Routines and Revisions – CoronaLife Day 187

This is my daughter’s second week of remote learning, and we are settling into a routine again. Unfortunately for me, every school-time routine means I don’t get enough sleep. No matter how hard I try, it is always later than I want it to be before I get to bed, and that alarm goes off awfully early in the morning.

However, a routine is helpful. My daughter is old enough now that she does not need constant help with her schoolwork. Unlike the spring remote learning, where we were all simply trying not to drown, her teacher is online live with her and the class for 4 straight hours (with small breaks in between lessons so the kids can move around, go to the bathroom, etc). Then a lunch break, then my daughter goes back up to her “art studio” to do her Specials work and anything she hasn’t finished in class.

Since she also makes her own breakfast and lunch, that leaves my day more open than it has been all summer. It’s still hard to concentrate, because my daughter pops down at every break to chat, but I can get some work done during the daylight hours (if I can stay awake!). As a result, I have been able to work some more on revising Veritas later in the afternoon and evenings.

As I said in a previous post, I have been using Lisa Cron’s Story Genius to revise, but I got hung up on what she calls the third rail—those competing desires that fuel the inner conflict of your protagonist. I wasn’t quite understanding it, or at least I could not clarify it enough to find one that felt “right” for Veritas, until I spoke to my friend Kathryn Craft, who is a wonderful developmental editor. She reframed the idea for me, coming at it from several other angles, and at last I “saw” what I needed.

I have spent the past week chipping away at the rest of Story Genius, laying the groundwork which will both support and propel the story. I feel like it’s finally coming together. This is a major revision of an already well-polished story, and what I am finding is that all the pieces I needed were already in the story—I just have to put them together in a different way. So, yay to my subconscious for knowing what needed to be in there, even while my conscious brain missed the point.

My plan from here on out, now that I think I grasp what I need to do, is to use Cron’s Story Cards concept to examine my existing scenes and align them with my new insights, and figure out if any more need to be added (or deleted). We shall see how it goes.

How are you settling into your fall routine? Is it much different from your summer one?

Slow Days of August – CoronaLife Day 166

This week has been slow for me, although productive. My Board of Education duties took up a great deal of time this week, with policies to review (they are good for curing insomnia).

I am also beta-reading a manuscript with my daughter. My friend Keith Strunk wrote a middle grade book and asked my 10-year-old daughter to give him her thoughts. I am reading it with her because she is always scared to read a new author alone, and it is a fun thing we can share. I was also glad to do it because I have been hearing about this book for a long time and couldn’t wait to finally see the finished story!

In my own work, I had gotten hung up with revisiting my story Vertias. Lisa Cron’s Story Genius was guiding me well, but then I ran aground on a concept I could not quite wrap my head around. I felt I was very close to crafting a compelling “third rail,” but I knew I didn’t quite have it. So I turned to my friend, author and editor Kathryn Craft, who simplified the concept and came at it from another angle so my pandemic brain could comprehend it properly. I need to re-read all that she put in her insightful and detailed email to me, but once I do I think I will be able to move forward with more confidence. I feel that if I can get this right, get the beginning right, the rest will follow more easily.

As summer comes to a close, we are preparing for a new school year. It will be unlike the beginning of any other school year ever, but we are up for the adventure and we know we will all get through it together.

How are you spending these last weeks of summer?

Family & Frustration – CoronaLife Day 159

We got tested for coronavirus at the end of July and it took 2 weeks to get the results. We got tested because we were trying to get my daughter together with her best friend for a long weekend, so both families were going to get tested. That didn’t work out, but we decided not to waste our tests, so we went to visit my parents for only the 2nd time since February.

We had a nice visit outside, distanced, with masks when we had to use the rest room, but this time we visited longer because it didn’t rain on us. My mother is recovering from back surgery, so it was good to see how she was healing. Our visit made the day feel almost normal, like pre-COVID times.

