail. This is certainly not the case, and I was heartened to hear so many of the workshop leaders espouse the uniqueness of each person’s process.

A great thing about a multi-day conference is that we get to concentrate on the writing. We can dim or even turn out the lights of the outside world and immerse ourselves in the writing world. At the beginning of one of my classes, a bird got into the room. It flew around, disoriented, banging into the mirror, until one person got the smart idea to open the doors and turn out the lights in the room. As soon as we turned out the lights, the bird raced to the open doors and flew through to freedom.

Go into the light, my friends—and write your own way.

Celebrating the Small Victories

Face it, we live in a world where society only celebrates the big victories. But many of us don’t have huge victories to crow about, and therefore feel like we’re not enough. I’ve got good news for you, though–even small victories are victories.

Small victories are earned, just like the large ones. In fact, most often the large victories can’t even happen without the small ones happening first. Can’t publish a book if you don’t write it first. Can’t write it except one chapter at a a time. Can’t write a chapter without sentences.

So it ALL COUNTS.

Words on the page. Forward progress. Baby steps. It all adds up, and it all becomes something bigger than the sum of its parts. A lot of us have family obligations, day jobs, other must-do things on the To Do List. So just showing up to do the work is a victory.

Why am I thinking of small victories today? Because in April, I racked up almost 16,400 words for the month. Which is more than twice as much as the previous best month of 2019. Even more exciting to me is that 10,500 of those words were revision of my YA novel Veritas.

April's small victories

I have not worked on Veritas in any word-countable way since September of 2018. Half a year ago.

I was working on it, in fits and starts, but not in the computer. I revised longhand, working from a printed copy. The revision is still far from finished, but I’ve made substantial progress–enough to put my revisions to date into the computer and print a new version to move ahead with.

It’s gratifying to see the longhand-work translate into word count. A small victory, slow in coming, but I am happy with it.

Maybe next month I will break 20,000 words.

Small victories. What victories are you celebrating today?

Developmental Editing: Necessary or Not Needed?

On Janet Reid’s blog, she weighed in on whether or not you needed a developmental edit of your manuscript prior to submitting a query to an agent. She and the commenters agreed that you do NOT need a developmental edit prior to querying.

Their feeling is that you can get your manuscript query-ready if you have good critique partners and beta readers. And I tend to agree with that.

That said, I have used a developmental editor for every manuscript I have ever queried. I realize I am lucky because I can afford developmental edits, which are not usually cheap.

For me, that edit is a very specific part of my writing process. My original writing process was honed with a writing partner who has since passed away. I am therefore very collaborative in my process. I do have critique partners who are the first to dig into the manuscript—usually after about the 3rd draft. Once I incorporate their feedback, I go through several more drafts.

Once I reach the point where I feel I cannot edit any better, when I have reached that point where I have lost objectivity, that’s when I go to my developmental editor. She gives me an in-depth edit of my full manuscript, showing me places I need to improve. The particular developmental editor I work with has an extraordinary feel for and understanding of character and emotion in the story, and that is precisely the area I want to focus on when I send things to her.

While I cannot claim these edits have given me a leg up in querying (I am still not represented), I can say I have learned a great deal from each one. Every manuscript has come back with fewer and fewer edits needed. Not only have the edits made each individual manuscript better, but they have collectively raised my craft level.

So while I agree that in most cases a developmental edit is not necessary prior to querying, for me the money has been worth it.

Do you use a developmental editor at any point in your process?

Writing Chiropractic: Making Adjustments to Your Flow

I see a chiropractor every couple of weeks. I admit to being skeptical at first, but thought I would try it. While he has not been able to fix everything on me, his adjustments have eliminated ling-standing hip pain, lessened both the frequency and length of chronic headaches, and gave me almost instant relief from excruciating hip pain from an injury. So adjustments have helped me immensely.

The basic premise of chiropractic care is to keep our spines aligned to allow for proper signal flow along the nerves. Misalignment in the spine (and elsewhere) can block the flow, causing pain or other malfunctions. So an adjustment will remove blockages and allow for proper body functioning.

