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Michelle's Musings

A Room with a View?

What constitutes your ideal writing space? What gets you in the mood to write?

 

By the title of this blog post, you probably guessed that I like having a view, preferably one of nature--something to take my mind away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. I'm also one of those writers who needs peace and quiet in order to focus. I'm in awe of those who can write in whichever location they drop themselves.

 

Until recently, peace and quiet meant the absence of music, even that which I usually find soothing. However, when I started my latest novel revision, I needed something to put me into the mood of the scene I was working on. I tried tuning to classical or "spa" music at a low volume and found it to be an effective tool that quickly changes the tone of my environment and allows me to immerse myself into the scene in front of me.

 

Not every writer has the luxury to set up an ideal environment conducive to boundless creativity. For some, their dedicated writing space is a cluttered kitchen corner with the only view being that of a laptop screen. But many a great novel has been written this way.

 

I'm curious what other writers do to make their space their own. What sets the tone for you so you can peck away with abandon?

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New Beginnings

It seems appropriate to talk about new beginnings given that we've not only started a new year, we've just entered a new decade. It's also timely since I'm reworking the opening chapters of my novel, Hide and Seek.

 

It's my understanding that one should avoid detailed revisions when developing the storyline and subplots. I find that's easier said than done. This go around, instead of plowing through the entire novel again, during which time I tend to lose focus, I'm limiting my revisions to the first story arc (approx. first 80 pages) before moving on. (I blogged about the four arc system in my Nov 15 post.)

 

I'm refocusing my rewrite this way, because I keep changing the novel's ending, which means I have to revise earlier chapters to make them fit that new ending. It's a laborious process, and I'm kind of tired of doing it this way.

 

By revising the first arc before progressing through the rest of the novel, I think it'll be an easier and more rewarding process to then structure the remaining sequences (last three arcs) on the first one. This process may be a rule-bender, but I like Pablo Picasso's advice: "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist."

 

That's my new writing goal for the New Year--to improve my focus by implementing a building block method. I'm not only looking forward to new beginnings, I'm also looking forward to a more satisfying ending to my novel.

 

Happy Writing, and Happy New Decade! 

 

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No Quitters Here

I'd hoped to finish the current rewrite of my novel by the end of the year, but that didn't happen. It wasn't for a lack of trying, however. I attended a course or two on novel revision and mechanics that I found quite inspirational. I even took time off to enter a couple of writing contests. That inspiration kept me energized enough to continue plowing through my novel, which I've been working on for several years.

 

The writing courses revealed major flaws, but I've been excited to implement new tools to correct those flaws. When I look back on the length of this project, however, I find myself a bit disheartened, leading me to ponder whether a novel-size project is too big for someone like me--someone who learned not that long ago that those pesky issues with lack of focus, words jumping off and around the page, difficulty with reading comprehension, etc. are likely symptoms of dyslexia. Several online tests indicated at least moderate dyslexia.

 

I write nearly every day despite the fact that I transpose letters of the alphabet with reglular frequency, a phenonmenon that accelerates with fatigue. Sometimes I get so frustrated, I literally shout at myself (I'll leave the epithets to your imagination). To improve my writing, I've started reading more, even though it's been a difficult endeavor for as long as I can remember. If I stay with a novel, or even a sample chapter on my e-reader, I learn a lot about the craft, which pays homage to the adage I've heard time and again from other writers: read, write, read, write, and then read and write some more.

 

One thing I've never been is a quitter. I truly enjoy writing, and I look forward to reading more and writing more in the coming days and months. So here's a toast to all those non quitters who also plan to make the best of 2020: Happy New Year to all, and may the Muse be with you!

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Eureka!

An update to my September 15 post on Panster vs. Planner:

 

I recently completed another revision of my novel and was satisfied that I finally had the storyline I wanted. I set it aside for a couple of weeks to let it gel. During that hiatus, I came across a two-hour session on the Four Arc System for Organizing Your Novel delivered by Carolyn Wheat.

 

If you read my aforementioned post, you're correct to assume that the concept of "organizing" my novel generated a bit of angst for me. Nevertheless, I decided to attend the class to see if I could glean anything that might assist with my next revision. Lo and behold, the interactive session had me drawing four columns on a sheet of paper and filling in those columns with salient features that generated an outline of my novel. I was eager to get started with the next revision.

