Category Archives: editing

the importance of craft-related reading

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I’ve been busy this year.  From our trip to Thailand and Bali in the winter/spring, to hopping from one place to another into the summer, to finally settling down again in the fall, I haven’t had the time to post very often.  I am hoping to change that now.  

As far as my writing goes, I’ve been hard at work with subsequent drafts of my YA Science Fiction novel.  I started a new practice in July during a break from my writing that has been extremely helpful in tackling the usual problems of world building, plot continuity, and character development.  I read other books in my genre, which is my usual break activity, but this time I also read Stephen King’s On Writing.

on writing  

This book floored me.  

I had no idea that Stephen King, like me, also has trouble with plot and feels that the books of his in which he did plot his way through are actually his worst books.  

“Story is honorable and trustworthy; plot is shifty, and best kept under house arrest.”  

~Stephen King

I felt empowered by my own tendency towards character driven stories, because he writes them, too.  

I enjoyed the first half of the book, which was a memoir of how he started out as a writer, but the second half was where his little bits of advice helped to illuminate many of the things I struggle with in revisions.  

He advises writers to write a draft of their book with the door closed first – so that we aren’t influenced by the opinions of others.  Our second major draft should be after a break of 6 weeks (or however long feels right to us) and written with the door open, so we can let the world outside mesh with our world and enrich it.  Both concepts aren’t foreign to me, but King spells them out with brevity and articulation that begs for rereading when needed.  He’s not just concise with his words, he’s actually funny, which makes this non-fiction book stand out from some of the more boring lecture-type books on craft that are out there:

“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

I’m on yet another shorter break from the revising and I’m planning to reread the second half of this book to uncover some of his jewels of advice I’ve forgotten.  And I want to stress this practice for the writers out there that are feeling stumped during their revisions.

Craft is important.  Craft is essential.  Go out there and find books on craft and read them.  Today.  I guarantee that the more you read, the better your writing will be, and King does, too:

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”

The whole point of writing in the first place, for me anyways, is to visit another place and time, to gain a fresh perspective on life and what it means to be human.  Nothing does this as well as a book.  To give you a final, wise quote from Stephen King:

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.”

Yes, I remember feeling as I read that line.  They are magic.  But there are tricks to harnessing that magic.  It’s not all play.  It’s work, but the results are dazzling when we do it right.  

And we can read books within our genre critically, but sometimes it’s easy to forget some of the things we all learned in High School about writing clearly enough for our readers to not only be drawn into our stories, but to forget they are even reading something.  Sometimes, it’s easier when a writer actually spells things out and reminds us of the tools that can make our jobs easier.  And when we do mange to hone our craft, our writing has the potential to become a spaceship or a magic carpet to this other realm where our characters live and breathe, just like we do.

My NaNoWriMo, voicing, and cultural musings

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I successfully made it through all of November without a single blog post!  

Was I busy writing a novel in a month, like many other writer friends of mine?  

No.  I was actually taking a break from my usual writing-like-crazy to let other people do the writing-like-crazy.  I submitted my latest book to a literary agency that prefers exclusive reading time and have been just—waiting.

The waiting has been good, though, as you saw in my last post about making blocks for my toddler.  I made blocks, then I sewed the entire inside and outside of a handbag, painted stars on a new Ergo baby carrier, sewed a tank top for myself, sewed patches onto pants, sewed some other things.  You get the picture.  I’ve been crafty this November, and waiting ever patiently to hear from the agents (which is probably the only time I am able to be patient).  

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I am reaching that point where I feel like I’m sitting on my hands all the time to stop myself from writing, though,—because—the only thing I wish to write is the second installment of my YA science fiction trilogy.  But I’ve learned my lesson from literary agents and the “Big 6” publishing houses already.  Never write the second book in a trilogy unless you’re pretty confident the first is going to get published NOW.  

Only last year at this time, I was in the throes of editing the first volume of a YA Urban Fantasy trilogy.  I wrote the first draft of that book during Nanowrimo 2010, while sailing south from Block Island, Rhode Island, to Key West, Florida.  It was a mess of a story about a wolf girl journeying from New Hampshire to New York and then passing in and out of stories.  I put it down when I discovered I was pregnant in January of 2011, and didn’t start editing it until November of that year.  

