New Year, New-ish Goals

Friends, it is 2015, and I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t be more pleased.

Not that 2014 was a bad year. Not at all. We did a lot of learning and growing and stretching in it, and also took plenty of trips to the beach. Can’t really complain.

But a new year is here, and I am ready to put into action the results of all that learning and growing and stretching. And some more beach trips.

I signed Joy up for violin lessons with someone here on campus who teaches (EXCITEMENT ABOUNDS) and realized that this means she will be taking ballet lessons, art lessons, piano lessons, and violin lessons this semester; Gracie will be taking art and ballet (possibly starting piano in the fall, we’ll see); and of course we’ll be continuing with our Friday homeschool group. Guess there’s no question but that I’m a mom of kids instead of littles now, with all these activities. How am I supposed to be a proper hermit with all this running them around hither and yon?

I have a few goals for 2015. Learn and practice more self-discipline is the big one. I’m way too prone to flutter frantically around, getting overwhelmed by life and all that I need/want to do, and not get any of it done. This is an old tale, I’m sung it before here and elsewhere, and I am well aware that the kind of self-discipline I am after will likely take me the rest of my life to master. That’s okay. I’ll just keep plugging away at it.

Another familiar goal: read less, savor more, get deeper into what I read instead of charging through books so quickly that I can’t even remember them two months later without checking Goodreads. I’m working on this one already. I started Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her (I tried reading it once a few years back and never made it all the way through) and am stopping to jot down notes whenever something strikes me, re-reading certain passages if I feel the need or desire, trying to consciously slow myself down to enjoy the book instead of plowing through it like a bull in a china shop.

I’ve specifically set the goal of reading 12 non-fiction books this year. I find non-fiction incredibly rewarding, and yet incredibly hard to get through, so I figure if I plan to read one per month, by December, I might find it’s a bit easier to do.

For writing: I’m learning to slow down there, too (noticing a pattern, anyone? I told you 2014 was a year of growing). Not push, push, push to GET PUBLISHED GET OUT THERE OR ELSE YOU ARE DOOMED, DOOMED I TELL YOU. Enjoy writing. Dig deeper into it. Be more honest. Polish it up again, even after I think it’s perfect (because six months later, I’ll realize that it’s not). Explore new genres, new ways of sharing stories, new ways even of writing. Don’t be afraid of going off the path.

But at the same time, while holding this loosely, I have set myself a few goals, because how can you go off the path if you haven’t established what the path is? So, I would like to finish the first draft of of the serial story, with the goal of polishing and publishing through a newsletter one chapter a month. I would like to get From the Shadows polished and ready to publish. And I would like to start over again with Magic in Disguise – I am almost finished outlining the new version, so that’s exciting.

I’ve got a few more personal goals/hopes for this year – but I’m holding those close to me for right now. They’re fragile; I don’t want to expose them too much or they might disintegrate.

And speaking of self-discipline … I just remembered that I need to pack today for our almost-week-long jaunt to visit family which starts tomorrow, so I guess I’d better sign off from here and get to that.

After I finish my tea, naturally. Priorities.

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Title Reveal!

I teased on my FB page last week that I had finally settled on a title for my novel … and then said you would all have to wait until Monday, on the blog, to find out what it is. Wonder no more!

I’ve been calling this book¬†Magic & Mayhem almost since the conception, but I never intended for it to be the official title – it was just holding it together in my mind, better than just calling it “Maia’s story” or “The Book.” When the time came to settle on a real title, though, I had the worst time. Nothing I thought of seemed quite right. I would bounce ideas off my husband with even more intensity than we used to discuss baby names (seriously, those were easy compared to this), and then email a list to my critique partner to get her opinion. I scoured the manuscript itself for clues, hunted through my Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, searched poems and verses and the Bible, stared at my row of Agatha Christie’s in vain hope of inspiration, and racked my own brain for ideas.

Finally, finally I found one that not only I liked, my two long-suffering partners in crime agreed sounded good, as well. Success at last!

(Seriously, who would have thought picking a title would be almost harder than writing the book itself?)

So, without further ado, I introduce …

Magic Most Deadly 

Ever since the War, Maia Whitney’s life has been one long straight path of drudgery and boredom, with no room for the adventures she secretly craves. If only there was a chance to do some work that really mattered, but what would that be?