 

There are plenty of courses that provide a roadmap for structuring one's novel around plotlines and story arcs. However, I can see where my panster inclination may collide with implementation of a structured approach in the earliest stages of crafting a novel. But once I get that initial draft going, dividing the story into discreet, purposeful segments will help guide me from beginning to end in a more dynamic manner. I'm pumped!

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"Selfie" Publication--A Paradigm Shift

When I started to pursue writing, I joined local writing groups, enrolled in novel writing courses, and attended several writers' conferences. At the time, self-publication was a relatively new concept that was poorly lauded. People in the know were adamant that traditional publication was the way to go. By way of example, critics touted Fifty Shades of Grey as emblematic of the perils of self-publication.

 

Nevertheless, I found the concept intriguing, especially given the oft repeated mantra that getting published was next to impossible unless you were a big-name celebrity or politician or had tight connections in the industry. I figured the tedious process of self-publication might be worth the effort given that finding the right agent/editor/publisher was no walk in the park.

 

Fast-forward to today where self-publication is more popular than ever. It certainly has its downside, including an abundance of shysters who prey on those hoping to land a book deal. However, when the time comes, I'm definitely inclined to go the route of self-publication, small press, or indie publication (the latter being distinct from self-publication).

 

What's your experience, particularly for first time authors? Any thoughts about the pros and cons of these options?

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Panster vs. Planner

As a fiction writer, I've never been a fan of outlines. It seems to me that you have to know your story before you outline it, so why not just write it to begin with?

 

While I understand the merits of planning, once I have a story concept in my head, I tend to want to sit down and plug away, sometimes not even knowing how the story will end. I'll fill in the blanks, if any, during subsequent revisions.

 

I guess I'm one of those "by the seat of her pants" writers. Which brings me to this term, panster (vs. planner or plotter), that I've been hearing more oftenApparently, it's been around for some time now, from back in the day when folks preached that all books should begin with an outline.

 

Panster is shorthand for someone who does what I describe above--a writer who, in essence, lets the story write itself. A panster has an idea for a story and a few characters in mind, but she may not have the plot points contrived at first sitting. A planner, on the other hand, methodically maps out or outlines plot points in advance.

 

Therein lies the crux of the issue.

 

The common pro for outlining is that it helps structure plot lines. I would think that being a planner might stifle the flow of creative juices with all that organizing of ideas into charts or columns or on Post-it Notes destined for a storyboard. Since one of the tenets of crafting a novel is to disregard the compulsion to self-edit (a struggle in itself) during the brainstorm of that initial draft, does outlining help or hurt that process?

  

In researching this topic, I found just as many blogs and articles for, against, and ambivalent about panster writing. No matter which approach I contemplate, it can be a bit daunting just trying to get a project started--let alone figure out which method to use. Either has its merits.

 

So, what say you? Do you go with the outline, or do you fly by the seat of your pants? Are you a panster or planner, or a little bit of both?

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Breaking Away from the Critique Group

As a writer, I find the process of critiquing one's work similar to that of an artist who steps away from his canvas and revisits it later with "fresh eyes." Only, in the case of writing, the fresh eyes often belong to someone other than the artist. That's not to say that the author shouldn't critique her own work. I just find it difficult to do so without setting it aside for at least a week or two. Even then, I don't trust myself to recognize all the deficiencies. Having a total stranger (in the form of a fellow writer) review my work can provide invaluable feedback about problems I didn't even know existed.

 

What I've wrestled with, though, is sorting through which critical feedback is useful and which is not. For example, I follwed a suggestion to change my novel's point of view and found that doing so helped me resolve an issue I'd been struggling with. I was also told that my prologue did not fit, so I removed it. Later, in a different critique group, the suggestion was made to add a prologue.

 

I'm more of a "do as you're told" person, but I've come to understand that there's a delicate dance to be performed in creating a piece of fiction. Studying the craft of novel writing is invaluable. On the other hand, the creative process must be my own.

 

Recently, I've had other authors tell me that I may want to break away from critique groups as they can stifle the writing process. I'm interested in learning how others grapple with incorporating critical feedback into their writing.

 

How much does one "play by the rules," and when does one "throw caution to the wind?" Read More 

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