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"Okay, just another minute of Twitter, then I'll get back to that novel."

I signed up for the writing-time log experiment for two reasons. I thought it would be fun. And, I thought I’d learn something.

Here’s my log for the past week:

  • Sept. 27  4 hours
  • Sept. 28  3 hours
  • Sept. 29  2 hours
  • Sept. 30  5 hours
  • Oct. 1     5.5 hours
  • Total      19.5 hours

I logged the times I left my writing to do other things for more than five minutes. So, October 1st’s entry looks like this for writing time:

  • 5:00 to 5:20
  • 5:30 to 6:20
  • 6:30 to 6:50
  • 7:30 to 8:15
  • 10:45 to 11:40
  • 12:45 to 2:30

A couple things I learned:

  • Twitteruptions last longer than I thought they did.
  • When I know what I’m writing toward, I stay at the keyboard longer.

The middle of my week I had some very light writing days. I’d lost my way in my story and needed to find it again. I spent more time on Tuesday and Wednesday walking, running, and doing other life chores that I knew had to be done anyway.

I do think you have to put in the time in order to produce the words.

But sometimes backing off and giving the story some space is more productive than pushing forward.

Friday was my longest writing day, but it felt like my shortest because I knew where I was going. I think backing off on Tuesday and Wednesday helped me to see more clearly where I was going.

My word count on Friday: 4200. 

I’m pretty sure that Friday’s words made up at least a third of my word count for the week.

If you want to see more writing log blog entries go to Patti Neilson’s blog. She has a list.

This week I hope to finish this first draft I’ve been plugging away at since mid-May.

What are you working on this week? And, have you ever kept a writing-time log? If so, what did you learn from it?

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I came at writing slowly.

As a kid I spent most of my free time playing or watching TV. I liked to read but not in an obsessive way. And I didn’t write unless I had to for school.

My senior year of high school I had an English teacher who really knew how to bring books to life through discussion, and I discovered that I liked thinking deeply about books.

In college I started keeping a journal, but only wrote in it sporadically about girls I liked but was too shy to ask out, or about what life is all about, or about how I needed to get off my butt and do something, anything.

Sophomore year I decided to major in English because I had to major in something and didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life besides go camping and backpacking.

My last two years of college I wrote lots of old-style rhyming poetry, modeling the poets I was reading, and had two poems published in a student literary journal.

When I moved to Alaska a few years later and was living in a cabin outside of town, I wrote some really bad short stories about a guy living in a cabin where not much of anything is happening.

Yeah, writing what you know doesn't always work out.

Fast forward a few years: I’m teaching English in an alternative school and I discover Young Adult Literature. I start bringing home books by the arm-load, searching for a few my reluctant and struggling readers will connect with, and I fall in love with the genre.

Now that I’ve got my students reading, I’m looking for ways to turn my students on to writing so we start writing scenes using characters from the novels we are reading.

My students like doing the assignments, but I love doing the assignments.

I’m not sure I would’ve started writing YA if it weren’t for my students. Now, I’m hooked.

How did you come to be a writer? Did you love writing from an early age or did you discover it in a more roundabout way?

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For me, plot and character are interwoven like the DNA strands in a Double Helix. I map out character arcs and plot arcs, but end up looking at them together more than separately because the story has to work as a whole.

That said, here are few things I do to develop character:

1.  I write my MCs life story up until the book starts. This helps me to develop his voice for the actual novel. Nothing beats voice when it comes to story-telling. Your character can be doing something as boring as changing a light-bulb if he’s got a great voice.

2.  In the first draft I ask questions like this continually: What does my character want? What does my character need? What are his internal conflicts?

3.  And all throughout the revision process I keep asking myself: What is my character feeling right now? If I know his back story, I can usually get in touch with what he is going through. Often those feelings make it into the story as thoughts, actions or gestures. And these are the things that show who he is and what he is struggling with.

In one of my manuscripts, I totally changed who the MC was during a revision. I gave him a completely different back story even though in the book he still had to get from Point A to Point B.

I made him both more sympathetic and larger-than-life in a good way. Hopefully he does things that you wish you’d done if you were in his situation but you’d have to be pretty brave to try. At the same time he battles with guilt, anger, lack of self-worth, and helplessness. I think he’s a better fit for the story I’m telling.

So, my final thought on writing compelling characters: Have them take risks. And to have them take risks, put them in risky situations.

Thanks for stopping by. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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I’ve been talking quite a bit about revision the past few weeks because of where I am with one of my novels. Two weeks ago, I talked about micro-level revisions, and last week, about how to maintain voice while revising.