Lennox Davies, minor magician and master Intelligence agent, has no time for independent and opinionated women. Lives depend on his ability to remain undistracted and keep his own counsel.

But when the two of them witness a murder, and Maia discovers her own blossoming magical talent, they must put aside their differences in order to work together. If they don’t, England itself could fall.

And even if they do, it still might not be enough.

Moving Right Along

Three of three!

I’m cruising through these edits. Short stories go so much faster than novels! Even the Olympics haven’t been enough to slow me down – though granted, much of what they’re showing right now doesn’t interest me greatly. If it weren’t the Olympics, I would never voluntarily watch any sort of volleyball, beach or court. Water polo isn’t high on my list of favorite sports to watch, either.

I do, however, find myself on the edge of my seat for every. single. rowing. event. Seriously, I start out watching casually, and the next thing I know, I’m holding my breath, clutching my hands together, making little inarticulate squeaks every time positions change at all. Not much editing happening during those (also, it’s ridiculous how happy I am to hear Terry Gannon commentate on all the rowing events. I grew up listening to Terry Gannon, Dick Button, and Peggy Fleming commentate on all ABC’s figure skating events, and every time I hear any one of them now it just brings back my happy teen years).

Carl and I enjoy watching the gymnastics together, and oohing and gasping over it all. We are in full agreement that having either one of our littles take up competitive gymnastics would put us in early graves. Any other sport, I think, would be fine, but gymnastics makes me sweat.

Anyway. Back to the editing. The nice thing, I’m finding, about editing so many short stories in a row is that it is much easier to see my repeated problem motifs and correct them than it is in a novel. I’m not exactly sure why that is, but that’s how it works for me. I am starting to see and correct some of those problems myself now, even before the CPs have pointed it out, and that’s definitely a good thing.

Two more stories to be critiqued and edited, and then I send the whole shebang off to my copyeditor. I hate to sound like a broken record in all my posts here – but I’m excited.

I’m taking today off – spending the day with some college friends, including one who now lives down south and only makes it back to the area once a year. Eleven kids under the age of six and five adults – yikes!

I’m pretty sure it won’t just be the kids running around like chickens with their heads chopped off.

Tomorrow will be getting those last two stories in good enough shape for CPs to look at them. Things are most definitely progressing!

Edits and Quilts

My week off is done! I started editing yesterday, in between watching the Olympics and grumbling over NBC’s terrible coverage. I keep telling myself to be thankful we can watch any of the events at all, but somehow I keep finding myself on Twitter, complaining again. Then I virtuously tell myself that if enough of us complain publicly, NBC will have to take note and make changes before Sochi, and therefore I am doing America in general a service.

As Jane Austen says, “how quick come the reasons for approving what we like.”

I’m actually quite pleased with the way the edits are coming along. One story in particular needs a lot of work, but the other two are fairly smooth sailing. Which is good, because as soon as these three are ready to send to my copy-editor, I’ll have two more ready for critiquing and then editing.

I’m still trying to figure out the cover design. Do I hire someone to do that for me, or do I handle it myself? I’m not too shabby of a photographer, and I actually have a very clear idea of what I want for the cover, but the problem is in finding a model, and then handling all the editing aspect of it. I don’t have Photoshop, and iPhoto (and even PicMonkey) is very limited! Any advice, already-published writers out there?

Even with the shoddy coverage from NBC, the Olympics are definitely inspiring me. If these athletes can do everything that they can, do that huge push to fulfill a lifelong dream … then I can figure out all these nit-picky details to take that first step on the road of my lifelong dream.

And, as is usual with me, my brain is already teeming with ideas for new projects. Three connected novellas! Two similar-themed but not-really-connected novelettes! A collection of fantasy stories and artwork from other unpublished/new writers/artists organized by me! And, oh yeah, my novels. Can’t forget those.

I don’t really mind having so many creative plots at my fingertips. Even if I only accomplish half of them, that’s still pretty major.

In the meantime, I am holding myself sternly on the task at hand before I let myself get carried away with new projects.

(Grace’s sunshine quilt is coming along nicely, by the way. I sit down to watch the Olympics and just start tying, and before I know it, I’ve got several blocks done. I might actually have it finished by the end of the Olympics at this rate! Here’s a picture of it in its pinned state – the lighting doesn’t do it justice at all, but you still can get an idea of how cute it is.)

