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Friday Links for Writers: 07.03.15

“Thinking of Him” & its neighbor, by Roy Lichtenstein, photographed with students at the Yale Art Museum by Elissa Field 2015 (copyright, repro w written permission).

I am posting this on a raucously beautiful day in Fairfield, Connecticut, where I am rushing to finish morning writing in time to go gather a picnic dinner to walk down to the beach for tonight’s fireworks. That’s right, fellow patriots, the 4th of July weekend kicks off today.

And with this Friday off, you have little excuse not to be writing.

My morning was a hectic finish to a busy writing week: research for the intro to an academic paper, paperwork for a great new freelance client, wrestling with recording a screencast for a digital portfolio… I love the diversity of the writing I’ve been doing the past month — some great content and PR writing projects, and a great new educational client.

But draft 8 of the novel is also going like gangbusters, spread in ungainly documents all through my computer.

How on earth does one steal time to get that novel done? Rally your online communities! The folks at Friday Night Writes gave me excuse to pause for #writeclub word sprints throughout the day. And the fabulous and generous young adult author, Gae Polisner, lent motivation to take time out to find an excerpt to share as she kicks off Friday Feedback today, as the start of Teachers Write. Any excuse is a good excuse to take a break from other work to get this novel reassembled.

(Still pondering the relevance of Lichtenstein’s “Thinking of Him”? It’s from a trip I took as a volunteer with 5th graders who’d used fine art all year to extend understanding of how visual texts construct meaning, same as literature. I love how the diversity of my work takes me everywhere!)

Every busy writing week is also filled with great reading and resources, which brings us to another edition of FridayLinks for Writers — some of my favorite recent reading online. As always, let me know in the comments what was particularly helpful, what you’d like to read more of, or share your own favorite links.

Have a great writing week, all!

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Checklist: Is Your Novel Ready to Query?

In response to a writer wondering if it is okay to withdraw a query, the inimitable literary agent (and Query Shark) Janet Reid answers the question, but then also offers a 5 question checklist to know if a novel is actually ready to query. Also available on the page are several other useful query resources, such as a link to her query checklist and query letter diagnostics. If you are in the market to query, her site is a good place to start for tips.

 Writing Idol: Not for the Thin-Skinned

Speaking of testing queries, Melissa Cronin shares about the experience of participating in Writing Idol in this guest post on Brevity from last fall. With the intensity of American Idol tryouts, writers sit by as their story is read aloud to see at what point a panel of agents or editors would stop reading. This kind of event has popped up at a few conference venues.

Dear Writers: None of Us Know What the F We’re Doing

Forgive the expletives in this one, but Chuck Wendig usually makes them worthwhile. This piece on his blog is one of my favorites — an acknowledgement that we all have ideas about what works or what to avoid in writing, we know certain protocols about submitting… but, in the end, writing is not defined by rules or guarantees. A non-advice piece that has you wondering if there really are ice weasels, and also inspired to get to work without waiting for clearer instructions.

Writing Basics: The Act One Problem

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that screenwriting, plotting and structure have been a source of intrigue for me in novel revision, and this piece by Janice Hardy on her Fiction University website clarifies the concept of the problem that carries plot from inciting incident to door one. Understanding plot concepts is a good way to test for weaknesses in a story.

10 Resources for Writers and Bloggers

Nina Badzin shares a great list of resources, and on each of those links you’ll find multiple options for new publication routes, writing groups and more. It’s been a frequently shared resource among writers and bloggers.

Colin Barrett Talks About His Approach to the Short Story

I’m really intrigued by Colin Barrett, an Irish writer whose story collection, Young Skins, won last year’s Frank O’Connor International Award and the Guardian First Book Award. A silky paperback copy of the collection just arrived into my reading pile, having had to order it since it was not readily available in the U.S., and this interview shares some interesting insights.

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How About You?

What challenges are you working on in your writing this week, or what resources have helped you find clarity toward your goals? We’d love to hear from you — share your thoughts or links in the comments.

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Friday Links for Writers: 05.01.15

 

c Elissa Field

c Elissa Field

I am writing this while looking out the window at nodding daffodils after a week spent appreciating the season of spring blooms, driving through 10 east coast states. Apple blossoms, weeping cherries, dogwoods, azaleas, forsythia, Bradford pears, redbud, wild wisteria, and the last bedraggled heads of tulips.