Now, after several critiques and twelve drafts, and reading my manuscript out loud, I’m in the final polishing stage.

I always print out my manuscript for the final read-through. I find that I catch more errors on paper than I do on the screen.

 What am I looking for?

  1. Misspelled words
  2. Missing punctuation
  3. Formatting issues
  4. Any other errors

I’m about half-way through the hard-copy and I’ve found one backwards apostrophe, two misspelled words or typos, one place where I had to add a word, and a couple places where I’m considering using a hyphen.

Yes, it’s not much, and none of these little errors are deal breakers, but this read-through gives me something very important: “Peace of mind.”

How do I do this read-though?

  1. Mindfully
  2. Slowly

I know the story so well that if I didn’t force myself to read the words in a slow and mindful way I probably wouldn’t catch anything. It’s easy for my brain to fill in words that I know should be there even if they aren’t. And unlike a read-through for plot, pacing and character where I like to read the whole book in one or two chunks, this time I break it up more because I’m really doing more proof-reading than anything.

Do you do your final read-through on hard-copy or on the screen? How do you maintain your concentration when reading a story that you know so well? How do you train your mind to see what is on the paper instead of what is in your head?

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In Edward Abbey’s classic, Hayduke Lives, the book opens with a Desert Tortoise being buried under a huge pile of dirt pushed by a giant bull dozer. I thought it was some symbolic statement about the Earth being trashed. That tortoise was history.

I quickly forgot about the tortoise as the story unfolded. But at the end of the book that tortoise crawls out of the dirt and keeps on going.

Obviously, with writing it’s important to keep moving forward. Sometimes it might feel like you are going nowhere fast, like you can’t get your head out of the dirt.

But speed isn’t the point if you’re on this writing journey.

I’m guessing that tortoise stopped and rested in its crawl toward daylight, and maybe it even took a few wrong turns but it made it out of dirt. And then, it kept on going.

This week on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, I’ll be attending a bunch of free online workshops at WriteOnCon. It’ll be a great way to keep moving forward.

The presentations will be available on the WriteOnCon website afterwards so even if you can’t make any of them at the given times you can still check them out, which is a good deal for me since I live in Alaska and the Conference starts at 2 a.m. my time. Yeah, there’s a good chance I’ll miss the keynote address tomorrow because I’ll be doing this:

What do you do to keep moving forward as a writer? And, when you feel stuck, what do you do to get unstuck? Are you participating in WriteOnCon?

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Micro-level Revision

Here are a few things I read for on a micro-level  in my novel after the plot and character arcs are pretty solid, and after I’ve eliminated unnecessary scenes.

1.  Read the opening and closing of every scene and ask: Does the opening pull you in? Does the closing make you want to turn the page? If they don’t, then fix them so they do.

2.  Showing versus telling: Is there a balance? Am I showing things that I don’t need to show? Am I telling things that I need to show? There are a zillion and one ideas about showing and telling. Your decisions are going to depend on the type of story you are writing and your style.

3.  Setting: Do the setting details drive the story forward? Are they colored in a way that provides insight into the POV character and his or her current mood/emotional state?

4.  Voice: Is the voice consistent?

5.  Dialogue: I read it out loud—multiple times. If my characters are making faces or moving in other ways while they speak I act these things out to see how they look and how they feel. I’d recommend doing this in a semi-private writing space so you don’t freak anyone out. And, sometimes it’s helpful to be in front of mirror.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on micro-level revision. Do you ever act out what your characters are doing? Or make the faces they make?

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I’ve been writing a little piece about my writing journey. It’s not quite ready but here’s a teaser.

It was inspired by this reptile:

The Desert Tortoise spends 75 % of its time underground. And when it does come out it has an average cruising speed of .2 mph. I saw one blazing across the desert a few years ago.

I’ve been moved by reptiles a few times in my life. The most harrowing was having two big fat rattlesnakes buzzing at me while I was on a backpacking trip in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. They were about five feet away and luckily did not decide to use my lower leg as a pin cushion.

Getting close and cuddly with those rattlers was way more scary than being bitten by an alligator lizard. Yeah, that happened to me once, too. Sunk its sharp tiny teeth into my pinky. That was all twenty years ago, but it’s still fresh in my mind.

You can tell a vicious dog to go home. You can scream at a black bear and it’ll most likely leave you alone. But you just can’t reason with a reptile.

I’ve been plugging away at a new WIP and am about 50K into a first draft. I’m guessing I’ll wrap this puppy up in another 10 to 15K but it’s behaving more like a reptile than a mammal so we’ll see.

How about you? What are working on this week? And, has a reptile ever inspired you to do something? Sing? Dance? Run?

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