Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom for Writers (and Everyone Else too): Page-A-Day

There, I've finished it. I had to finish it before I could do anything as playful and fun-filled as blogging. By "it," I mean my daily page.

Page-a-day is my mantra. It started as my New Year's resolution of 2009, when I was becoming increasingly fed-up with my slow progress. Anyone who's read my posts from the beginning of this blog will remember that my writing Aeneid was blown off course by the birth of my children and by the amount of time quality child-rearing takes. I had become one of those writers who wrote whenever they had a spare moment. And, in my case, that spare moment was always around the corner.

Enter Page-a-Day. (Initially I had it at paragraph-a-day, but ultimately decided that was just too slackerish.) This is how it works: every month, I print out a monthly calendar. I have it stuck by my desk. And my first writing priority of every day is to write ONE page of my work-in-progress.

That's right: my page-a-day doesn't include blog writing, journaling, letters to the editor, commenting on other's blogs or even REWRITING. It has to be new work. So... last year, I wrote one whole middle-grade novel and the greater portion of a fantasy novel. Man, I feel so productive!

What of the children, you may ask. Well, two of them are at school. As for the youngest, he gets to be entertained by Curious George, Super Why and the rest of PBS kids' estimable stable. (Yes, I am a morning writer type of guy.) But before you think I'm turning my child into a media zombie, I've also found that page-a-day takes me between 30 minutes to an hour, because daily writing is like daily anything: you get in a groove.

Many of you are probably doing way more than a page-a-day. I salute you. When I have all three kiddos in full-time education, I too may up my output. But for now, page-a-day saved my writing life and I'm sticking to it.

What writing mantra do you have? Do you have a daily word or page goal? I'd love to hear about it.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Microfiction Monday: Custer's Last Stand

Welcome to Microfiction Monday, at Stony River: a writing life,
where a picture paints 140 characters, or even fewer.

[Hate counting letters and spaces? Try Design 215's character counter, which will count for you as you type. Microsoft Word will count for you too, of course, as part of its word count feature under the 'Review' tab.]

Here's this week's picture, and my story to go with it:

After watching "2012," Custer decided to build an ark. Whoops! Halfway through construction, he ate the blueprints. Truly his last stand. (137 characters)

Have a good week, everyone!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Pagi-Nation: Yikes! It's Henry James, folks.

Welcome to the weekly instalment of "Pagi-Nation," in which I spin round my room and pluck an unsuspecting volume off my shelves.

I must admit my heart groaned at this week's pick: The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. (I apologize if I have any Jamesian fanatics among my readership, but old Hank has never rocked my boat, lit my fire etc. Even 30 years ago, as an eager-beaver English major who delighted in ploughing through Milton and James Joyce, for heaven's sake, I'd find my head with a large dent in it from collapse on the library table after just a few pages of H. James. I recommend him to insomniacs everywhere.)

But this is the book the universe wants highlighted this week, faithful readers. And this is the phrase I plucked from page 402:

Madame Merle was doubtless of great use to herself and an ornament to any circle; but was she--would she be--of use to others in periods of refined embarrassment?

[The next time I'm embarrassed, I shall be busy wondering whether it's refined embarrassment or not! I suppose it all depends on whether one is carrying a handkerchief...]

When was the last time you were of use to others in periods of refined embarrassment? Do tell.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom for Writers (and Everyone Else too),

The deadline for the Kay Snow Writing contest is only two days away. Last year I won third place in the adult fiction category and this year I'd like to go even better.

But I'm struggling. I've decided to send in the first chapter of my middle-grade novel but have succumbed to "beginning-itis." That is, I keep changing the start. There's a lot of 'wanting' going on: wanting more of a hook; wanting the character's voice to shine through with more humour; wanting to avoid The List pitfall which is overdone in children's writing just now. As in:

  1. I initially wrote this in first person present tense.
  2. I changed it to first person past tense.
  3. I've just rewritten the beginning for the sixth time.

You get the idea.

As is my usual modus operandi when in freefall doubt, I hurried to my groaning bookshelves. (I own more writing books than most public libraries.) But today nothing was speaking to me. So I bundled the three-year-old into the car, with the promise of reading three million picture books, and sped off to the Central library--the one library that reasonably competes with my stack. There was one book in particular I wanted, but I left the library lugging seven tomes in my classy green library book tote.