10634351_10100112304388454_1141723537_nNo small deal to me, as this was my first spring back in the northeast after years in South Florida’s tropics.

It’s also been a great week for writing. Two new business writing clients. Writing academic curriculum. Analyzing the structure of recent breakout novels. Celebrating the creativity of my clients and my writing community (including Wordsmith Studio’s continuing anniversary celebrations). And — no offense to all of that, but — most overjoyed by work on my novel. Revision to this story is like discovering hidden doors. This story — the one coming vivid, the writing on a roll, where it dragged when I knew the story was not yet ready — is the one I knew was there all along, so I couldn’t be happier.

My current challenge... or threat.

My current challenge… or threat.

That said, this post marks a return of Friday Links for Writers, which was on hiatus during my winter masters work. This week shares some of my favorite recent reads on process, form, inspiration and publication. As always, let me know in the comments what resounds with you, or what you are currently trying to learn more about. Feel free to share your own links. Have a great writing week!

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Tips for Non-converging Parallel Plot Lines

In a recent workshop, when trying to simplify my narrative to a logline to practice pitching with workshop peers, I realized that one of the complications I was working on is that my novel unfolds in nonlinear, parallel, converging plot lines. While conventional advice tends to steer toward linear lines, there are several different forms for parallel plot lines, in linear and nonlinear forms. This piece takes on one of the more interesting: non-converging (two stories that don’t cross). I share it as much for that discussion as the additional links on other structures.

 496 Words on Writing Flash Prose

Some of my writing friends are kings and queens of writing flash prose, and I can’t help envy them. Envy the crossing of all those finish lines, all those publications come to light. It’s therefore no surprise that I loved this short piece by Rebecca Meacham on Ploughshares’ blog about how she yields flash prose from her novel scraps.

The One Word You Should Probably Add to Twitter Searches

This was one of my favorite pieces on research this week, as Daniel Victor shares some common sense but not obvious advice for honing in on first person sources. The trick isn’t just the word to include, but the simple logic behind it. This was frequently shared by my journo friends.

Done is Better than Perfect

I am sure I’m not alone in appreciating this piece, in which Nanea Hoffman confesses how a need for perfection in her writing has held her back. It’s a great tonic if you need permission to let go and just get something submitted.

Matthew Weiner’s Reassuring Life Advice for Struggling Artists

Close on the heels of that theme, Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner reassures emerging artists by pulling back the veil that implies real genius is effortless. The Fast Company essay suggests all masterpieces involved false starts, deletions and revision, saying that “hiding brushstrokes” does a disservice to emerging artists.

Her Stinging Critiques Propel Young Adult Best Sellers

To be on the receiving end of an editorial letter from Julie Strauss-Gabel may sting, but I can’t help think how empowering it would be to work with an editor with such vision. You might know her as the Dutton editor for John Green, whose experiences working with her are shared. In retracing the arc of her career, this is also a fascinating glimpse into the growth of young adult fiction.

This Week in Fiction: Colm Tóibín

I usually try to end with the perspective of one writer. Here, it’s interesting to read Colm Toibin’s observations and creative process as he discusses writing his story, “Sleep” with Deborah Treisman, in the New Yorker.

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How About You?

I love this sign from Atlantic Center for the Arts, which comes on the heels of a sign asking the public not to venture beyond a point where the center is reserved for artists. c Elissa Field

I love this sign from Atlantic Center for the Arts, which comes on the heels of a sign asking the public not to venture beyond a point where the center is reserved for artists. c Elissa Field

What challenges are you working on in your writing this week, or what resources have helped you find clarity toward your goals? We’d love to hear from you — share your thoughts or links in the comments.

Better yet… Have you read my posts for Wordsmith Studio’s 3rd Anniversary Blog Hops? Whether you are a member of the group or not: share your current writing process by responding to interview questions in this week’s blog hop post. Here are links:

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Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

If you like the idea of more blog hops, let me know, as I may host them in the future on this site.

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Writing Prompt: Develop Setting – Inspired by Colson Whitehead on New York City

copyright Elissa Field; repro w written permission only

copyright Elissa Field; repro w written permission only

I am a very visual person — I think in pictures — so writing setting is perhaps the last aspect of storytelling that I worry about. In writing a story set in India, details crept into every line without me thinking about them. I knew the exact color of shadows, the moment a bird would flush out of dry brush. A lot of writers can relate to this, especially if their drive to tell a story is inspired by place.

