Yesterday, I ran across a link on twitter that seems to have originated in “Nuts and Bolts: ‘Thought’ Verbs”, an essay by Chuck Palahniuk last year.
It’s great advice:
…you may not use “thought” verbs. These include: Thinks, Knows, Understands, Realizes, Believes, Wants, Remembers, Imagines, Desires, and a hundred others you love to use.
The list should also include: Loves and Hates.
In short, no more short-cuts. Only specific sensory detail: action, smell, taste, sound, and feeling.
I used to run a Word macro on all my fiction to search for overused words. That search included “thought”, “knew”, “realized”, and “felt”. I should probably start using it again.
I can’t believe we’re almost to the Gen Con stage of the summer. And this year will be my 20th. Wow.
For those of you who are planning on attending, here’s a look at how my schedule’s shaping up.
Friday, August 15th
1:00 p.m. – Signing in the main hall
4:00 p.m. – Business of Writing: Working with a Publisher
5:00 p.m. – Writer’s Craft: Plotting Nuts and Bolts
Saturday, August 16th
1:00 p.m. – Middle Grade: Weaving Plots for Middle Graders
4:00 p.m. – YA: What Makes it YA?
Sunday, August 17th
10:00 a.m. – Just for Kids – Pre-Teen Writing Workshop
Hope to see you there!
So last week I got a rejection from an anthology market. The rejection wasn’t that unexpected–while my story fit the theme, it did so just barely, as if seeing it from the corner of its eye. Still, it disappointed me. I’d submitted a story I’ve been noodling with for several years, and I liked this draft a lot. The editor said I could rewrite it to better fit the theme and resubmit, or I could submit a different story if I wished. I ran it past one of my writing groups and while they gave me great advice on how to make this version better, they basically said to not change it to much to fit the theme. Which means I’ll probably be writing another story.
There are several points I want to make about this whole exchange that I think highlights my growth as an author.
1. While I was disappointed by the rejection, it didn’t define me or my writing. The editor liked the story–she said so, and I believe her–but it didn’t fit her needs. I didn’t feel a need to look into the deeper meaning behind her words. I didn’t crave her validation. I didn’t have the desire to immediately rip apart my story and make it something, anything, that this editor wanted. I didn’t have the “please please like me” feelings running through the back of my head. This is probably because …
2. I knew what story I wanted to tell. I knew I had gotten pretty damn close with this draft. Is it perfect? No. But it’s way better than the story I wrote eight years ago. It’s better than the attempt from two years ago. Will I be able to write it better in five years? Probably. At least, I hope so. But you know what? I told the story I wanted to tell in an effective way.
3. Points 1 and 2 are probably helped by the fact that this story is a deeply personal, semi-autobiographical one. It’s as close to non-fiction as I could get but still call it fiction (the impeding asteroid that will hit Earth helps with that). Still, it’s a mark of my growth as a writer that point 3 didn’t supercede points 1 and 2, if that makes any sense at all.
I tend to make a long list of writing projects when I go on a vacation. After all, I’m not at work or at home, so I’ll have plenty of free time, right? At least by now I’ve learned to treat the list as things to do if I feel like it, not as things I definitely want to get done.
For my most recent trip–I just got back from a week away on Saturday–the only required task on my to-do list was to come up with a story idea based on each place I visited. After smooshing some of those ideas together, I have a decent idea for a flash fiction piece and a fun idea for a novella or short novel (I’m aiming for a novella). Plus another idea that intrigues me, and a few other things that I’ll probably never do anything with. Not bad for a week entirely off.
My other writing-related vacation plan is to use jet lag to get up earlier in the morning and do more writing before work. I started writing in the morning when my job got busier and I was losing lunch hours and evening time. Today I worked on a new short story for 40 minutes, and still had time to do half an hour of yardwork. I’d rather sleep in until after 5 tomorrow, though.
I’ve been outlining my next project, something I’ve been thinking about and toying with in my head for a good while now. No details yet, sorry–this is the stage of the story where it’s just me. Well, me and my writing group, because brainstorming.
So as I start to get ideas down on paper and develop them, I’m reminded yet again what I planner I am when it comes to writing. I can tell because the more I write about character profiles, species notes, setting details, plot points, and theme, the calmer I feel. I know what my major characters look like, what their quirks, weaknesses and strengths are. I know that one of them carries around a small gold chain. When I realized why, I got goosebumps because I knew it fit perfectly. The story is coming together in my head, the pieces falling into place.
All these details, including sections with each character’s goal, motivation and conflict, and eventually even the chapter outline, are handwritten in one of my journals. That’s how I work. When I do school visits, I bring samples from these journals to show the kids where my stories begin. And sometimes the kids show me their notebooks where they write down their own stories or important thoughts. And if I’m very lucky, one or two will come over to me after a signing, lean in and whisper, “I want to be a writer too.” The whispers make me wonder if they’ve ever said the words out loud before. Maybe they’re afraid of what people will think. It’s a gesture of trust, and I love making these connections. I love showing students that their writing journey is not so very different from mine. All stories have to begin somewhere, whether you work from a detailed outline, scribble in a notebook, or just let the words and the story flow. And sometimes, maybe you need to say the words, “I want to be a writer,” and make your desire known.
Everyone needs a place to start.
I remember reading once about an author who would sit down with books of his that had been published, pen in hand, and go through them. Making changes, adjusting, cleaning things up. Editing a book that was already released. I don’t know if the story is true–though I have no trouble believing that some author out there is doing something like that–but it made me think. I don’t often look back on stories of mine that are in print. Part of this is practicality. I can’t change them, so why bother? But another part is dread. No matter how much I like the story, I’ll invariably find some part of it that I don’t like, something that I think I should have done better. Why torture myself with that?
But why not? Revisiting work is a way to learn, to see what mistakes I’ve made so that I can avoid them. And the thing is, there is a practical reason to revisit things– I’m terrible about trying to sell reprints because of my avoidance of my old stuff. So maybe I should look back a little more.
This bit of navel-lint examination is brought to you, by the way, by me spending the weekend doing copy edits for my Streets of Shadow story. Which is good, and I like it…
But it’s not perfect.
Last week I added another play to my repetoir: The Last Ship. It played in Chicago for several weeks before opening on Broadway. The music and lyrics were written by Sting, and since I’m a fan (well, more of a fan of The Police, really, but I don’t have time to quibble), I was curious about it. My verdict: really cool! The music itself was fantastic, the acting superb, and the sets! Oh, the sets! The play had two acts, but lots of scene changes. The cast incorporated the scene changes with their choreography. This sounds like it might be clunky, but instead it served to keep the forward momentum going. This play had nary an infodump, either, which made me reconsider my “plays are all about the infodump” statement from a few weeks ago. I would see it again. I’ll probably buy the soundtrack, too, because I’m a sucker for a Broadway musical.