The writing front was not so fulfilling. I reported last week that I was making progress with Veritas by using Lisa Cron’s Story Genius. For a brief time I thought I finally had figured out my character’s “third rail” – what she wants vs. a misbelief that holds her back. But now I am not so sure I managed it, and the frustration has returned. I am hoping for some inspiration, or for something to “click” but sometimes I think maybe this just isn’t a story I am capable of telling.

I wonder how much of my struggle is the pandemic pressure. We have all been home pretty much 24/7 since mid-March, and my introverted self is feeling oppressed by it all. That and the constant anxiety suppresses creativity, at least for me. But with no end in sight, I will have to figure out how to work through it, because NOT writing is galling to me.

Hopefully next week I will have more forward movement to report on Veritas. I’m not giving up!

Moving Forward – CoronaLife Day 152

So last week was a bad week. I felt so completely stuck in so many areas of my life, I was quite down about it. This week has been better because I had a plan and I actually followed it!

I have been avoiding returning to my YA sci-fi Veritas. I did a major rework of it last year, and managed to make it worse instead of better. So back to the drawing board, but I have been struggling with the lack of energy and motivation that comes with anxiety and prolonged stress.

I have sporadically reworked the opening chapters since January, ending up with about 14,500 words done. But then I ground to a halt, because I wasn’t quite sure where to go next. So I returned to the notes given to me by my trusty developmental editor Kathryn Craft, looking for clues as to how to move forward.

Kathryn did not let me down! She suggested I use Lisa Cron’s Story Genius book and Jennie Nash’s Inside Outline to zero in on motivation and connecting all the emotional/psychological beats that would make the story compelling. I was already familiar with Story Genius, having read it and used it for another story, and knew I would find it useful for this one. After I looked at the Inside Outline, I knew I couldn’t use it at this point. I am not an outliner, and just looking at it made the enthusiasm drain right out of me. But it will definitely be a tool I will use after I complete the new draft I am working on.

I didn’t want to set myself up for failure. So I decided to set a goal of doing one step in an exercise from Story Genius a day. If I wanted to do more, fine. But one was the goal. And I have been doing that. Walking through Story Genius, I am getting a handle on the inner conflict that drives my protagonist and the misbelief that must be resolved by the end of the story. I am getting more excited as I see thing more clearly. I finally feel like I am making progress.

Granted, it’s not actual writing yet. But I think once I get all this straight in my head, the manuscript words will come more easily. And even though I haven’t added words to my manuscript with these exercises, I have written 1,500 words of exercises. Which is something.

So I am finally moving forward with my writing, and it feels good.

What have you done lately to get yourself moving forward?

Raising the Dead: Giving an old manuscript new life

Every author who has written for any length of time has novels in the drawer that didn’t quite make the grade. They are “almost” there, but sometimes we can’t quite figure out what’s missing the mark. For the moment, they are dead novels.

The novel I am raising from the deadI have one such novel, The Oracle of Delphi, Kansas. It’s a YA contemporary fantasy that made the query rounds a few years ago. I had a few requests, but ultimately no one took it. The feedback I got pointed to a confusion on the reader’s part on the character’s goal, the driving force behind the action.

I didn’t know how to fix it, so I put it aside and moved on. Now, though, I am ready to raise it from the dead. I have learned a lot on the past few years, and have new ideas on what might help move the book from “almost” to “ready”.

One tool I am using with this review is Story Genius by Lisa Cron. Her book is meant to be used before you start writing, but can be used to revise. Her exercises focus on the “why” that drives all the character’s actions–and thus the plot. Since the feedback I got from the agents who looked at the manuscript was that they didn’t understand the main character’s driving motivation, Cron’s exercises seem tailor-made for bringing this to the front.

Hopefully my revamping under Cron’s guidance will move the manuscript from “almost” to “there”. I am having fun viewing this story through a different lens. Even at this early stage of revision, I see my protagonist more clearly, and I can hear her voice in my head more precisely than ever before.

Do you leave your dead manuscripts buried? If you do raise them from the dead, what methods do you use?

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