But that’s not always the case. In Friday Links for Writers: 3.21.14 , I quoted Anne Enright from a bit of advice where she said, “description is hard.”

Describing setting can be a powerful way to engage readers, conjure up surprising sensory details, reveal character, add resonance to a scene, develop internal and external conflicts… but it has do so in a way that moves the story, and that fits the voice and character(s)’ point of view.

Continuing the series on Novel Revision, today’s post shares a prompt for developing an important setting in your story, making it work to build character, motion and greater resonance. While many details may have come about in a first draft, midlevel revision is a great time to revise for ideas that were not yet clear in your first vision.

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Find a Place to Stand

Anne Enright’s advice was: “Remember that all description is an opinion about the world. Find a place to stand.”

This is a great starting point for thinking about setting: begin by knowing your character(s)’ point of view and seeing your setting from where the character stands.

Colson Whitehead on New York

Some of you may know I am working from my family’s house outside New York City at the moment, and felt the impact of this year’s anniversary of 9.11.01 in that context. On the anniversary, Jodi Kantor shared on Twitter a link to Colson Whitehead’s beautiful article from the New York Times that ran November 11, 2001.

As a New Yorker living in the city as it recovered, Colson wrote not directly about the event, but about what defines one’s connection to and identification as being from the city.

Read it because it’s beautiful — and because we’ll use it as our prompt. (Read it now, or in the prompt below: The Way We Live Now: 11.01.01)

The First Brick in Your City

Colson says, “You start building your private New York the first time you lay eyes on it.” Anyone who’s spent time in New York knows what he means by “private New York,” as everyone comes to define their own sense of the city — a city so large that any of us sees it only in pieces.

But isn’t that true of each character’s response to setting?

In the paragraph that follows, Colson lists a handful of ways a person might have experienced their first moment in the city.

Freeze it there,” he says; “that instant is the first brick in your city.”

There is so much about writing setting that can be taken from his words. The point of details in your novel is not to inform a reader of what to see and do when visiting the place; you are not a glorified camera taking a picture for the reader. What matters about the places in your story are the ways your character(s) perceive and respond to them.

In Colson’s essay, each example of a newbie arriving in New York City presents a character you can view clearly in your mind, despite being limited to the details of a single sentence. They are details of setting, but they clearly define the interaction of people within that setting. The details involve objects, structures, qualities and even the kinds of actions and thoughts a character has within that setting. A detail could be as mundane as holding a piece of paper or a communication between friends, but the detail is not left vague. “The phone rang,” could happen in any city, but Colson made the same detail of a phone call place-defining, as: “there was some mix-up in the plans.”

Prompt for Developing Details of Setting

So let’s turn his essay into a prompt for your own writing today.

Interpret this for whatever you are working on: a novel, a short story, a poem, a detail in your memoir, a detail in an essay, details fleshed out for a travel piece, or start something new.  You won’t be recreating Colson’s format; you’ll just use the prompt for generating details in whatever scene you imagine.

  1. Read Colson Whitehead’s The Way We Live Now: 11.01.01
  2. Have in mind the place you will write about, thinking of it first as it is in the story’s present. Tip: Have in mind a specific place. For existing work, this will be an important location in your piece. For new work, be sure to have a single place in mind before writing. While Colson writes about a city, yours could be any kind of a place, real or imagined.
  3. What is the “first brick” in your character’s experience of this setting? Be vivid. Be true. Likely part of your backstory, what first memory comes to mind as the moment he/she began to define their own private version of their place? Freeze there. Think, then write where it feels revealing.
    • What emotion attaches to that first brick? Awe? Horror, pain, fear, injury…? Joy, excitement, beauty, anticipation, faith…?
    • What details attach to that first brick? Think of the stub of paper with a new address in the hand of the New Yorker arriving at their first address, or the limited view of a toddler in a carriage.
    • What actions or motion are involved? Are there details of arrival, communication, cross signals, movement? Are there broad sights or limited senses?
    • What does your character want (or think they want) in that first moment? This may be very different — distorted, more basic, more naïve — than later in the story.
  4. Moving through your story, how does your character continue to build their definition of the setting?
    • How does that first brick define the setting for your character?  Does it leave a ghost of emotion through later events? Does it start memory on solid or unstable footing? Do regrets haunt, long after, no matter how much success follows? Do later moments never live up to the first glow? Is there a sweetness the character carries from that first memory that lends forgiveness or blind faith in later experience? or..?
    • Does your character (or do you) come to measure later scenes against that first experience, or is it nearly forgotten as others take priority?
  5. Options for how this might create tensions, conflict development or structure in your story – where you might take it next:
    • What other “bricks” of memory, detail or experience define the setting for your character? Does this possibly suggest a structure for story events?
    • In what ways do these details define your character’s “own private” setting? Is your reader aware of a contrast between that private vision vs. other perspectives?
    • Do different characters perceive contrasting “private” versions of the setting? Does this lend structure, tension or just details to scenes? Would these different perspective ever cause missed understanding in dialogue between characters?
  6. Going beyond a single scene, how could you use this different private viewpoint to add details of how characters dress, what they carry, how they speak or what they do?