You can see why we call it the sunshine quilt!

Collaboration and Community

I’ve been spending most of my time this weekend (and Monday) getting my short stories ready to send to the lovely, lovely people who volunteered to critique them for me (and attempting to clean my house, burning out the belt on my vacuum, deciding to forget housecleaning and making baked doughnuts with the kids instead), but I did scratch out enough time to read through The Floating Admiral.

Have you heard of it? It’s a joint effort by the Detection Club (some notable members: Agatha Christie, GK Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers, Anthony Berkeley, Freeman Wills Croft … etc) to see if they could detect a mystery without knowing the end. Each person wrote one chapter, and then handed it off to the next without any hints. Anthony Berkeley had the unenviable task as the end of trying to make sense of the preceding tangle of clues and evidence, and wrapping it up in a tidy solution (which he did BRILLIANTLY), and then in an appendix at the back, each author revealed his or her own solution.

It was fascinating. I loved it. Both as a mystery fan and a writer. As a mystery fan, it was delightful to see each writer try to guess where the previous writer had been pointing, and to contrast the different styles of writing and detection. As a writer, I loved seeing the way they played off each other and used each other to make their own writing stronger. My favorite part, honestly, was the appendix where they all revealed their solutions, because it showed so plainly the way each of them crafted their stories (Agatha Christie’s solution, by the way, was the most preposterous, and yet you KNOW that if she had written the entire thing, we would have swallowed it without hesitation). From Sayers’ complex and tidy backstory and timetable to Clemence Dane’s frank admittance that it was all a muddle to him and he just tried to leave it open so that Berkeley could finish it off in any way he pleased, it was great.

Trying to read it as one cohesive detective story would be fairly exhausting, and judging by some of the negative reviews I’ve read of this, that’s where many people go wrong. Reading it for the enjoyment of seeing all these authors work together and blend their many different styles (the main detective in the story, Inspector Rudge, ends up being a character of so many layers and great depth, simply because he is written by so many different people – just watching his character develop was half the fun for me) is the way to go with this story.

I’ve been plotting a joint fanfiction story with two of my good friends (Adrienne and Cathy, we really need to get moving on this!), consisting of letters and journal entries between three cousins. It’s not the same premise as The Floating Admiral, but much of the idea is the same – we each have our own idea of our character’s story, and the fun and challenge will be weaving them together into something cohesive.

This is one of those aspects of writing that thrills me. As much as I love crafting stories and bringing characters to life on my own, I also love the thought of being part of a community of writers. The very idea of the Detection Club makes me happy, much like the Inklings (if given the option of going back in time and sitting in on only one meeting of those two groups, I’d be hard-pressed to pick between them). Can you imagine if the Inklings had written a joint-effort fantasy like the Detection Club did with The Floating Admiral? It would have been amazing and hysterical, all at once.

Twitter and blogs are a wonderful way to build writers’ communities; one of the reasons I’m thrilled to have critique partners for my short stories is because it is yet another way to build that same sense of community. Ultimately, though, nothing quite beats in-person meetings of a regular sort, to discuss and laugh and help each other become better writers.

Maybe someday – for now, I’m thankful, so very thankful, for these internet communities I can call my own.

Objective

I promise, this is my last navel-gazing post for a while. Really.

It’s just, I think I’ve had a breakthrough in figuring out some of my frustrations with where I’m at with my writing (and a lot of other areas of life) right now.

It isn’t so much that publication is my goal. But I DO want to be read by others, and this is a major reason why:

When I love something, I want to do it as well as I possibly can. I don’t have to be the absolute best at something, but I want to do it as best as I can. I love to write stories, and I want to write good stories. And the problem is that for so long, only people who love (or at least like) me have been reading my writing and commenting on it. And they’re nice to me. Not since college have I had someone completely objective reading my work and commenting on it (I’m assuming that the objective readers on ff.net are the ones who simply don’t comment), and so I no longer know from someone else’s perspective what my strengths and weaknesses are as a writer (aside from the grammatical weaknesses Laura pointed out on my last piece she critiqued. I do know my technical writing issues, just not the creative aspect so much).