We need to make such adjustments to our writing process from time to time, as well. Our writing process isn’t stagnant, and as we evolve as writers we need to adjust it. Our stories become more complex, the demands of our daily lives change, and what worked before may no longer work now. So we need to take a step back and look at our process, and see where we can remove blockages to get our productivity flowing again.

On a project level, we need to do the same with our stories. Does the flow work? The pacing, the character arc, the plot, must all flow together. If any one if those elements (or others like word-level rhythm) is blocked, the story doesn’t work smoothly and the reader loses interest. Revision provides us with the opportunity to make adjustments that make our prose glow.

Obviously there is no such thing as a writing chiropractor. So where do we go to find someone who can help us make the necessary adjustments? We can hire editors, use beta readers, critique groups, or critique partners. The feedback from any of these people can help us remove the blockages that are keeping our story from flowing properly.

A Muddy Revision Slog

I am finally getting back to writing. Not drafting right now, but revising something I have been putting off. Sometimes revision is clear and straightforward. In fact, I usually prefer revising to drafting. But this time the revisions are difficult—muddy.

In theory, I know what to do. Among other things, I am shoring up the “goals” in my protagonist’s scenes. Making clear what she wants. Because the feedback I got was that her goal got muddy after the first few chapters and therefore the reader lost interest in all the confusion.

So I have sharpened in my mind the overall story goal—the one that drove her from the beginning. But I am having trouble bringing that goal to the surface in all the scenes, because sometimes the scene goal necessarily overshadows the book goal. When you’ve been imprisoned and tortured, the immediate goals of survival and escape take precedence over all else. So maybe I have the wrong story goal altogether and that’s why I’m having so much trouble with it. And sometimes what the character thinks they want and what they actually need are not the same. And sometimes what they want changes over time. So I’m slogging along but not sure I’m making the story any better—I may be muddying it further.

The second part of the revision is my struggle with the Points of View (POV). I have 3 POV characters—but have been told that I should lose two of them. One is the villain (an adult), and the advice I got is that adult POVs have no place in YA. Unfortunately for me, I love this villain and find her very interesting, so it’s killing me to lose her POV. I also need to find a way to get some info that only that character knows into the story so the reader can know it, too.

I disagree with losing the second POV, as it is the twin brother of the main character. The genre is also space opera, which by its nature has a large canvas and usually needs more than one POV to tell the complete story. So I am trying to tie his POV closer to the main character’s to make his POV more relevant, as well as trying to find other ways to tell his part of the story that may involve the main character.

Again, not sure if I am helping or muddying at this point.

I’ll just push through the mud and then take a look at the finished whole and see what I think. I’m not totally happy with the way the revisions are going, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not actually going well. It’s just that right now there’s so much mud I can’t find the solid ground underneath.

So, fellow scribes, how do you know if your revision is making your story better or worse?

Back to School, Back to Work

Today is my daughter’s first day back to school–which means it is also my first day back to work. Now I will have about 6 hours a day to accomplish things before she comes home. I like this schedule because it gives me quiet, concentrated time to work. Also, because I do it while she’s not home, I can be more present for her once she comes home. Over the summer it feels like a constant push-pull, wanting to spend the time with her but needing to get certain things done.

I have my plans in place (and we’ll see how those plans work out, LOL). Today I plan to catch up on PTA Treasurer stuff, and maybe squeeze in one or two other household things I’ve been putting off. Tomorrow I have to finish and send to the printer my brochure for my campaign for the local school board. I need them by Sept 22nd, and I have suddenly realized that is not all that far off!

Next week, with those large projects out of the way, I hope to settle into a school-year work routine. A couple of years ago I had one that worked well, but for reasons I still can’t pinpoint, it rather fell apart over the last year. As a result, my productivity slipped and my self-esteem as a writer with it.

I want to get back to writing every day. Doesn’t have to be much every day, but I would like to work on my fiction a little every day. Make it a priority again. Like many of us, I fall into the trap of putting everyone else first. Next thing I know, the day is gone and I’ve done nothing for me or my own work. I want to try to balance that a bit more. I know I’ll feel better about myself if I do, even though it’s hard.

So for me, back to school means back to work. Does back to school change things in your routine?

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