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What About You?

Are you working on setting this week? Did you use this prompt or what other inspiration helps you envision your setting clearly? Several of my friends work in photography or other media — how do you reflect on setting in your work?

Let us know how your work is going in the comments. Feel free to share a link to your own post, if you want to share an excerpt or other writing.

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If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s follow option or via email, or the Bloglovin button in the sidebar. You can find me on Twitter @elissafield.  I love to connect with like-minded readers and writers!

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Writing Process: Where Do You Write?

writing ct 1-

One of the cheery questions that writers seem to like trading experience about is, “Where do you write?”

There are those who are passionate café writers. There are those who post long reflections on their experience writing at a weeklong or month-long retreat where trees block view of the closest human being. There are those who write on subways. There are those attending conferences this summer who will imagine long hours writing in the Adirondack chairs on a grassy mountainside.  There are those with full fledged home offices or equally meaningful cubbies with small totems that inspire them to write.

One of my most productive places to write, ever, has been sitting in bed in my house, which is that kind of new construction where the master bedroom is huge and airy, on the second floor with a bay window looking over treetops so it feels like sitting in a treehouse. Chi moves so well through that room that I am neither bored nor distracted.

More often, as single mother, I am in the corner of the sectional sofa in the family room in the middle of my sons’ action, so I won’t someday hear them in therapy saying their mother spent their childhood with her nose in a laptop locked away in her room. I’ve written in other busy places: conferences, courthouses, schools, train stations, airports.

I’ve written in spectacularly beautiful places — on a cliffside balcony looking over the Mediterranean in Positano, Italy; in a beautiful hotel room; at famously photogenic beach. Few places are as beautiful as that empty chair in the picture with this post, where I am sitting right now on the sun porch of my mother’s house in Connecticut, looking out over her gardens as she and my son weed.

ard na sidhe blogBeautiful places and busy places have often left me with ideas to write from. My current WIP began with an image from a gorgeous mountain lake in County Kerry, Ireland.

But, ironically, my philosophy about “where to write” is the same as my philosophy on buying notebooks or pens for writing: the best writing places are equivalent to or more boring than the writing you’re doing. If you’ve ever had writer’s block, then never buy some heirloom-gorgeous writing journal because you’ll be too afraid to write a wrong word in it. I’d rather a boring composition notebook, any day.

As beautiful as this seat is in my mom’s sunroom, I’ve spent more time photographing it and writing about it than working through the list of revisions I’m supposed to be making.  As we get ready to drive back south tomorrow, I’m sure I’ll lament leaving this beautiful location many times. But the truth is, it does me well to dip in such beauty and then retreat to the quiet where the words I need to work on are the main attraction.

As a final thought, I think the best writing seats have good chi — air flows readily so your ideas feel free to unravel — yet are not in the main line of that energy. For example, that seat pictured in the window demands the action of looking out onto the world, in the traffic flow of the main door. In reality, these last two weeks, I’ve written better when snugged into the sofa set back in that same room, with a similar view and still in hearing of all the house’s activity, but sheltered behind the main traffic and action.

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What About You?

Is your writing space important to you as you write, or are you portable in your work? Do you have rituals, like favorite quotes or icons on your desk, or other ways your writing space gets you going? What would you change, if you could? What would you recommend writers look for or avoid in a good writing space?

If you’ve posted about your writing space in the past, feel free to leave your link in the comments.

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Novel Revision Strategies: A Day’s Work in Pictures

novel revis 7-9

sols_blueIf you read Monday’s post (Novel Revision Strategies: Printing for Read-Through), you know I am using a printed draft for this stage of novel revisions.