Two of those books were by Michael Seidman. He used to be an editor for Walker and Co., and it was in that role I met him at a long-ago writing conference. (I don't remember much of that pitch, except that he was kind and a good listener and requested the first pages of my ms.) I believe he now works as an editorial consultant, at least if Google is to be believed.

I opened his book, Living the Dream, An Outline for a Life in Fiction. I hoped I'd find something for my scattered, anxious soul;

"Don't worry about failing, don't worry about being wrong. Enjoy what you're doing for the sake of doing it... And when you're done writing, when all the words are on the page, then look at them closely, examine each one and decide if it's the word that belongs there... Is what you've written better than what you wrote yesterday? Is there growth? Is there honesty? Is there you?"

Growth: you betcha. Honesty: darn tootin'. Me: I sure as hell hope so.

Somehow, that calmed me down.

I've got 48 hours to get the words right. Wish me luck.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Microfiction Monday: Muses Musing

Welcome to Microfiction Monday at Stony River: a Writing Life, where a picture paints 140 characters, or even fewer.
Here's this week's picture, and my story to go with it:

(With all due respect to Erato, Thalia, Terpsichore, and the rest:)

Know what he told me, Thalia? "You won an award for procrastination, but you never picked it up." So then I said: 'You are such a lyre."
(138 characters)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Pagi-Nation: Rejection Time

The trusty Pagi-Nation pick of the week is from... The Pocket Muse (Monica Wood, Writer's Digest Books 2002)

From the random page I opened: At some point in any writing life, the writer has to decide what to do about rejection. Some people save rejection slips and laugh about using them to wallpaper the bathroom. Others get two or three rejections and quit...

Wood goes on to tell how she attended a reading by the late Andre Dubus where he read a story "that quieted the room." Later, Dubus admitted that the same story had just been rejected by the Sewanee Review. For Wood, this was a turning point in her writing life: the realization that famous, published writers get rejected too.

A writer has to have the hide of a rhino. Things you love, work you think is almost perfect, can be rejected time and again. All I can say is, if you want to give yourself the chance of success, you just have to pick yourself up and start all over again. Because, if you quit, it will never happen.

I take solace from Woods' 'horoscope' on the following page: Something big is brewing behind your back. (I hope it's not the Icelandic volcanic eruption she means.)

News of the Week: I was one of the winners of the contest on the Epitaph Road Facebook fan page. I just received my copy of the novel in the mail today and am excited to read it. (David Patneaude kindly inscribed it, too.) Part of the "prize" is the chance to have my query letter critiqued by his agent. I'll be sending that off on Monday.

Blog of the Week: I love Susan at Stony River's blog. She is an indefatigable resource and builder of writing communities. I particularly enjoy her Microfiction Mondays and am busily thinking what my story will be for this week.

Question of the Week: How do you deal with rejection? Are you plastering your bathroom with the little slips? Having a bonfire?

Let me know what your Pagi-Nation pick for the week is.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom for Writers (and Everyone Else too),

Boy do I ever need this one! First draft: are you listening?

The skills of organization are not wanted in the first draft... the author should still be brooding, maundering around the material...It is a great mistake at that point to start 'applying writing skills' or anything like.

Carol Bly The Passionate, Accurate Story

This is why writing is so hard on the perfectionist.

How do you approach a first draft? Are you a plotter or a plunger?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Microfiction Monday: Conn's Lament

Welcome to Microfiction Monday,
where a picture paints 140 characters, or even fewer.
See the picture at Stony River: a writing life.

Here is my story of the week, based on the Irish legend about the Children of Lir.

The silver chain binds us no more. Only I remain. But sister, brothers: this is not the freedom I desire. Return; swim with me again.

Pagi-Nation: This is my Daughter

Plucked from the bursting shelves of novels comes Roxana Robinson's This is My Daughter (Bloomsbury 1998). It has a 2 pound (as in sterling) sticker on the front from the Cambridge bargain bookstore Galloway and Porter, so must be one of the many cheap books Marie snaps up whenever we return to the UK.

Opened to page 192:

At home Amanda never had to read or to listen to reading. Her own mother never read books to Amanda and seldom to herself. When her mother did read, it was a new book, something with a bright cover, usually with a beautiful woman on it. Those were what Amanda felt were the right kind of books to read.

Having this week described my family in a blog comment as a "herd of bibliovores," the above behavior is nothing less than shocking. (You can bet that Amanda and her mother don't end up being published writers!) Yet we constantly hear that Americans don't read. Is that true in your experience? What are your children reading now? What are you reading to them?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom for Writers (and Everyone Else Too)

Not quite the zippy title I was initially planning, but I figured most of what I want to say could be applied to a broader readership than just "writers."