The single volume turned into a complex trilogy about fairy tales, myths, and the doors between reality and stories.  Werewolves escape their stories and a wolf girl named Blue has to put them back.  I sent the 6th draft of that book out and it wasn’t finished—I needed much more world building, I needed to know what all the action of this book was leading to, I needed to know my characters better.  So I did 9 more drafts of it and resubmitted it in April of 2013.

By this time, however, the “Big 6” publishers (who I sometimes imagine as six mythological gods sitting around a round table discussing what would be popular next year and what would absolutely not) had decided that werewolves were out and so were shapeshifters that turned into wolves.  I knew that my story was great, but if the “Big 6” said it wasn’t the right time for it, then I knew that only smaller presses would even consider publishing it.  It made me sad to put that trilogy aside, but I feel pretty confident in the fact that wolves will resurface someday—and in 5 or 10 years, I would probably rip up that story and write something vastly different, but it’s okay.  Sometimes that’s what happens.  As writers, we can’t stop growing and changing and making decisions based on what is important to us.  

I feel in my heart that my current project is going to get published.  But I don’t have the heart to start writing the second book right now—not because I am uncertain the first will get published—but because I realize the whole agent and publishing process will change this first book into something else…which will change what happens in the second.  

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So—what do I do with my time now?  

Lately, I’ve been devouring the brilliant science fiction Ender Series and reading some more contemporary paranormal YA like Everlost, the first book of the Skinjacker Trilogy.  

I’ve been dreaming of the second book of my science fiction trilogy and adding little notes about it to my Index Cards iPad app that allows me to just throw a bunch of scenes and pieces of storyline together—so that I can sit like Dumbledore staring into the pensive as the details rearrange themselves into what they are supposed to become.  I often feel like my characters are telling me their story, not the other way around.

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Aside from the writing, I am going through some inner cultural conflicts.

I am back to thinking about not wanting to voice again.  

I go through this every few months or so.  I am Deaf, but I went deaf in my teens, and I still have enough hearing to hear some voices and sounds and to be able to speak clearer English than most hearing people (because I grew up with a deaf mother who lip reads, so I needed to annunciate my words very carefully from a young age).  I love voicing, too, because I love using the English language, my first language.  

My deafness, however, makes it so that any social interactions with other people are hard if they are not in ASL.  When I voice, I am not just meeting hearing people half-way and asking them to meet me half-way in our communication.  I am bending over backwards for them, making it so that it’s easy for them to know what I am saying.

The problem is—that doesn’t make it any easier for me to hear them.  And it makes them want me to lip read, which is exhausting and it gives me headaches.  But they hear me talking and they automatically want to talk back.  It’s a natural response, so I don’t blame them for it.  

But if I start the whole conversation with writing on a notepad, or typing on our cell phones, then we’re on the same page from the start.  We’re BOTH typing to each other, we’re both communicating in written English.  The communication is balanced—it is equal.  

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I know these things, but when I go home to my parent’s house and I see my family, I am pulled back into hearing culture and voicing.  Most of the women in my family, even the other deaf ones, speak loudly and tell stories.  Dramatic, repetitive storytelling is a huge part of American Italian culture and I’m not outside of its compelling influence.  When I want to tell a story, even to my partner (who is hearing but knows ASL), my first instinct is to tell it the way my grandmother does—in English with wild gestures (though now, my hands move with ASL signs instead).  

When I am especially excited, I probably sound like other bilinguals (who might yell something in English and then yell more in Spanish or Russian), but I’m even more confusing because sometimes I yell in English and ASL at the same time, ripping something away from each language by mashing them together, but illustrating how divided I am at the same time.

I can speak volumes faster than I can sign, which is what I am hoping to change as my toddlers becomes an older child.  I want him to be as fluent in ASL and I wish I could be and I want to never feel like I need to voice with him.  

And I want to remember to STOP VOICING with him NOW.  

I am Deaf, but I used to be hearing.  When I go to sleep, sometime I dream in ASL, and sometimes I can hear and I dream in spoken English.  

I’m writing these struggles out there for all the other people who I am sure are also straddling cultures, whether it is French and American cultures, or Eastern and Western cultures, or hearing and Deaf cultures.  

We’re all different.  And we’re all beautiful and ugly in our own unique ways.  I don’t think any of us should ever stop learning about other cultures, but sometimes it’s good to remember and honor (all) the cultures we belong to, however they may conflict inside of us.