Today’s post is a photo diary of what morning work looked like — as waffles with the boys shared space with ruthless edits on this draft.

“Failure is not an option”?

Successful launch, Kennedy Space Center. c Elissa Field, repro w permission only

Successful launch, Kennedy Space Center. c Elissa Field, repro w permission only

Go “where’s Waldo” to find the NASA slogan on my coffee mug: Failure is not an option.

Even as writing and revising drafts is all about failing over and over again? Yeah, I still love that mug’s inspiration. I bought it on a trip to Cape Canaveral with my rising-7th grader when he was in 4th grade. Ever wondered about the explosive launch sequence pictured on my blog’s masthead? That was taken on the same trip — a re-enactment of the control room for a successful Gemini launch. We’re in that control room when writing, and the mug reminds me to never stop.

Novel writing is launching into the risk of failure, the surging insistence that it will go well. The rocket will launch. Risk embraced.

Or, go with Samuel Beckett as inspiration: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”  Drafting and revising is all about getting something down. Being willing to fail as well as we can, then trying again, even failing again — but failing better. In that sense, the mug would say, Giving up is not an option.

So, here’s where that has gotten me in the past couple days…

These are probably my favorite revision pages:

Done. Done. Chickie approves. cElissa Field, repro w permission only

Done. Done. Chickie approves. cElissa Field, repro w permission only

This is what less happy pages look like:

Messy revision

Ohhh… that looks painful. Chickie is staying out of it. BUT, check-marks show the changes have been made in the new computer draft. Work goes on. c. Elissa Field, repro w writ-permiss

If you read the captions, you see the range of changes going on.

The top picture shows pages from the opening scenes of my WIP, which are ready to go — marked “done.”  I also signal “done” in the computer document by changing that text to blue. Yup, plain text: that leaves you vulnerable to being cut.

The second pictures shows a scene that has been outlined with highlighter to say it will be kept (although not “done”), with corrections marked. Where I still have questions to answer, I wrote them on the blank page above to make sure they won’t get lost.

Apparently I was not mean enough to take a picture of pages with entire scenes X-ed out, but they are there. I do paste deleted text into a “Cuts” document… just in case.

The colored highlighter is an example of what I mentioned in yesterday’s post about using color codes to mark key scenes or characters.

Here’s the color key:

color key

This is the key on the first page — so far I’ve been marking the text that will be kept with a highlighter for the main character it relates to. Being able to visualize this helps, as this edit is all about getting the final structure in place, then seeing what’s missing.

Creating a Style Sheet – or, um, Lengthy To-Do List:

Revision checklist-

Every hour or so of reading, I go back to the computer draft to implement the changes. I’ve been checking corrections off to keep track of what’s been done, and also gathering this chapter-by-chapter task list of questions that need to be resolved. So far, it includes facts to resolve, like names, family names, locations, dates — as well as plot details that have changed between drafts and need to be made consistent.

If you want to read more about creating a “style sheet” to manage your novel, check out this post by literary agent Rachelle Gardner: Create a Style Sheet for Your Manuscript .

A Party so Wild it Needs a Bouncer – Enter the Outline:

Outline as Bouncer
Really, most of this mark-up on the draft took place yesterday. I came back to it this morning knowing I was still swamped in some choices. I had a clear list of scenes in my head, and knew the order I need to shift them into. As clear as it was in my head, with the story changes that took place between drafts, I need to keep track of the order of important reveals and progression of internal and external conflicts.

Enter the Bouncer, tough guy outline watching over the WIP’s shoulder above. Yes, it looks a bit techie — I am used to throwing Word tables together to manage info, so that works for me.

The Bouncer outline works like this: like velvet ropes deciding who will be allowed into an elite club, if a scene is not on this list, it won’t stay in the draft.

As much as writers chat about whether to “pants” or “plan” I believe fully in a hybrid of the two. In order to finish this outline, I had to analyze my understanding of the story. It reminded me of a couple scenes not written yet, and helped me better analyze how to get the right tension and resolution at the end. Mean as he looks, the list makes my job so much easier.

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How About You?

It’s been great to read comments from readers about their own process for revising — share yours as well?

Rather than revising, are you focused on writing new material? It was also great to connect on Twitter today, as Wordsmith Studio writers hosted wordsprints. Check out the hashtag #wschat to find writing activities each week.

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