My blogging is beginning to take on a schedule:

Sunday: Pagi-nation. (I like "Random Reading," which is what one commenter called it)

Monday: Microfiction Monday

Wednesday: The NEW and SHINY "Words of Wisdom." I will come up with some little aphorism or quote that I can carry through the week. I will also use the space to plug blogs I've come across that I particularly like. This week there are two.

Anyway: here's this week's "WoW" courtesy of Cervantes.

"Digo, patiencia y barajar."

Now I'm tempted to let you all think I am a master of the Spanish language, instead of just having studied it for O level in England. (The equivalent of Harry's OWLS, for you Potter fans.) But I actually came across it in my trusty Concise Oxford Dictionary of Quotations while looking for a snappy rejoinder for how impatient I am feeling about this writing business. I mean, everything seems to move at glacial speed. And I'm not the most patient person on the planet. So "What I say is patience, and shuffle the cards." I presume Cervantes didn't mean the Tarot deck, either.

What are you feeling impatient about right now? Will shuffling the cards help?

Finally: additions to my (Blog)Roll of Honor. Casey McCormick's Literary Rambles is just plain excellent: agent spotlights, writing tips, and more. All authors should subscribe.

I've also just come across Robert Kent's Middle-Grade Ninja blog. Again, more great stuff: 7 Questions for Writers, book reviews, and the Ninja's musings (this week it's on The Muse.) Check out Robert's writing. I couldn't have put his "musings"better myself. Literally.

Patience, people!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Hare Express

Today's Microfiction Monday (actually Sunday, Portland time):

Jeremiah, fired from the Pony Express, started the Hare Express instead. Pity; the business didn't last: hare today, gone tomorrow.

(Apologies: I came over all punny. Too much Easter chocolate?)


Pagi-Nation is my blog version of those old-fashioned parlour games. Every Sunday, I'm going to spin myself around in my study, grab a book off my shelves, open it at random and type the most interesting sentence I can find on that random page. If it's interesting enough, I might even comment.

If you're reading this blog, I'd love for you to do this too. It'll give me a good idea of what other people are reading, and what the randomness of the universe wants to bring to our attention.

Since this blog is ostensibly about writing, I'll choose my first book from the scads of writing books I own.

Here goes: A Life in the Arts (by Eric Maisel, Tarcher Putnam 1992)
Artists consider themselves to be independent people. But the artist's independent, rebellious, nonconforming nature, coupled with his introspective habits of mind, also make him wary of social interactions.... the artist, keenly aware that his journey is a personal and independent one, often fears that contact with his peers will slow him down, detour him, contain him, limit him, or unduly influence him.
Hmm... sounds like I need to stay in my ivory tower, rather than keep blogging with you people.
Are you a nonconformist, "wary of social interactions?" Or do you think contact with peers is actually the sort of detour that does an artist's body good?

Friday, April 2, 2010

Taking Stock

I'm starting my third month as a blogger, with the avowed aim of being a "dangerous writer." So it seems a fine time to do a little stock-taking.

  1. I've enjoyed blogging, even if it's usually at the end of a busy writing day.
  2. My query letter was beaten up in a barroom brawl. (Okay, I've never been accused of being lacking in the hyperbole department.)
  3. I've entered a couple of competitions on the Guide to Literary Agents blog. No luck with the "Dear Agent" in February; still waiting to hear if I've succeeded in writing one of the worst log-lines ever. (I doubt it. Some of the entries were really rank.) Also waiting to hear if I've won a copy of Epitaph Road.
  4. My own contest was a bust. I finally joined Facebook, and mentioned it there, but I guess none of my friends have ever pranked or been pranked.
  5. I've "met" a number of interesting people, usually by commenting on other blogs.
  6. There are an amazing number of other blogs!!!
  7. I think I'll become addicted to Microfiction Mondays.
  8. I have wondered about doing "book of the week" reviews or inviting others to join in on writing prompts, a la Microfiction Mondays. Don't know if that's worth my time, though.

I don't know how "dangerous" this has all been. I still haven't strayed too far from my comfort zone. So there's still work to be done.

And speaking of dangerous, I'm going to ask my mother-in-law's permission to share the April Fool's prank she played on me years ago which nearly ended in my cardiac arrest.

To all my readers: thanks for following along. Let me know if there's anything you'd like me to write about or be a part of.