I’m the same way with music. When I was taking voice lessons, my awesome teacher never hesitated to tell me when something was good and when it needed work. Occasionally by banging her head on the piano keys, but hey, it got the message across (there was also the threat of  “if you sing like you’ve swallowed your tongue ONE MORE TIME I’m reaching in your mouth myself and pulling your tongue,” which was remarkably effective). Since stopping lessons, I’m kind of adrift – not sure anymore of my strengths as a singer and my weaknesses.

I don’t need to be the next JK Rowling. Nor do I need to be a concert vocalist or the next American Idol (or whatever current singing-related show is popular now – I can’t keep up). What I do need is to be the very best Louise I can be at whatever it is I do. Somehow.

Objectivity. It’s a beautiful thing. And it can be so hard to gain when you don’t have someone outside of yourself assisting you. My husband is always happy to help me where he can, but he’s my husband, he has to be nice to me. I’m pretty sure that was in our vows.

Naturally, realizing all this doesn’t help me actually gain that needed objectivity to my own skills, but it does at least help me from feeling generally “I suck”-ish about said skills. Which is good.

So. Knowledge gained. Good thing. Next step, finding those objective observers. Which will take more work, but hey. I’m never scared of lofty goals so long as they are defined. It’s the vague ones that scare me.

A Bird’s-Eye Look at Editing

Easter is over, the eggs are hunted, the family has gone back to their respective houses, the fridge is chock full of ham and sundries, the coffee/tea stash is seriously depleted, and it’s time to start thinking about editing again.

I have adopted a methodical practice for editing this particular MS. First, I printed out the rough draft, and went through it with a pencil, marking specific changes as well as leaving just general comments like “awkward phrasing; fix it,” or “this whole passage sucks; change it,” or if I was feeling kindly toward myself “insert more about specific reasons here.”

Next stage is the one I’m in now, putting the suggested changes into the document.

The next stage is the one I’m dreading, and the reason I read Line by Line: copy-editing. This is the mind-numbing part where I go through and look critically at each line, pulling it apart to see if it is as concise (in case you haven’t gathered as much from my blog posts, I’m a rambly writer), understandable, and lovely as possible.

Then will come one final look-through, and then I will send it out to my beta readers. Assuming I have beta readers at that point, that is. Anyone want to volunteer for that? I’m always happy to read others’ work in exchange. (and yes, I know it’s not considered etiquette to beg for betas in this way. What can I say, I’ve been looking for a critique group for over a year now with no luck, and I’m desperate. Also, my tongue is rather in my cheek, though that doesn’t mean I’d refuse if anyone offered to become a critique partner with me!)

After the betas tear it apart and send it back and I stop sobbing into my pillow over all their suggested improvements, I’ll go through it again, fixing the problems they saw in it. Then I send it back to them, and then we decide if it’s good to go out for submission, or if it needs yet more work.

It’s a fairly exhaustive (and exhausting) process, and it’s more intensive than I’ve ever attempted with any of my other finished MSS. However, of those, one was never meant for publication, but was simply finished as “my first finished novel;” one is languishing in a closed file; and one I’ve ended up tearing apart, breaking down, and starting it again from scratch. So I’m thinking that a more severe editing process might, in fact, be helpful for me. And after reading on Shannon Hale’s blog that some of her works go through nine drafts, I really don’t feel this is too over-the-top.

I’m planning on this taking a long time. I’d been feeling an almost panicked need to get this MS done, to get it out there as quickly as possible so that by the time Carl was ready to go back to school I could maybe, possibly, be helping the family finances. However, by working so hard and feeling so rushed, I was losing a lot of the joy that characterized the first writing of this story in the first place, and more importantly, was finding it harder and harder to enjoy being with my family, because every moment spent with them was a moment I wasn’t writing.

Um, bad priorities.

So I’ve accepted that for right now, my role is not to assist in bringing in any extra money when Carl is in school, at least not through my writing. Depending on his schedule, I can always go back to retail – after eight years before my marriage, I’m pretty comfortable there – once he’s in school, and help out that way. Right now, I’m going to slow down the frenetic pace I’d been applying to the writing, enjoy it, enjoy my family, enjoy life as it is right now, and take as long as I need to in order to make this story as close to perfect as I can, while still savoring being mumsie to my two little chickadees.

What does your editing process look like?